No Words Can Fill a Mothers Heart
My first visit to the former World Trade Center site began by gazing at the fenced off dusty hollow and marveling at the depth and enormity of the buildings’ footprints. By visit’s end, another void would have more impact.
Walking in silence with my stepdaughters Shannon and Kate, we turned away from the hole to join the rest of the crowds gathering outside the FDNY Firehouse Engine 10 Ladder 10 where a bronze memorial plaque had been placed, holding the names of 343 firefighters who died in the rescue operation of 9-11.
My eyes followed another line one curving towards a building signed WTC Tribute Center, located in the former Liberty Deli. After the attacks, the deli had become a respite providing meals and clean air to the rescuers. We were coaxed inside by the intimacy of the space. In that brief moment, the girls and I left our world behind.
I first caught sight of wreckage from an airplane window where a passenger had viewed the ground disappearing on takeoff and world peace disappearing upon impact into the first tower. There were walls with photo replicas depicting the “lost” flyers at the site, “lost a banker last seen at the bagel shop, “lost – a mother last heard from after dropping her child off at daycare”, lost, lost, lost. Actual photos of those that died were also on display alongside the occasional bowling trophy and a drawing of a dress designed by a four year old, kept in the wallet of her mother for 27 years.
We made our way downstairs to The Voices of Promise where cards were posted on the walls by visitors, politicians and mothers, containing recollections of 9-11 and its aftermath. In the middle of the room, a table was laid out with blank postcards beckoning me to write:
“I clearly remember the day of 9-11, or more so the emotion. I was newly widowed and had just marked the one year anniversary of my husband’s death from leukemia. I knew intimately the grief of others who had instantly lost a loved one that day and felt their sorrow and mine become one. We also celebrated my son’s fifth birthday that day. Two years later, in 2003, my new husband and his daughters would mark the death of wife and mother on that day. So every year on September 11th, we mark a birth, a death and the struggle for peace in between.”
I rose from the table and walked towards a woman in a red shirt who sat somberly in a folded chair. Her badge read Theresa Mullan. “This is amazing,” I shared with her. “This is wonderful – that this is here.”
“Oh, we have people from all over, come in and just sit and take it in. You know, we did it, the families made this happen.”
I sensed a need to continue but she beat me to it. “That’s a picture of my son, there on the table.” I glanced at a booklet from a memorial service.
“Michael, oh he was quite the character. He loved Sinatra and musicals.”
“Was he married? I asked curious to know what else he had left behind.
“Oh no, he used to say, he loved all the women, there were too many good ones to choose from.” She went on, “Did you get to see the firefighter’s memorial outside?” Again, I shook my head. “You know, the mayor wouldn’t let us put their ranks next to their names even though my son died in the line of duty.”
I looked at Theresa closely, to see how different grief appeared when it was one of your own, and not married to it. “So many people come here to tell their stories,” her voice trailed off. I took this cue to thank her and move towards the girls.
Katie had completed her writing and Shannon said nothing, but abruptly came up beside me and reached out for a hug. I walked out of the Tribute WTC site wishing my son Davis and stepdaughter Cheryl had been with us as well. They too had many outlets for their sadness, but this one would have connected them to the world. I cried for Devin as I relived those moments as widow and mourner. And I yearned for my new husband Mark, wishing for simpler times in our new romance of two middle-aged adults.
I said a prayer for Theresa, mother of Micheal Mullan, Ladder Company 12. And I prayed for my own mother, whose first son, David, died two days after birth.
While growing up, we would make mention “had little David lived…” to mark his birthday. Or we would visit his gravesite on Sunday mornings, and still not know the pain of my mother. Later, in the evenings, Mom would kneel down with us and pray, Dear God, please bless Mommy, Daddy, Laura, Paul, Annette, Beth and Jeanne, and, little David, watch over us and help us to be a good kind and loving family.
During my final conversations with Theresa, I had offered up again that I was truly sorry for the death of her son. She didn’t need a monument or a written card, only my acknowledgment that mothers hold the pain of the world in their hearts. They are able to carry only so much sadness before their hearts explode, leaving a gaping hole to remind the world we must work hard to earn the privilege of having a mother, or becoming a one.