The Rising

Editor’s Note: Today, on the 13th anniversary of September 11th, we’d like to re-run a heartfelt and informative story that we published on the 10th anniversary in honor of all of the men and women who lost their lives.

For me, as it is for many Americans, the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 is about honoring the spouses, children, brothers, sisters and friends who were lost. It is about honoring the men and women who served New York and our country—those who lost their lives in the midst of the tragedy, and the others who served in the weeks and months that followed. It is about honoring the City of New York and its boundless compassion and resilient spirit.

As this monumental anniversary approached, it was my privilege to talk with three women who lost some of their loved ones. For who else better to help us understand the human dimension of 9/11 and how it plays out in the lives of families? They are Danielle Salerno, who was four months pregnant with her first child when she lost her husband, John “Pepe” Salerno; Lisa Luckett, at the time a mom of a 4-month-old, a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, who lost her husband Teddy Luckett; and my mother-in-law, Andrea Ouida, who lost her 25-year-old son, Todd Ouida.

In the days and weeks after 9/11 how did you get by, how did you breathe?

IMG_1295.JPGDanielle: I remember so vividly that first night, trying to fall asleep and feeling like I wasn’t breathing. You’re numb. I don’t think you know how to get by. What got me through was knowing that my family was there, and knowing that I was pregnant after being with Pepe for 13 years—knowing I had a part of him because I couldn’t imagine living without him.

Lisa: Everyone around me was spinning in such a way that I had to be the one that kept it together. Nature was going to give me everything I needed. If I was numb, I was not going to let myself feel bad for not feeling bad. I had a four-month-old, a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. Jennifer (my 7-year-old) went to school the next morning. She needed to be protected and I was actually in full-function mode. In terms of support, for 12 months we all got what most people who lose loved ones get for only a few weeks. (The other women nod in agreement.) For me, 9/11/2002 is when the darkness, the despair, the isolation all set in.

Andrea: It’s very surreal that someone can be there one minute and not the next. But how I got by was a lot of good people around me, family and friends and a wonderful minister who met with us weekly. My husband was also in the building and he got out.

Lisa: Good lord – you had three people connected to this!

Andrea: Yes, my husband, my son Jordan who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald but was in London on 9/11, and Todd. A lot
of what kept me going was concern for other family members because I kept thinking how much more horrible it was for my husband having been in the building. So part of it was being there for other people, but personally I listened to a lot of music, read poetry about losing people, read books on grieving and the afterlife.

Lisa and Danielle: So did we!

People always want to know how they can help and what they can say to a family who has suffered a tragedy. What are some things that family, friends and even strangers said and did that you found the most helpful and comforting.

Andrea: People talking about Todd, or just listening to me talk about Todd. You want this person to not be gone or forgotten. I still find myself purposely saying something about Todd because I want him to be there. There is really
nothing you can say that is truly comforting.

Lisa: When you want to help someone, don’t ask. Just do it. A friend of mine picked up my daughter ever day, brought her to school and delivered hot coffee to me.

Danielle: Sometimes I had nothing to say to anyone because I didn’t want to speak. So in addition to what both of
you said, my other point would be allowing people to grieve the way they need to as opposed to the way others think
you should.  I don’t really believe in “the steps” [of grief] because, oddly enough, I was never angry; I was scared. I just kept thinking that Pepe would never meet his child—just how Andrea, your son would never see his mother again, and Lisa, your husband would never see his children again, and knowing all they would be missing out on.

Lisa: I grieved that first. That Teddy would never see his kids grow up.

Danielle: To me that is more painful than my own loss.

Death is such a hard thing to talk to children about and many parents struggle with how to tell their children about the loss of a parent, grandparent, relative or even a sibling. What advice would you give them?

Danielle: Jack wasn’t born yet and I couldn’t wait for him to start talking because it was so lonely [laughing]. There is so much I wanted to tell him and still want to tell him. I can never understand why people don’t talk about death or are afraid to talk about it. Because there is nothing better than raw feelings to heal. You need to be open and honest. Death is not a secret in our house. When they ask, they’re ready to hear it.

Lisa: I agree. I started giving my kids information then and have never stopped. You give it to them in their language not in adult terms. We talk about Teddy all the time. We’ve moved forward and are taking Teddy with us along the way.

Andrea: I strongly agree with talking about the person because by talking about the person they [the children] know that everyone in this family is loved and cherished and valued–and know they are too.

Lisa: I actually like crying–but not in a bad way [laughs]. I like feeling the pain of the loss because it means it’s still real. I love that I still remember him so vividly. One gift of all this is that we can see the people we lost in our children.

What are some ways that you preserve the memories and honor the person you lost?

Lisa: When my kids are acting or looking like Teddy I tell them. I try to find the positive in every way I can.

Danielle: I remember thinking they died tragically but that people die tragically every day. We were lucky because we had so many people helping us. I am a better person for having gone through this because I appreciate everything so much more.

Lisa: That’s so interesting, Danielle. Andrea, do you feel that way having lost a son? Are you able to
appreciate the little things more and feel like you grew from this tragedy?

