Pain still fresh for 9/11 kin

New tests, old memories on this 3rd anniversary


The first year they were numb. The second they gathered enough strength to pull what was left of their families together.

Now it's the third anniversary and the anguish of life forever without their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, children and grandchildren has become painfully real.

Some relatives of the 2,749 people who died on that spectacularly beautiful day three years ago today will journey to Ground Zero this morning. Others will bypass official ceremonies for a walk on a beach and quiet time with their loved ones.

"My husband loved his life. He would want us to have a couple real cries, but he would also want us to live and laugh," said Susan Buhse, 35, whose husband, Patrick, was among the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Buhse will take her 7-year-old daughter, Sloan, and 6-year-old son, William, to their father's grave this morning, and will likely end the day at Mass.

In between, Buhse and her children plan to eat ice cream and go on the rides at the Point Pleasant boardwalk not far from their Middletown, N.J., home.

"Patrick wanted us to have a good life, and I am determined to make that happen for my children," she said.

Buhse said she started a new relationship - after a blind date set up by another 9/11 widow - and was grateful for how her husband's family welcomed him, a retired firefighter.

Surviving family members said the past three years have been a constant challenge. They have raised children alone, buried what remains - if any - have been found, felt guilty about dating and labored to make sure the memory of their loved ones didn't fade.

Just yesterday, hundreds of mourners crowded Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island for a graveside goodbye to Firefighter Joseph Maffeoone, of Ladder 101 in Brooklyn, whose remains were identified earlier this year.

Most of all, families of the victims said they have struggled to find peace with their grief and searched - many times without success - for a way to remember the joys of life and the inherent blessing of being alive.

On the first two anniversaries, Kathy Simon was torn between grief and joy, her heart broken from losing her brother, Michael Simon. But Sept. 11 also is the birthday of her oldest son, Colin.

"They were so close. Colin reminds me of my brother," said Simon, 53.

She and her son will skip today's ceremonies for a quiet dinner together to celebrate Colin's 27th birthday. "You try to find peace, and balance," Simon said.

It has taken Eric LaBorie three years to feel at ease in his own home. Every piece of furniture, every appliance, every book reminded him of his wife, Kathryn, a flight attendant on United Flight 175, which plowed into the south tower.

"I kind of fell apart," said LaBorie, 37, a graphic artist from Providence, R.I., who escaped his pain by moving to Florida, enrolling in school and changing careers. It was only then, living in a strange town, that he understood his life was back home in Providence.

"I'm finally comfortable in my own home," said LaBorie, who traveled to the Caribbean to spend today on a quiet beach. "I am trying to do new things, to live."

The pain of parents who lost children, many of them in their 20s and 30s, often seems the freshest of the wounds.

"Everyone else's life has moved on, but I still can't imagine life without my son," said Marilyn Goldberg, of Marlboro, N.J., who lost her 26-year-old son, Brian.

"His wife has remarried, and is having a child. I would have liked it to be their baby, my son and hers. ... I find the whole thing very hard," said Goldberg, who will be at Ground Zero today.

Loisanne Diehl was immensely grateful when her 18-year-old daughter went off earlier this month to a music conservatory. College had been a hard-won victory.

Since Diehl's husband, Michael, died in the attacks, their adopted daughter tried to kill herself three times, Diehl said.

"When she got accepted to college I looked up and said, 'Michael, you did it, you had your hand in it,'" said Diehl, 52, of Brick, N.J. "You should be proud of your little girl."

Originally published on September 11, 2004