Tag Archives: sudden death

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9/11: Experiences, Reflections, Changes

I spent the summer of 2001 writing my book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. The evening before 9/11 I was developing the press plan and rejoicing because the printer had called that Monday to say the galleys had been shipped via UPS and I should expect them in a few days. Those books didn’t arrive for over four weeks.

Since I worked through the night, it was my former husband who woke me to the words, “Mar, I think you better get up…a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Stunned and still trying to wake up and comprehend what he said, something inside knew this was intensely serious and I jumped from bed and ran to the living room in our Central Florida home.

I remember standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open and my hands covering it. I never sat down. We just stood there, almost at attention, in reverence of all that was happening to my beloved city where I lived most of my life.

I thought of all the people who worked in those towers and we estimated there would be nearly 25,000 people in each of them. Just the thought of losing 50,000 people was incomprehensible.

Being the video queen that I was back then, and to some degree still am, I immediately searched for VCR tapes (back then) and popped one in. I asked my husband to continue taping and we did just that, taping all the events for nearly a week.

There were times over the last ten years when I wanted to watch that footage again, but it was just too sad. Perhaps one day I will move it to DVD and have it available for a long lost weekend.

I started to think of all the people who might be there whom I knew. There were many.

First my cousin, Peter. He had been a FDNY firefighter for many years, like his father, my Uncle Pete before him, and had taken the Lieutenant’s test. It took a while to find out he was safe, but had lost so many of his friends that day.

He would spend weeks down at the Trade Center in the recovery effort and on the next Sunday was promoted to Lieutenant since so many had perished. It was a bittersweet moment and one our family will never forget. We still have the picture of him in his dress blues with his devoted and wonderfully supportive wife, Maureen by his side as he held his first daughter, Kaitlin, only a few years old then.

Later we would talk via instant messenger usually after midnight when he couldn’t sleep and I remember how difficult it was for him. And why wouldn’t it be. He had been to dozens of funerals and being such an amazing man, his heart was always so giving and loving toward everyone he knew and even those he didn’t.

To this day, I have such great respect for him and such deep appreciation for all he’s been through during the past ten years.

As the days passed, we heard about my cousin Sharon’s husband, Mike who lost his cousin. His aunt was devastated and although I never met her, I remember sending a bunch of my books for a fundraiser they did on Staten Island. I was glad to do that.

We also heard about my cousin’s husband, Brian, who works for Port Authority and lost many friends but also almost lost his life trying to get out of the towers, walking dozens of flights to safety.

Years later, I would hear his story in person when we had a chance to reflect, ironically when I was recovering from a life-threatening accident and he graciously would pick me up and bring me to church.

Both Brian and Peter were so steadfast in their willingness to help me when I was recovering from all those broken bones, and I will never forget their love and care for me.

Then there was my brother’s former girlfriend, Nina, who lost her brother Andrew in the towers. I stayed with her a few years after the tower fell when I moved back to NYC and I remember the two of us reminiscing about Andrew and his life and work and loves. She loved and missed him so much.

I also remember meeting and exchanging books with Julia Rathey, whose husband, David was killed in the towers that day. She had written a book entitled What Children Need When They Grieve which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt was so wonderfully written, not to mention all the help it brought to suffering families in the years following 9/11.

I was so happy when she shared, years later, that she would remarry a great guy named Gregg. She deserved to be happy again.

As I stood in the living room not moving, not speaking, in total shock, one of the things I started to remember was my pictures. I frantically started to search for them in my boxes.

I knew they were there…but where were they. You see I have celebrated three milestone in my life in the towers.

The night I finished my MBA from Fordham, my parents picked me up after the last exam and we enjoyed dinner together at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top with the most magnificent view of the entire city.

I remember taking home the empty bottle of champagne and writing on it the date and place. That bottle was kept on the top shelf of my living room hutch for many years. I often wonder if I’ll find it one day among all my memorabilia in deep storage. That would be amazing.

Another memory was when I got engaged on the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers. While we had decided many months before to get married, it was on the 4th of July that he actually presented the ring and formally asked for my hand. We went to the restaurant afterwards and had champagne.

When my 40th Birthday rolled around, there was no other place I wanted to celebrate. Funny thing…I remember being in the elevator with Michael Bloomberg that night going up to Windows on the World. I knew immediately who he was, long before he entered politics.

It was those pictures especially I wanted to find. I dug and dug. I couldn’t find them fast enough. My husband kept asking me what I was looking for and I remember just flipping through hundreds of pictures until they finally appeared.

