Resolving to live, love and thrive, after the tragedy of 9/11

This day fifteen years ago changed life for all of us. The world post-9/11 is not the same as it had been before. For some of us, the tragedy was and has been a life-changing event in the most personal and painful way. For wives, husbands, and children, for parents and siblings, someone irreplaceable was gone forever. Someone loved had gone to work, or boarded a plane, that bright, crisp beautiful Tuesday, and disappeared in flames and ashes that continued to burn, making it impossible for many to bring the remains of their loved ones for burial.

As a Trauma Specialist with experience working with survivors of the Holocaust, with soldiers suffering from combat trauma, and with victims of terror attacks in my homeland of Israel, I was called to participate in the immediate days following 9/11, providing psychological assistance to the many victims who fled from the burning buildings and the vicinity. Many of them had witnessed horrendous sights. Many had close friends who had not been as fortunate as they were to survive.

In the following weeks, I accepted to my psychological care individuals who lost their loved ones; a husband who lost his wife, a pregnant wife who lost her husband, a woman who lost her fiancé one month before their scheduled wedding day, and others. The pain that filled the space between the four walls of my office room was too great to endure. It was the kind of pain one cannot imagine getting through, the kind of pain that appears like there can be no tomorrow.

I felt the immense pain submerging me, and reaching deep inside I grabbed on to the most precious core of my being, the gift I received upon birth from my parents, both Holocaust survivors, who lived through the four-and-a-half years of Nazi persecution and concentration camps, and then came out to find out that their families were annihilated. Like the relatives of the catastrophic attack on 9/11, my parents had to live with the searing, horrible images and thoughts about the tortuous deaths that their loved ones suffered. The gift I received from my Holocaust-survivor parents was a sacred one, a double-edged one: the borrowed, harrowing, intimate knowledge of their pain, which I implicitly inherited, but also the essence of their resilience and determination to will themselves back to life, back to the healing power of connections and love.

It was not the words I told my patients that mattered. It was the silent descent together with them into the depth of pain so well known to me, in order to find together, in the abyss, the first glimmer of that which allowed my parents to emerge, to build a family and a home full of laughter, good food and always open to friends and anyone who needed a warm welcome. I did share with some of my widowed patients, those who worried terribly about the fate of their young children, who were to grow up without a father, that my mother, who survived the Holocaust all alone at age 20, who created a life full of love and resilience, was also born to a mother who had just lost her husband, a medic killed on the battlefield of World War I.

Recently, a group of the children of the 9/11 tragedy was interviewed on CNN (see http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/07/us/coming-of-age-in-the-age-of-terror-town-hall/index.html), and what a splendid, exuberant group they are! Watching these children, as well as knowing some of the parents and grandparents who helped raise them, I am amazed at the resilience of the human spirit. Being one of those who carry loss and pain in the deepest sanctuaries of our soul, in our very genetic make-up, I am certain of their ability to make remarkable lives for themselves, and to bring remarkable compassion and a unique appreciation of life and of the power of the bonds that tie us.

Irit Felsen

 

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One Response to Resolving to live, love and thrive, after the tragedy of 9/11

  1. Briana Howard says:

    Your insights are always so welcome,healing, and hopeful to me and to the Survivors with whom I share your words. What a great gift you have, probably born of that suffering that lives deep in the soul. Thank you! “I am amazed at the resilience of the human spirit. Being one of those who carry loss and pain in the deepest sanctuaries of our soul, in our very genetic make-up, I am certain of their ability to make remarkable lives for themselves, and to bring remarkable compassion and a unique appreciation of life and of the power of the bonds that tie us.”

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