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Kids of 9/11 Carry Loss of a Lifetime

Grief: A special counseling camp aids children who lost a parent in the World Trade Center attack.


NEW YORK — In the wobbly handwriting of a 10-year-old boy, the card attached to a green balloon read, "Dear Dad, I hope you are doing very well in heven. I also hope you will be watching over me every day and every night."

It was a message to his father, a firefighter lost in the fiery attack on the World Trade Center.

The boy released the balloon message into the sky during one of two bereavement camps held last weekend for youngsters who lost a parent in the disaster.

Separated by age into small groups, the children divulged memories, worries and questions they might not otherwise share with their surviving parent for fear of causing more pain.

In voices barely louder than a whisper, they admitted it took months to realize their lost parents weren't coming back.

"A week ago they found a part of his face and we had a funeral," one little girl said of her father, eliciting knowing nods from the group of children.

The number of children who lost a parent in the Sept. 11 attack is not known, but the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald alone estimates its more than 650 victims left 1,300 children. At the Fire Department, which lost 343 people, more than 600 children are missing at least one parent. Hundreds more have not been counted.

Comfort Zone Camp, based in Richmond, Va., held two one-day sessions for the children, one in New Jersey and another at a high school in New York. The nonprofit camp has been counseling grieving children since 1999.

Some of the 17 children at the Queens session didn't say much during the group discussions, which were followed by arts and crafts and a snack. But simple interaction with other grieving children can help with the healing, said camp founder Lynne Hughes, who lost her mother at age 9 and father at age 12.

"Most of them don't know anybody else that this has happened to," Hughes said. "They show up and see other kids that have experienced a death and know they're not alone."

One girl solemnly said her friends don't understand her pain because they still have moms to take them shopping.

Nine-year-old Amy Gardner described her dream of going back in time to warn her firefighter father to avoid the trade center on Sept. 11.

"Now there's three people in my family. It's not a unit anymore," Amy said.

Another girl, who lost her mother in the attack, said she gets scared that her dad's going to die too.

"And I won't have anybody," she said, playing with a silver necklace her mother used to wear to work at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. on the 89th floor of the north tower.

Amy looked at the girl wistfully and said she wished she had a piece of jewelry or something of her father's that she could wear every day.

"I just have a picture in my head," she said. "That was the last time I saw him."

Bill Cushnie, who led discussions for the adults, said most of the parents are frustrated because they aren't sure what their children are thinking.

That's why Elizabeth Gardner brought Amy and her brother, Christopher, 7, to the camp.

"They need to talk and get things out and they don't really like to do that with me because they don't want to upset me," she said. Her husband, Tom Gardner, was with the Fire Department's hazardous materials unit.

Amy said she enjoyed the day and found the small group with other children, ages 9, 10 and 11, to be very helpful.

"The way some people are solving their problems, that helps give me ideas," she said.

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