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'We Will Never Be the Same' : The physical reminders of the Oklahoma City bombing have been buried. But for many of those who were left behind, the horror is only beginning.

June 23, 1995|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is no more.

Connie Chung, Oprah Winfrey and most of the rest of the national media have packed up and moved on. The main suspect in the April 19 bombing that killed 168 people and shattered the spirit of this heartland city sits hidden behind bars and stone-faced.

Demolition crews continue to clear away the wreckage, and Oklahoma City continues to try to move from the shock of the explosion to the task of rebuilding.

Friends of survivors are telling them--sometimes impatiently and with a hint of unintentional patronizing--that the time for grieving and feeling sad is over. It's been more than two months. Time to get on with the task of everyday living, to make everything all right again.

But for many of those directly affected by the blast, getting back to normal is as alien a concept as the rage behind the anti-government mission that led to the killings and the 500 injuries. The physical reminders of the bomb may have been buried, but for many of those left behind, the horror is only beginning.

These survivors are doing their best to be brave in the face of the never-ending nightmares and tears. They have been buoyed by the support and kindness of the American Red Cross, as well as by friends and strangers from around the world. They are not allowing themselves to be consumed with anger toward the perpetrators of the bombing. Besides, the world won't stop long enough for them to focus on those emotions.

Still, as the aunt of Daina Bradley, the most well-known of the victims, said, "There's a void in our life now. And we will never be the same again." What follows are three stories of survival.

Karen Jones

It was a long June day for Karen Jones, filling out forms, talking to counselors at the American Red Cross disaster relief center set up in a shopping mall storefront.

Although she was weary, the friendly, curly-haired resident of Yukon, a suburb of Oklahoma City, endured all the procedures patiently, as if she is used to the slow movement of progress. In the weeks since her husband's death, she has learned that nothing comes easily.

Friends have asked her what she would say to her husband, a Transportation Department computer analyst at the federal building, if she could see him once more for five minutes.

"They think that I would want to tell him that I loved him, but that's not what I would say," Jones said. "He already knew that. We would have celebrated our 20th anniversary in August. After all the years we spent together, that's one thing that he always knew.

"But I would ask him how I am supposed to do all these things that I have to do now. I'm having to make some of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life. Larry would handle everything. I never paid the bills, made the decisions alone about the kids' education, paid for the car insurance. I can't believe all of the money all of this takes, and it's so scary."

Although her words conveyed fear and grief, her voice remained steady, unchoked by tears or emotion.

"I mean, we are 40 and 46. We never talked about death and funeral arrangements. We talked about trips we wanted to take. If I were to give advice to any couple, I would tell them to take five or 10 minutes to talk about what to do if something should happen to the other person. It's a horrible thing to talk about, but you really need to touch base on what they would like, what arrangement would please them.

"And never, ever leave home without kissing your spouse goodby and saying, 'I love you."'

Larry and Karen Jones didn't say goodby the morning of April 19. They had overslept and were in a rush to get ready for work. When Larry Jones went out the door, he just had time to say to his wife: "See you later."

Soon afterward, Karen Jones got a page from a friend telling her that her 18-year-old son, Kelly, was looking for her. There had been a bombing at the building where Larry Jones worked.

"Kelly saw the television and saw where his father's office was," Jones recalled. "He said he knew his father was gone."

It was seven days before Larry Jones' body was recovered.

"During those days, there were times when I knew he wasn't coming home, then I would think about him laying there in the building, possibly just hurt," Jones said. "I didn't get much sleep during those days. I slept on the couch. I didn't want to go into our bedroom."

These days, Jones still does not sleep very well: "I feel lonely and sad. Sometimes angry that he's not here. He promised me he would always be there."

Jones said she has tried to keep her mind off her sadness by staying busy with her job as an elder care nurse and with her home life. She returned to work on a shortened schedule about four weeks ago.

"But no matter how involved I get, the least little thing can start me crying and feeling depressed," she said.

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