I struggle to go anywhere near social media on 9/11. So many people write well-meaning posts on their Facebook pages and sweet remembrance tweets on their Twitter accounts, filling up Instagram with pictures of the Twin Towers. But I find it a little hard to scroll through and read.
I understand people want to share, wanting to memorialize this day. Sharing out of a need to even begin to conceptualize the horror that struck our country on this day eighteen years ago. And this day should be remembered and I’m glad that people do, that they are pausing for a moment to think of all of those lives lost and those who lost them.
But I struggle to see it and read it because what happened on this day has forever impacted some people’s every day. And I get that. So I think about all those who don’t have to vow one day a year to never forget because it is wholly impossible for them to go a day without remembering. It is to them that I am writing this letter. To those who live with this as a constant reality. And specifically to all of those children who lost a parent on this horrible day eighteen years ago. To those children who were so young that they can’t even remember the parent that they lost — this is for you. I want you to know that I see you. I get you. I am one of you.
I didn’t lose a parent on 9/11, but before 9/11 the biggest terrorist attack against American civilians was the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. It will be thirty-one years this December. Thirty-one years that I have had to live without my mom while knowing that someone premeditated her murder and killed her in an act of hate. I was eleven months old. Too young to remember her, yet having spent my whole life growing up with the awareness of how I lost her.
This is to you-to those of you who were just babies when you lost a parent. You’re about eighteen or nineteen now. Some of you are even younger. Some of you weren’t even born yet and your entrance to the world also mingled with death as someone that should have been there didn’t even get to see you born. And yet you all were thrust into this tragic story when you were too young to even know what was going on around you. I know what it is like to look back on your life and not remember a moment when this tragedy wasn’t part of it. Part of your awareness. I get having to grow up trying to make sense of a loss that is so entirely personal yet feels so completely abstract because even though you have lived through it, you don’t remember it.
It’s hard. It is so hard. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to grow up when you have lost a parent in such a tragic way-in such a public way. Because everyone around you remembers the one you lost even though you don’t. And they may tell you all about that parent, but you can’t help but feel somewhat detached because you don’t know them. You look at pictures, maybe see old home movies of your infant self in this person’s arms. Some of you feel the ache of that person missing in your life. Others of you wish that you were able to feel something, anything, toward the one that you lost, but you just can’t remember. It’s okay to feel that way. I have felt that way. It’s okay to have moments when it is hard to feel. You’re meant to feel a void-you lost your mom or dad. A part of you. There is something missing. Someone.
I want to tell you not to believe the lie. Because you will have so many people tell you as you grow up how lucky you were that you lost your mom or dad when you were so young. They’ll tell you that it is easier for you because you don’t have a memory, that the loss isn’t so great because there is less to miss. But that’s not true. It’s just a different kind of hard. Because you may not have felt it yet, but someday you will. Someday, whether months from now or years from now, you will truly realize what you had and what you lost, and you will grieve the loss of one you didn’t even get to know.
And I’m going to be upfront and tell you that it may be one of the hardest things that you will ever do, facing that loss. Facing their absence and also how they died. I was twenty-one when it finally caught up with me, when I truly felt the pain of the mom I lost. And suddenly she became all I ever wanted and all I could never have. It was so many years later and I finally entered the grieving process all on my own with no one around me to understand the utter complexity of mourning someone you never got to know. Others around you may sympathize. They have grieved, too. But it is a wholly different thing to face the loss of a person you didn’t even get a chance to know because someone took that chance from you. And when that moment comes, I pray that you’ll embrace the pain. Because it will lead to healing, healing of a massive wound you may not even be aware that you have.
It’s going to be hard at times as you continue to grow up. There may be moments when you resent people telling you stories about that parent that you lost because you’ll be upset that you don’t have a memory of your own. And someday someone will say something about that parent that totally shatters the idea of them that you have built in your head all these years and it will leave you all sorts of confused and be just another reminder that you didn’t get to know them.