It was then I wept.

I handed them to him. The best two pictures we had inside the trade center. He took one of me and I one of him across the table celebrating my 40th Birthday. The lambchops arranged so perfectly on the plate…my favorite.

I looked at the booths we had been sitting in. I remembered the look of the restaurant, so open and elegant. I thought about how all those booths were now disintegrated. All that steel, and all those people who probably were serving breakfast that morning.

I have been back to the World Trade Center or as it was known “Ground Zero” a few times since 9/11/2001. The first time was on the 2005 anniversary when I was then living there again.

It was a most profound experience. One I will always remember.

It took nearly four weeks for the galleys to arrive for Understanding Your Grieving Heart which were originally shipped on 9/10, the day before our nation’s tragedy.

While waiting, I informed the printer to update the dedication. It now reads:

For those who love them so deeply
Miss them so desperately
Grieve for them so despondently
The tears of a nation join you.

Remembering those who perished on
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

We pray blessings over the survivors of these attacks,
the rescue workers for their brave service to our people,
the canine rescuers for their devotion to help, protect and love us,
and the countless volunteers who heard the call and answered it

We will not back down
We will never forget

God Bless Our Great Land
and its people

Mary M. McCambridge (Ask Mary Mac) is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc., a Grief Coach and author of several award winning books and CD programs on bereavement. She resides in Central Florida.

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How It All Began

About a half hour ago my printer spontaneously circled as if to print a document, but none had been requested. Whenever something like this occurs, being so in tune to spiritual happenings, I sat back to wonder what this was about.

After asking out loud for clarity, it occurred to me that on this day thirty-six years ago I lost the first person who ever meant anything to me. The first person who had made such an impact on my life and who, unknowingly, would usher me into this field of study and my profession.

At the tender age of 12, while he was 15, the nephew of my neighbor and I became close friends and he ultimately became the first ‘crush’ I experienced. And while Paul and I were looked upon as ‘forbidden’ because of the differences of our age, he was such a wonderful guy and friend who I cared for deeply.

We’d play Iron Butterfly’s songs and scream the lyrics across the room, help me babysit little ones, watch him study the guitar and try to master difficult songs, taught me wonderful dance steps and just had lots of fun laughing at his funny jokes. And like teenagers do, we stayed on the phone much too long and wrote silly letters to each other.

As fate would have it, he and his family moved away and we became penpals back then. Both he and I went on to meet other wonderful people, but his life would forever impact mine a few years later.

On this day, April 14, 1974 Paul was hit broadside and killed by a drunk driver at the tender age of 19 while pulling out of his driveway. I knew he died in the late afternoon, but when the printer circled at 4:35pm something made me believe it could have been just then.

So I sat back in my chair and just had this simple conversation with him as if his spirit was surrounding me at this very moment. And even all these years later, I filled up with tears because I can still see him in the coffin and how paralyzed I was sitting on the sofa in the funeral home looking at a person who had meant so much to me and it was not registering as to how he could possibly be dead at 19.

Over the years I have wondered how his family had been and what all became of them. I can only imagine how it affected his parents whom I didn’t get to see again.

But this little sign I believe he sent to me today had in its own way comforted me and reminded me that not only has he not forgotten me, but that no matter where we go in life, the people we love and have lost will always shown themselves to us. Their spirits live on.

This lovely, simple confirmation and remembrance today, for me, though bittersweet, reassures me that there is something after this life which we will all reach. And one day we will be greeted by all those who went on before us and when that happens what a heavenly party we’ll have!

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Jett Travolta – Death of a Young Son and Brother

No one will ever convince me there is a magical formula for healing from the death of a child.

Regardless of whether it was anticipated or not, there is a struggle to understand it. Parents don’t expect to outlive their children. It’s just the way it is.

When someone so full of life is taken from his family at the tender age of 16, we wonder how something like this could happen. How could such an accident occur; how could he die so young.

One of the most difficult challenges about children dying is there are few answers. It just doesn’t make any sense. We can’t get our heads wrapped around the tragedy regardless how it occurred.

I chose this particular photo of Jett because I just loved his tender expression. From the little I have learned from the news reports, it is clear his parents John and Kelly, and his sister, Ella, loved him dearly and completely.

Everyone should know that level of love in their lives. Everyone should be part of such a dynamic family who, even with their celebrity, seemed to really understand and know that family was the priority.

