Lost loves but newfound lives

By MAGGIE HABERMAN and JOANNE WASSERMAN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS


With 3-year-old daughter, Ruby, hanging on, Trade Center widow Regan Grice-Vega is moving forward with her life.

It was a big step, but firefighter widow Regan Grice-Vega finally stopped wearing the necklace with the replica of her husband's badge.
"I practiced not wearing it," said Grice-Vega. "It declared who I was and I don't want to declare it anymore."

Like many who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks, Grice-Vega is trying to find a new identity in her post-9/11 life.

She bought a house in Brooklyn, enrolled her daughter Ruby, 3, in preschool, and is thinking about dating and returning to work.

"You decide," said Grice-Vega, 39. "And my decision was to move forward."

Many of the thousands of family members left behind when the twin towers fell two years ago today are finding the strength to look forward. They are resuming their lives, picking up the pieces.

For many others, though, each day is still a struggle, and the second anniversary is another reminder of their loss.

"Some people are feeling more isolated this year than last because the hype is gone," said Nancy Arnow, a social worker at Safe Horizon, which has provided counseling since the attacks.

"Some of the families say they expected to be in a better place two years later than they really are."

For those who have turned a corner, the changes they make are often small and tentative: Going to a backyard barbecue, or attending their children's school meetings. Some count progress as simply making it through a whole day without crying.

"Everybody mourns and grieves in their own way and at their own pace," said Alan Hilfer, a psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center. "But it's been two years, and that's generally enough time to move through much of this."

Jennie Farrell, who formed Give Your Voice and became a full-time activist after her brother James' death, has begun to think more about herself and her family.

"It's two years later, and for us it's a turning point," said Farrell. "I am rebuilding my home life."

Farrell began attending events at her son James' Wantagh, L.I., elementary school. She signed up to be a class parent, started seeing friends again and threw a party.

"It's life," she said. "It's the biggest honor I can give to my brother. Even though my heart is broken, my promise to him was I will smile and learn to live with him in a new and different way."

'The new normal'

Denise Maura, who lost her fiance, Joey Eacobacci, also is learning to live what she calls "the new normal."

She's still in love with Eacobacci, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, and still lives in their Manhattan apartment.

But last month, she went on her first date since his death. They had dinner and talked about Eacobacci. Still, it qualified as "a step," she said.

"The poor guy, this is horrible timing, because I'm not really there," she said.

Marian Fontana, who lost her firefighter husband, Dave, went on a few dates, but it was too soon. Now, she measures progress in smaller steps.

"The spaces of time when I feel better are longer," said Fontana, of Brooklyn. "It's certainly still hard, but every once in a while I'll [think], 'Wow. I haven't cried in a whole day.'"

Last week, Grice-Vega welcomed Ruby's new preschool teachers into her Windsor Terrace home for a visit.

"She's going to go to school part-time and I've been offered work," she said. "I'm getting there."

Mother and daughter had made blueberry muffins for the visit. "All done!" Ruby announced.

Grice-Vega's hearty laugh, not heard for a long time, filled the bright house she and Ruby now call home.

Originally published on September 11, 2003

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