Andrea: You can’t help but grow from it. I appreciate things more. I remember after Todd died and it was autumn and all the leaves turned and they were so beautiful. I was grieving and grieving but I could still notice beauty.

DSC_0028.JPGLisa: You can’t stop seeing the beauty. To this day I see and get the best of people. I am someone that normally takes care of other people. And all these people wanted to take care of me and I realized that only way I could help people is by letting them help me. As I see it, this event didn’t just happen to me it, it happened to an entire community, a whole city, an entire culture. It was personal for everyone. Everyone was grieving.

Andrea: I never had the feeling, “Why me?” My feeling is life is just so random.

Danielle: Pepe was supposed to be out of the office on 9/11 but he ended up going in. I can never say, “What if?” He was there and that’s the end of it.

Lisa: If your number comes up, then that’s it. How else do you justify random loss at the wrong time?

Is it possible to turn tragedy into hope?

Lisa: Absolutely. Those buildings could have been hit in the middle of the day. We could have buried 40,000 thousand people. It could always be worse. The support that came with 9/11 was so mind blowing. If you’re ever going to be in a tragedy or go through something scary, you want to be with New Yorkers. They are one cool group!

Danielle: I think you can turn anything into hope. You just have to choose to do it.

Lisa: Maybe this taught us to live life a little better. To make sure we always right our wrongs.

Andrea: Believe it or not, I remember thinking right after 9/11 how much I still had to be thankful for. I had two other children. And now have five beautiful grandchildren! We also started the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, which helps children with anxiety disorders–which seemed like a good way to honor his legacy. But turning tragedy into hope, Lisa and Danielle, I am sure people look to you as their inspiration.

Danielle: Andrea, as much I miss Pepe — he was my best friend and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him — I admire people like you and my mother-in-law so much because I can’t imagine having one of my children die before me. You’re my hero.

Lisa: I totally agree with that. It’s hard to even fathom losing a child.

Andrea: What I can say is [the grief] gets less intense and less frequent. But there are still times 10 years later that I think how could that be? But it’s not every day.

These days what do you most enjoy doing with your children (or grandchildren)?

Andrea: One of the things I especially enjoy dong with my grandchildren now that they are older is justIMG_0238_2.JPG chatting with them and hearing what they think. I love watching all five of them with each other. I like playing board games and sports games.

Lisa: Andrea, did you do all of that with your own children?

Andrea: Not the sports so much. [laughs]

Lisa: I ask that because I am wondering if you feel like you are able to do that as a grandparent because you now know what is truly important.

Andrea: Great question! I am able to be more fully present because I don’t have all the responsibilities. It’s more pure enjoyment. How about you two?

Lisa: They’re teenagers – I don’t know if I enjoy any of it. Just kidding! As a single parent, you get a great benefit. I never got second guessed with my parenting. Parenting by yourself is a lot of work and can be pretty stressful and I don’t always have all the answers. But what I enjoy the most is learning together, alongside of my kids. I try to give them the global perspective as much as possible. I would never be as good a parent as I am now had I not gone through what I went through. My kids see that I am always trying.

Danielle: What’s so great about kids is that if you’re truly trying your kids know. But going to back to what I like to do with my boys, my most favorite thing is having regular date nights with them. Now and then I try to take one of them out–obviously not the baby yet–on their own. I love getting to talk one on one with them and hearing things that I would never hear when we are all together—I have four boys—except for maybe at bedtime. But at bedtime, I usually fall asleep while I am reading to them.

Do you view New York negatively since September 11th?

Danielle: No. I still love Manhattan. I would move back there tomorrow if I could – it’s just so damn expensive! [laughs] I love it more now because it’s so resilient and amazing.

Andrea: I love New York too. I’d probably live there too, like Danielle, if it weren’t so expensive! At the beginning, right
after 9/11, people saw a different spirit. I think things are pretty much back to normal now. There’s a lot of great New Yorkers, always were and always will be.

Danielle: I remember driving into to New York right after 9/11 to register—because families of victims had to register—and the streets were lined with people giving us their support.

Andrea: The outpouring was unbelievable.

Heather Ouida is the co-president of babybites, a social and educational community for moms and moms-to-be.


Andrea’s suggestion: The Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation financially supports psychological services for children of families in need, promotes mental health initiatives, and works to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of anxiety and depression in children.

Danielle’s suggestion: Pepe’s family started the John Pepe Salerno Foundation, which benefits the 105 children, who were born after 9/11, who lost their dads on 9/11. It’s main purpose is to bring the kids together once or twice a year so that they will know that they are not the only ones who did not get to meet their fathers. For questions regarding sponsorships or donations, call Dina Connelly at (203) 972-8955 or email at [email protected] 

Lisa’s suggestion: “If everyone was treated the way I am, the world would be at peace!” Some of the special organizations that helped with financial support and essential information, included: the Alliance of Neighbors of Monmouth County, The Knights of Columbus, and the American Red Cross.

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