I send my condolences to the Travolta and Preston family today and also hugs to Jett’s sister, Ella, whom I’m sure misses her big brother very much.

May your family be comforted by the many families worldwide who send their love and concern.

And may you know in your hearts, which is obvious for all to see, that Jett moves on now knowing he was deeply, amazingly and demonstratively loved by you in a way that few of us will ever experience.

Blessings…

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Lord, Can We Please Replay This Tape

Remembering Tim Russert 1950 – 2008

My love of politics began at the assasination of President Kennedy when I found myself looking up at all the crying adults in my elevator wondering what would bring so many grown-ups to tears.

I woke up in the middle of the night when Senator Bobby Kennedy was killed to find my Dad on the edge of his living room chair staring at the television and there I was sitting next to him. The pain on his face was intriguing to me and I wanted to share that with him.

It caused me to walk into New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s storefront campaign office at the age of 11 with my best friend who sat behind me in class, Ellen McHugh, to ask if we could help. They put us to work hanging posters on street lamps and we were so proud to be a part of that campaign.

The summer I was 16, I worked for the Mayor of my Village on Long Island and had a blast. I’ll never forget those funky colored outfits he’d wear to go golf on Wednesdays.

As I went onto college, I ran and was elected to floor rep and dorm president and was active in school government. I loved it. And later I helped run Perot’s NYC campaign and became Head of the Petition Drive to get him on the ballot in NY State. Eventually I ran the campaign in Queens and Staten Island.

But the most memorable was as a Precinct Captain and member of the Executive Committee in Florida during the 2000 election. What a wild ride to live that there.

Although I had many wonderful experiences during that election cycle, what stands out in my mind so vividly was the reporting and white board of Tim Russert that year. I was amazed at how he knew all the electoral votes within each state and I found myself working the numbers with him. It was heaven for me. It was thrilling and challenging and so amazing that it kept you hanging on for all the latest projections from Tim.

On Friday when I went online to see my email and there the headline said he had suddenly died, I was shocked as was most Americans who follow politics. I just stared at the computer screen and slumped in my seat.

I told a friend who said, “Tim Russert? Meet the Press Tim Russert?” To which I replied, “Yes, THE Tim Russert.” And everything within me just simply could not believe this.

I spent the majority of my weekend watching all the tributes on MSNBC Friday night and Saturday night and then today I taped Meet the Press. How could I not.

I guess because my love of politics coupled with my passion to help the bereaved, makes me somewhat more sensitive to these kinds of things.

I looked at the Lord’s picture which hangs in my home and said, “Exactly what were you thinking? Can’t we rewind this tape?”

From my perspective, and others are saying this as well, it was absolutely, postively NOT the right time for him to leave us. His work was not done here, in my eyes. He had so much more to tell us and educate us on the political process. And he had so much more to give humanity and his family and friends who deeply loved him.

So I ask you Lord, “Can’t we please rewind this tape? Can’t we at least finish out this incredible election cycle because nothing would have been more thrilling than to see him play with that white board scribbling down possibilities as we come close to election day?”

Yet from a bereavement perspective, I’m aware that death is never fair. It doesn’t come in the time factor we’d request. Because there really never would be a good time for someone so great to die, would there be. When exactly would the right time be.

If it were after the election, then we might enjoy his play-by-play, but his family wouldn’t see him and his beloved wife watch Luke marry.

If it were after the marriage, perhaps his family and friends wouldn’t see him as a grandfather sharing the joys of grandparenting.

But it turned out, God called him now…bad timing for us, but obviously the right timing for the Lord. That’s the sucky part. We don’t get to be in on the decision. And quite frankly, it never seems like good timing anyway you look at it.

So since the Lord can’t rewind the tape I wish he would, I must be content to wish his family and friends comfort in knowing that there were many of us, who never had the privilege of knowing this gentle giant, but saw through the television that he was indeed so genuine, so pure of heart, so committed to those around him, so funny, so real, so enthusiastic about what he did in life and from my perspective, he gave us a legacy of love that will never leave any of us.

Someone like Tim Russert lived his life to the fullest. I often say I want to live till I die. And it’s rare I find others who share that passion. Tim had that. He was a rare and treasured man to his family and friends and I, for one, will miss his smiling face and exuberant energy and laughter.

His passion to engage and educate Americans in the political process was simply divine.

So now God gets to have the firsthand play by play this election cycle, while He’s greeting Tim and saying, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”