On 9/11, 38 years later, I was again with my mother when the world stood still, when we watched, over and over, as planes crashed into buildings symbolizing the best and worst of our country. She woke me early after Flight 11 hit the North Tower, and we watched, breathless and tear-streaked as Flight 175 collided with the South Tower, followed by the crash of 77 into the Pentagon and 93 in a Pennsylvania field. It was only a coincidence that I was even visiting, but it was a comfort to be with a loved one.
But 9/11 means something else to me, something more personal and private, something that I do not share with the world like I do our collective experience of the terrorist attacks. On September 11, 2003, on the 2nd anniversary of the attacks, my mother died at the age of 61. An artist, although she wouldn't have identified herself that way, I miss my mom every day. But as each 9/11 anniversary approaches, as every media outlet is flooded with footage of the collective horror, my own personal loss comes into clearer focus. I was with my mother when Kennedy died, and I was with her when the false innocence of America died, but I wasn't with her when her own end came. I watch, over and over in my dreams and in my mind, my imagined version of her final moments, and I am just as helpless in altering that event as either of the others.
I struggle always with the sadness that she was alone and the worry that she was scared when her time for passing came. I am ashamed by the knowledge that my sister and I lived "up" to our mother's expectation that her death would be the final rift in our relationship; we don't speak now. My mother died before I entered graduate school, and I fear that I was a disappointment to her, despite the protestations of others. But I also have the knowledge that I was able to spend time with her twice in the month preceding her passing, much more than our usual sporadic visits would suggest. And that although our penultimate visit was marked by angry words, we saw each other once more, and that I had the opportunity to right that, and I took it. The last time I saw my mom, we had dinner, and I was my usual irreverant self, and she was annoyed by it, but we loved each other, and I was spared the permanent tragedy of knowing my last words to the one who gave me life were hurtful ones. I hope that wherever she is now, my mother can feel the strength of the bond that we had, despite the tumultuous road we traveled.
So many lost loved ones on that day in 2001, and on every day before and since; to them, and to my mom, and my sister, today you are in my thoughts, and I love you.