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Orange County

Grief Relief: A Week in West for 9/11 Firefighter Families

The visits feature tributes and treats, courtesy of the victims' Southland counterparts.

January 03, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Janlyn Scanso took antidepressants after her firefighter husband was killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. Similarly, Maureen Mitchell had to assume new responsibilities and the challenge of putting two daughters through college. And Debbie Palmer, who suffers from an eye disease, now has to depend on others to drive her three children to school.

The women, part of a group of 18 families of New York firefighters killed that day, were brought out to Southern California for a week of relaxation and appreciation. It's the last of a series of trips by 60 such families this year, organized and funded by Southland firefighters, including Orange County's.

This last group of wives, parents and children of fallen firefighters were greeted by at least 50 Southland firefighters and their families. The visitors were feted at area beaches, Rodeo Drive, Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Rose Parade and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

"We've been enveloped by warmth and caring since we've been here," said Nancy Collins of Somerset, N.J., who lost her son in the attack.

Thursday was a day for the female guests to spend at the Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa near Corona, wading in the frothy mineral baths and getting manicures, pedicures, facials and back rubs.

"We can get them into a different environment and give them a day of psychological escape and spiritual renewal," said John Gray, president and CEO of Glen Ivy.

But memories intrude.

Collins saw the "John" on Gray's name badge and her eyes welled up.

"Oh, you have the same name as my son's," said Collins, who came with her husband, Marty, both 68. "We have happy days, and then it just hits, and you crash again."

"You have meltdowns. You cry," said Scanso, 40, of Long Island, whose husband, Dennis, was a firefighter for 14 years. "But you have to go on for the children. They don't deserve to lose two parents."

Debbie Palmer, whose 45-year-old husband, Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, was killed on the 78th floor of the South Tower, said the pain is unbearable.

"There's no way to escape the constant reminders," said Palmer, also of Long Island. "Even when I'm doing the laundry, every T-shirt my kids have says '9/11' or 'In Remembrance of FDNY' on them. Not that you want to forget, but you just want to take a break from it for a while."

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