Paying Tribute to the Tenth Anniversary of September 11

ALBANY, NY (08/01/2011)(readMedia)-- Transitions - "Paying Tribute to the Tenth Anniversary of September 11"

By Bonnie McCullough

It seems amazing to me that almost ten years have passed since the attacks on September 11th, 2001 (9/11), a date with profound resonance for all Americans and particularly so for New Yorkers as well as funeral professionals. After a tragedy such as this, we often hear people talking about "closure" as if there is a door that can be shut after losing a loved one or being witness to a horrific event such as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Friends might ask "Haven't you reached closure yet, it's been ten years?"

Grieving for a lost loved one can take ten years, and sometimes a lifetime. Quite frankly, grief is different for everyone, so there is no such thing as "closure." Those who refuse to begin the journey through grief simply delay their own recovery. It should come as little surprise that a generation of people brought up with instant coffee and microwave ovens would search for quick relief from something we call grief. There is no set schedule or magic formula for working through it. We all experience and react to loss in different ways depending on the relationship of the deceased to us, our past experiences with loss, and sometimes even our health and emotional state.

But after a disaster such as 9/11 or the recent Japanese tsunami or Haitian earthquake has occurred, what happens to the grief process when a loved one's body has not been found? Psychologists tell us that denial is one of the steps in the grieving process. Until bereaved persons accept that death has happened, no progress can be made in resolving their grief. Most people need the experience of seeing a loved one's body because it makes the loss real and allows survivors to take the next step in the grieving process.

As shown by the awful aftermath of 9/11, sometimes body recovery is impossible even though herculean efforts are undertaken. On May 30, 2002, a solemn ceremony at Ground Zero marked the end of search and recovery efforts; only 291 bodies had been found intact and the remains of only 1,102 of the 2,823 victims had been identified. Ten years later survivors are still coping with the sudden and tragic loss coupled with the absence of a body.

Struggling through their grief, many of these survivors turned to their family funeral directors for solace and advice on memorialization. One funeral director who helped many families victimized by 9/11 was impressed with the enormous community outpouring of support for the victims' families. He told us that regular funeral services were generally conducted, but with emphasis on unique ceremonies to memorialize the victim's life. For instance, basketballs played an important role in the services for a young man killed on 9/11 who had been a star basketball player.

Why would anyone seek closure? Why would anyone want to close the door on thoughts about a departed loved one? Grief will soften in the years after a loss, but the door to memories should always be open, particularly after a tragic event such as September 11th.

(Bonnie McCullough is executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, an organization of more than 900 funeral homes and 3500 licensed funeral directors.)

(If you have a question about funeral service or would like a list of NYSFDA member funeral directors in your area, contact NYSFDA, 426 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205 or visit the website: