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"They reacted as scared people and they came across as
greedy people," said Robert Monetti, who lost his son, Rick,
on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and
who has been working with many of the families of Sept. 11.
Mr. Monetti said the Lockerbie families used to complain
that they were ignored by the government. "But having seen
what government attention does to people, we figure we got off
easy — we just got ignored, they got actively brutalized," he
One Small Circle
They have no illusion that their small union will change
the world or undo any of the damage to their hearts. But the
12 pictures that Tom and JoAnn Meehan have assembled on a
collage in their home in Carteret, N.J., do tell a tale: a new
family has emerged here, spread across five states and two
"We've bonded with strangers who have stepped into our
lives," said Mr. Meehan, whose daughter, Colleen Barkow, is at
11 o'clock on the collage.
The big, formal family organizations — the kind with fancy
Web sites and leaders who testify in Washington and City Hall
— have received most of the headlines. But it is through
private, informal groups like this one that the community of
Sept. 11 is given its texture and definition.
Technology created the means. The Internet became a
personal salvation for people like Mr. Meehan, who spent whole
days last fall staring into his computer screen. People found
one another in chat rooms and on message boards — parents
talking with other parents, widows with widowers. Discussion
groups formed, withered and formed again, therapists say, as
people reached different stages of healing.
The Internet, contrary to its image as the disembodied
realm of cyberspace, also reinforced the importance of
old-fashioned proximity. Because so many families were
concentrated in a couple of regions — New York City and
Washington — people could easily meet online and then in
Arthur Russo, who lost his son, Wayne Alan (at the center
of the Meehans' collage), said the isolation would be
unbearable if not for the friendships he has made. He is not
sure how long the various family circles will continue, but
said that for now he could not imagine them ending.
"You virtually find yourself out there almost all alone,
and the comfort you find is meeting such groups as them," he
The serpentine twists of the Meehan group mirror the chaos
after Sept. 11. Joe and Adele Milanowycz, for example (their
son Greg, is at 8 p.m. on the collage), who also live in New
Jersey, attended a meeting held by their county prosecutor's
office and met a woman who said she knew a Mr. Russo who was
looking to contact other fathers.
The Russo and Milanowycz families met for lunch and bonded.
The Russos then met the Meehans at a parents' support group.
Jane Strauss (her husband, Edward, is at 7 p.m. on the
collage), knew the Meehans from church, and then through the
Meehans met Monica Barbella, whose husband, James (1 a.m. on
the collage), worked with Mr. Strauss. And the Meehans, like
operators on an old-fashioned switchboard, pushed and pulled
the wires to connect them all.
"It made you realize that it was a smaller world than you
thought," Mr. Milanowycz said.
Two Sides of Pain
On a New
Monica Iken has not stopped since last fall when she
realized that the death of her husband, Michael, required a
total commitment to the idea of a proper memorial in Lower
Manhattan. The organization she founded, September's Mission,
has become the vehicle for her grief.
"It's how I get up in the morning," she said.
Marc E. Wieman battened down the hatches. After becoming a
single parent with the death of his wife, Mary, he decided
that the best course for himself and his three children, ages
7, 9 and 13, was to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
He returned to his job as an insurance industry manager only a
week after the attacks. His boss sent him home immediately,
shocked that he would show up so soon.
"Look, we move on," Mr. Wieman said. "This is the hand I've
been dealt to play. It's not an especially good one. But I
have to do it. So I expect that at some point I will establish
what a normal life is for us in this post-9/11 era. And we
will live that."
The gender divide is unquestionably real, family members
and therapists say, and it is not just an issue of theoretical
interest or sexual politics. Sept. 11 was a public event and
also a deeply private one. And that created two very different
ways of expressing one's pain. Men, as a generalization,
tended to retreat and go it alone; women tended to advance and
bond with others. The demographics of the disaster elevated
the importance of those differences — World Trade Center
widows outnumber widowers five-to-one — and changes in
American society over the last few decades allowed and
encouraged those widows to step forward. An advance guard of
female leaders emerged at September's Mission, the Skyscraper
Safety Campaign and many other groups.
Some women say the disaster brought out an instinctive
reaction, like a mother bear protecting her cubs. Others say
women are more comfortable expressing their emotions in
public, and in building the networks, shared grief was the
"In some ways it's the steel magnolia syndrome," said Diane
Horning, who lost her son, Matthew.
Of course, war widows have been around as long as there
have been wars, but historians say that the women who grieved
after Antietam in the Civil War or Pearl Harbor before World
War II could do little more than that — there was no mechanism
for turning their pain into action. The rise of women in the
community of Sept. 11, they say, is yet another way that the
terrorist attacks broke the mold and shattered the world
before — a vast social experiment unfolding in an altered era
of gender equality.
Other women say that it is too early to pronounce an end to
history's old biases and roadblocks. The true powers that be,
they say, might simply be biding their time until the women go
away or burn out.