Roya Turan clings to her last glimpse of her mother's loving smile as she waved goodbye to her at Boston's Logan International Airport. But now, wherever she goes, Turan recoils from a more disturbing image, that of the airplane her mother was in and the blazing gash it made when it plowed into the World Trade Center.
In the coming days, the loved ones of thousands of people killed in Tuesday's tragedy will be struggling to pull together grieving rituals for an almost incomprehensible loss, and to bury their dead when--in most cases--they don't have a body.
"It is a shocking thing," said Turan, as her family prepared for a memorial for her mother, Touri Bolourchi, on Sunday. "If you know a person is sick you can prepare yourself. But this?"
The tragedy has joined Americans in a grieving ritual unfolding in homes, public places and houses of worship. This act of common prayer unites survivors and those less directly affected, a phenomenon that experts say is itself healing. But experts predict that for wounded families--as well as for the national psyche--the grieving process will be especially difficult.
There's a paradox about the grieving process this week: On the one hand, much of the world is sharing the anguish of the families. At the same time, the enormous attention on their pain makes private, intimate grief practically impossible.
They are doing so in a media age that batters them around the clock with grotesque footage of crumbling buildings and weeping, injured survivors, triggering unsettling visions of their loved ones' terrifying last moments.
"On the one hand, there is a sense my tragedy is being shared by others, I'm not the only one who has been cursed," said Philip Zimbardo, the president-elect of the American Psychological Assn. "But it means you are going to relive your grief, over and over again, every time you see this on television or in the newspaper."
Against this backdrop, a term as finite and jargony as "closure" has very little meaning, Zimbardo said. "There is no closure," he stated bluntly. "There won't be closure for many months or years."
"This is the most difficult loss to recover from--the clear desire of someone else to do harm," said Camille Wortman, a psychology professor at New York State University and an expert on post-traumatic stress in extreme disaster victims. The likelihood that, in most cases, a body will never be found, "makes it so hard to begin the grieving process," Wortman said. "Without a body you can always cling to hope."
The psychological need to revere and bid farewell to a body is deeply embedded in the human experience, according to Michael Nutkiewicz, the senior historian of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a Holocaust oral history project.
Nutkiewicz points to Sophocles' famous play--written in 442 B.C.--in which an angry King berates his niece, Antigone, for burying a brother who is deemed a traitor. "He made war on his country," the King says. "Nevertheless," Antigone replies, "there are honors due all the dead."
The universal impulse is one reason Holocaust survivors were behind the effort to create memorials and museums, Nutkiewicz said. "When you don't have the body, then you really have to find ways to symbolically bury the loved one," he said. "Places of commemoration became the substitute for gravesites and cemeteries."
The creation of public shrines, patterned after the Vietnam War or Holocaust memorials, could help provide a grieving place. Zimbardo suggests a memorial embossed with porcelain images of every victim's face.
Families who have recovered bodies know how lucky they are.
David Harlow Rice, 31, a native of Oklahoma City, was an investment banker at Sandler O'Neill & Partners with an office on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. His family pictures him praying peacefully at his desk when he died, said the Rev. Joseph Ross, priest at his family church, Christ the King Catholic Church of Oklahoma City. "As tragic as this is, the family considers it a gift that his body was actually located and identified," Ross said.
John Menchaca, 40, will never see the body of his sister, Dora Menchaca, of Santa Monica, "so I keep thinking she's still on a business trip." She was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
In Argentina, relatives are still searching for the graves of the "disappeared" killed by the Argentine military during its "dirty war" against suspected leftists, said Ana Deutsch, clinical director of the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles.
"All religions have rites concerning the body of the dead," she said, "and they usually have a last rite with the dying person, where they can tell them goodbye."
Turan still has a crystal clear image of the moment she kissed her mother goodbye.
When she got home, she half-listened to the anonymous drone of a TV newscaster, talking about a hijacked flight--until she realized her mother was on it.
"I ran upstairs. I didn't want to hear it anymore," she said.
Turan, whose husband was visiting Iran, was alone with her two sons and couldn't fly to join her family in Los Angeles. Her first official grieving ritual was a poorly organized United Airlines briefing for families who had lost loved ones at a hotel near Logan Airport the day after the disaster, she said. "The United representative never showed up. Can you believe it?" Turan said, laughing through tears. The grieving strangers turned to one another.
"We all cried together and hugged each other," Turan said.
She and her sons finally made it to Los Angeles on Saturday night, joining her father, Akbar Bolourchi, and her sister Neda, in time for the Sunday memorial.
"There are no remains," Turan said. "But we don't need any. Her remains are everywhere, in our hearts and our family. Every part of her, her spirit, her smile, is in this house. Her love is what she has left us."