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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Gigi Nelson

'There are so many reminders--her, for one. She looks like him.'

September 11, 2002

Gigi Nelson, 40, of Huntington Station, N.Y., went into labor during the memorial service for her husband, firefighter Peter Nelson. She gave birth to their daughter, Lyndsi, on Oct. 6.

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"The anniversary has really stirred things up. Not a moment goes by in a day when I don't think about him. Everybody says you'll get better and time heals all wounds, but this is such a gaping wound that I don't ever see it healing. It probably doesn't help that I have pictures of him all over the house. There are so many reminders--her [Lyndsi], for one. She looks like him.

We weren't sure whether they were going to find him. We decided as a family that we were going to have a memorial, and then if they did find him, we would do a funeral.

There was a lot of stress, and even though she wasn't due for three more weeks, I started going into labor during the memorial. My brother-in-law was sitting behind me, and we set up a little system that I would tap my shoulder when a contraction was starting and he would time them. Finally, he said, 'Gigi--you're three minutes apart!' But I felt OK. I wanted to let all the firemen and policemen to come up and pay their respects. I made it through to the very last one. Then I stood up and I said, 'OK. It's time to go the hospital.'

I had the baby two hours and 40 minutes later.

I felt Peter's presence in the delivery room. We all did, even the doctors and the nurses. Everybody was saying, 'He is here.' I just felt him, I can't explain it. I just felt like he was looking at me, saying, 'It's OK, I'm here, everything is going to be OK.'

Peter wasn't scheduled to work that day. But the night before he was asked to fill for the early shift on Sept. 11, so he was on the first truck to the World Trade Center. I run that through my mind almost every day: if only he hadn't been working then, if only, if only. But you can't do that. You'll make yourself crazy.

I keep sane because I have a lot of family. My mother has not left my side. My family and friends are always here to help.

There was a time when it was just nightmares, nightmares, you know. When I didn't get enough sleep, my mom would take over and say, 'I'll watch the baby--get some rest.'

I still get mail from all over. If I know it's going to be a tough day for me, I won't open the mail. I'll wait for a day, sometimes I'll wait for a week. I tell my mom, 'Don't worry, I pulled out the bills.' But some days I just can't read the letters.

I started corresponding with a woman from North Carolina. I've never met her, but for some reason, she touched me. She keeps writing; she doesn't mind if I don't write her back.

At night when I can't sleep, I write to her. I tell her that she's a lot better than therapy.

I see the other wives who lost their husbands every once in a while, but we're all busy. We were together recently for a plaque dedication for the guys at the firehouse who were killed in the Father's Day fire. But we're trying to celebrate life too, not just death. I call sometimes just to see how they're doing, but we all know how we're all doing, and no one is doing that great.

There are days when I feel like I can't do this, but I have to. None of these men would want to see us give up. Peter would be so mad at me if he saw me crying every night. I think of that, and that keeps me going.

Lyndsi is amazing. She's crawling, she's waving bye-bye. She says 'da-da' all the time. I know all babies do that, but for me, it breaks my heart to hear it. I show her his helmet and his picture and I say, 'There's da-da.' I have two big boxes of cards and letters and newspaper clippings for her. When she's old enough, we can go through these things and I can show her, this is what was going on in our country, this is who your dad was. I wonder what she is going to think about all this.

The guys at the firehouse have been great. They were at the hospital when Lyndsi was born. They took care of everything, the paperwork, the applications for survivors' benefits. I didn't know some of these people because Peter had only been in this firehouse, Rescue 4, for a year. But there they were. They acted like, 'You're Peter's wife and therefore you're one of us.'

He used to talk about the brotherhood, the brotherhood. I would say, 'What are you talking about? You have brothers--they're your blood.' But you know what? Now I know what he's talking about."

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As told to Maggie Farley

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