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A Year After

For Some, a Time of Quiet Bereavement

New York: Many will grieve in private, remembering lost ones with a day spent at the beach, the park or with kin.

September 11, 2002|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Really, it is unavoidable. But some will try today to escape the intensity of a million pieces of this city coming together to remember what happened here a year ago.

One widow has rented a room in a New Jersey shore town and asked the hotel to remove the television and radio. She does not want to see her grief teased on the evening news. She does not want to glimpse Fifth Avenue department stores that have removed their window displays and etched "In Remembrance" or "Never Again" on the glass. She wants to be with her memories, says a friend. Alone.

Debbie Harrison plans to attend a morning service at her Queens church, then go to nearby Flushing Meadow Park, where she and Charles John, her late partner of six years, used to spend lazy weekend afternoons. John, a security supervisor at the Fiji Bank, died at the World Trade Center.

"I'm going to sit by the water at the park as long as I can stand it and say some things out loud," Harrison said.

She is consciously avoiding ceremonies at ground zero: "No, never, never, never. It's too much. I don't like anybody telling me how to grieve."

Many victims' families declined offers from the president and the mayor to participate in ground zero's somber pageantry. Nobody kept track of how many or why these widows and mothers and fathers did not want to commiserate, read names of the dead or lay a rose at the site.

As one who said yes to being there when President Bush arrives today, Michael Cartier, whose 26-year-old brother, James, died, fully understands why many might say no.

"People are still just waking up and starting now to grieve and couldn't possibly make it downtown," said Cartier, who added that his parents are "paralyzed still, still unable to cope." His father, a Korean War veteran, has never visited ground zero. His mother went once.

Today, both parents will go to Mass in the morning and to James' grave in the afternoon, where they'll release a white dove. Then, the six Cartier children will gather at their parents' home "to be together with our memories of James," said Michael, who is the youngest sibling.

But it's difficult to avoid the anniversary altogether because there is so much to remind New York of what was. There is the sky this week, a cloudless blue--the way it was that whole horrible day. And the rhythms of a city coming to life in September after an August vacation.

There is also the media coverage of the anniversary, coverage that comes now around the clock. And the fact that almost every institution in this city, from churches and schools and temples to hair salons and delis and banks, is making some sort of Sept. 11 statement.

A thrift shop on Manhattan's Columbus Avenue has scribbled "Everyday Heroes" on its windows; a Brooklyn beauty salon has erected a shrine in its front lobby displaying police and fire T-shirts; and a small consulting firm is closed today, leaving a voice message explaining to its clients around the nation that "all New Yorkers are in mourning today. We'll be open Thursday."

"We thought it would be unseemly not to close," said Mark Penski, a business consultant, who is at a loss about what he will do rather than work. "I can't go to a mall, but I can't turn on the TV either."

News executives acknowledge that coverage of the anniversary is inescapable--and perhaps overdone. In fact, every New York City newspaper's front page on Tuesday was entirely about Sept. 11 or its aftermath.

ABC "World News Tonight" anchor Peter Jennings said in his Monday e-mail to viewers, "We do hear from some of you that it's all too much, and there are moments when we all must feel that we are being overwhelmed. But in this newsroom, we hope that when the day is done on Wednesday, we will look back believing that our journey through history and memory will have meant something to everyone."

Even some journalists can't stomach the coverage, although it might be unprofessional to admit it. A CNN correspondent who has been covering the story said she does not plan to turn on her television today--unless she must.

"The last thing I need to see is images already burned into the brain. I don't need to have them underlined, made more vivid," said the correspondent, who asked not to be identified.

Grieving experts say that "too much," of course, is a relative term. Some survivors and victims' families will watch it all, attend every church and civic ceremony, read each name of the 2,819 World Trade Center dead as they are listed this week in newspapers or scrolled on television screens. But others, like the widow at the Jersey Shore and Debbie Harrison, couldn't possibly immerse themselves that way. Watching the replays of the commandeered airliners ramming into the towers is like seeing their loved ones die, over and over again.

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