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How Should I Feel, What Do I Say Now? The fifth anniversary of 9/11


By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES Director of Family Programs


Individuals are faced with an especially unique, intense, and confusing mixture of questions and emotions as a milestone anniversary gets closer. As September 11th approaches, individuals may feel uneasy. Normally a time for vacations and a break from routine, for family members, survivors, rescue and recovery workers, summertime instead starts an unwelcome increase in letters, movies, articles, requests, and preparations for the anniversary.  


Even a simple question like “how’s your summer” can stir up bittersweet feelings, with reminders of the carefree and innocent summer of 2001, or the “last summer” with a loved one. Individuals may wonder, “what should I say,” “what “how should I feel.” The questions are hard to answer and hard to avoid, particularly as the anniversary draws near. The following thoughts may help you get through some tough and awkward moments.  


• Be true to your own feelings: You may have been concerned with protecting others, not wanting to upset them with your struggles. Some have felt guilty for being either “too happy” or “not happy enough.” You may have expected to feel a certain way by now – and others may offer how you should feel. Give yourself permission to be wherever you are with your post 9/11 emotional “lifework”.  


• Pick and choose: It’s great to be considerate of others, but you can pick and choose what to say and to whom. What you share is entirely up to you. By now you have a list of old friends and family who have been a comfort throughout the last five years. Some new friends may have shown particular kindness or understanding. Use and celebrate those who let you “be you.”  


• Be prepared: Questions and comments range from the caring to the intrusive. Anticipating what others say or ask and having readymade responses can make it easier. Practice answers for when asked, “how are you doing.” You could choose to be direct and honest – perhaps educating others that “it’s still day by day.” To those who advise “it’s time to move on,” try “I decided to move at my own speed.” It’s understandable if you imagine less polite responses to irritating comments. Keeping simple replies in your pocket, such as “that’s not quite how I feel but I know you care,” can help.  


• Reach out: After all this time, others may be unsure about what to ask or how to help just as you are unsure of what to say. Lead the way, extend a hand, and ask for help. Reconnecting with others, being interested and involved in their lives and sharing yours is an extremely important step in building new relationships and adjusting to such a significant life changing event.  


• Be open: It may be time to try new ways of doing things, heed some advice, or get professional guidance. There is no time limit for making positive healthy changes.  


Just as there are no easy answers to “why did 9/11 happen” there are no easy answers to the tough questions that followed. But each person has the power to find the path forward. Along the way, those tragically touched by 9/11 deserve to be with others who have the patience to join them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and provide a voice to cheer them on.  

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