Healing with Hope: Stories of 9/11 Survivors

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It’s been over two decades since the September 11 attacks on America and many are still suffering long-term illnesses, mental health issues, and grief. On this 22nd 9/11 anniversary, we’re sharing stories of survivors healing with hope. We share these stories to encourage perseverance and forward movement for a stronger community and a better future.

The Children of 9/11

Children born after their fathers died in the 9/11 attacks are called the Children of 9/11. They have a unique position. These young people live in the wake of an event they never experienced, missing people they never met. They are part of their families’ healing process while sharing their own unique grief. They have the loss of someone they never knew and must rely on others to fill in the blanks. As they grow up, and now move into adulthood, they need to find their paths in the wake of their fathers’ legacies.

People Magazine has been following some of these individuals and four of them state in this video how selfless their fathers were and how they choose to honor them with the same sense of selflessness and service in their futures.

The World Trade Center Health Program

The World Trade Center Health Program started in 2003 to help and track healing from survivors among first responders and civilians. They found that among those directly affected, rates of lasting mental health symptoms were about 17-18%. Many suffering have turned to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, which only exacerbate the problem and cause further issues. The program continues to try to aid participants in finding solutions, including medication, therapy, and life coaching. Many participants have been able to move on in positive ways.

Healing with Faith

Tim Brown, a 9/11 Firefighter, lost all his friends 22 years ago. He survived outside of a collapse by holding onto a column in 185mph winds. With his feet in the air for almost 30 seconds, he gives credit to God for his survival and chooses to spend his remaining years healing and helping others heal. He’s served on the board for the September 11 National Memorial Trail and with the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. His faith has carried him through loss and guided him to new connections, friendships, and involvement with helping those still healing.

Healing Heroes

The World Trade Center Health program started with 200-300 patients in the first few years. Now, with over 4,000 patients, they treat patients with ongoing ailments ranging from respiratory illnesses to cancers from the long-term effects of the toxins from Ground Zero. Dr. Iris Udasin is honored to help first responders who put themselves at risk every day. Firefighter Frank Geffre attributes his survival from cancer to Dr. Udasin’s care. While many of the survivors lost loved ones at Ground Zero, they lost more to the long-term effects. Now, they find hope in those who serve to help, like Dr. Udasin and the program she works in. They have a new outlook on life and are healing inside and out.

Honoring with AmeriCorps

Kevin McDonnell and Cait Leavey both lost their fathers on 9/11. Kevin’s father was working in the South Tower. Cait’s father was a firefighter in the first wave of rescues. They both honor their fathers by choosing to heal with hope and serve others through AmeriCorps, a federal agency for national service and volunteerism. They remember their fathers’ commitment to service and kindness and seek to live the same way by helping others. Kevin continues to work towards being a positive force for change. Cait is currently a mental health counselor.

The Reading Ritual

Decades after the attack, many still gather to commemorate their loved ones lost that day. One of the healing methods includes reading off a list of names of those who died. Some memorial ceremonies include those lost due to 9/11 injuries or illnesses. Camille Wortmann conducts research on grief following a traumatic event. She found that reading the names at a collective memorial helps aid the healing process, giving comfort and affirmation. Complete name-reading ceremonies can take about three hours. Other acts, such as donating to 9/11 foundations or performing extra acts of kindness in the name of a lost loved one, also help in the healing process.

Women Healing Women

Susan Retik had two small children and was pregnant when her husband’s flight crashed into the South Tower. She credits her entire healing to the support she received from all around. She doesn’t know how else she would’ve gotten through. When Retik found out Afghan women were about to suffer the same loss, and in a country where women have far fewer rites, she worked with other 9/11 widows to form Beyond the 11th. Through the nonprofit, they worked to educate girls and women and navigate local laws to help them survive and live as widows.

Other Resources as Posted by World Channel

  • The FealGood Foundation assists emergency personnel within the United States who have been injured due to action or omission in the course of their duties or within their everyday lives.
  • Tuesday’s Children provides a lifetime of healing for families who are forever changed by terrorism, military conflict, or mass violence.
  • New York State World Trade Center Memorial Scholarship guarantees a college education for children, spouses, and financial dependents of 9/11 victims, including fully paid admission to all SUNY and CUNY schools or equivalent aid for attendance to private New York State colleges.
  • September 11 Families’ Association, founded by widows of the FDNY, shares peer support and services for all victims of terrorism.
  • Friends of Firefighters Inc. provides free and confidential mental health support to both active and retired FDNY firefighters and their families.

Continued Healing with Hope

As we continue to support those in need from the September 11 attacks, we look forward to building a stronger society based on hope, love, and community. While we found gaps in both security and care in 2001, we’ve found more strength than we knew in our country. May we continue to heal with hope, love unconditionally, and support one another today and always.