This story was reported by staff writers Laura Blasey, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes and Chau Lam and written by Blasey.
Cathy Vichaidith came to the World Trade Center memorial on Saturday morning, holding a bunch of long-stemmed white roses, to talk to her close friend Saranya Srinuan.
Srinuan, a bond trader at the Cantor Fitzgerald financial services firm, was 23 when she died on Sept. 11, 2001. Her memory is very much alive for Vichaidith: She named her daughter, now 6, Saranya in honor of the vibrant young woman she considered a cousin.
“I come here, bring some flowers for her, have a little chat,” said Vichaidith, 39, who grew up in Valley Stream, carefully placing the stems in some of the 14 letters of her friend’s name, etched in a bronze panel at the memorial’s North Pool.
More than 2,700 people were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. For many of their relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues, the passage of 15 years has not eased the heartbreak of losing a loved one, with each holiday, life milestone and anniversary presenting another time to look at an empty chair.
Those affected by the attacks have varied ways of seeking solace: Support groups still meet, remembrance events still draw crowds, and families hold tightly to self-made rituals.
“They say time is a healer, but time just fills the space,” said Eva K. Gujral, 41, whose younger sister — Manika K. Narula, 22, of Kings Park — died on that September day. “I am not sure how much it actually heals you.”
Thomas Demaria, a psychologist at LIU Post who works with families, victims and first responders and others affected by 9/11, said “the fives” — 5-year, 10-year, 15-year benchmarks — seem to uniquely inspire reflection after life-changing events, making this year’s anniversary especially poignant.
“It’s a time of remembering, but also looking back at not only the tragedy that 9/11 has caused, but also what the 15 years has been,” Demaria said. “It kind of clicks that switch, ‘Let me take a look back and see what that meant.’ ”
Carmine Albano, a porter at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, does the somber work of cleaning and polishing the bronze panels that surround the two reflecting pools.
He was overwhelmed by his job at first. There were so many names, so many lives lost.
“For the first six months I was here, I really hated it,” he said early Saturday morning.
Albano, 28, now cherishes his duty. Two blue microfiber cloths in hand, he moved from one panel to the next. With a gloved hand, he guided the fabric into the grooves, treating each name with care and dignity.
“I get to give these people honor when they’re gone,” said Albano, of Port Chester, who was an eighth-grader on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Long Island, local residents come to remembrance ceremonies in droves, wearing T-shirts and carrying photos of loved ones. Nearly 200 people attended a reading of names at Nassau County’s annual ceremony at Eisenhower Park at sunset Thursday.
New Hyde Park resident Christina Evans, who lost her son, Robert, was there.
The last 15 years sometimes feel like a movie about someone else’s life, she said. Other times, the heartache is too much to bear.
“It depends on where you are at the moment,” Evans said. “When I see images of the towers coming down, I know he is dying.”
Robert Evans, who lived in Franklin Square, was a member of the FDNY’s Engine Company 33 in Manhattan. He was killed leaving the north tower. His mother has been in support groups for victims’ families and finds comfort being around those who understand her pain.
“I think about what he would be doing,” Evans said. “Would he be married? I miss him so much.”
Marilyn Weinberg of North Bellmore teared up as she considered the major events that her son, Steven Weinberg, has missed. Birthdays. His three children graduating high school, then college.
“It feels like it happened just yesterday,” she said. “My emotions have not changed. I miss him as much as I did 15 years ago.”
Weinberg, whose son was an accounting manager at Baseline Financial Services in the south tower, attends remembrance ceremonies every year and meets at a diner every other week with the mothers of others lost on Sept. 11.
“I was asked, ‘Why do you do ceremonies like this?’” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said at Thursday evening’s event. “I think, more or less, it becomes a place to reflect and to know that you have support from those that have experienced the same loss.”
For Gujral, coming together with her family can bring some peace to their memories of her sister. The hardest day she faces each year is not Sept. 11. It’s the day before — a reminder of the day when the world “was still OK.”
On Saturday, Gujral, her parents, her husband and their children gathered at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, a Sikh temple in Hicksville, to mark the end of a three-day prayer ceremony in which all the verses in the holy book were recited nonstop by a team of readers. The recitations began Thursday, with Gujral’s parents in attendance.
“In our religion, it brings the soul peace,” she said. “And it gives us our peace of mind, too.”
Narula worked as a data processor at Cantor Fitzgerald. Mona, as she was known to friends and family, had been employed there for less than a year when the terrorist attack occurred.
“I have two girls. I see her in them every day,” said Gujral, who is pregnant with her fourth child. “My son, his hugs are exactly the same as Mona’s hugs. When he hugs you, he forms that connection with you.”
But among some family members, the grief still can provoke a range of responses.
For Patti Ann Valerio of West Hempstead, the sorrow compels her to speak and read names at as many events as she can in honor of her brother, Matthew James Grzymalski.
Grzymalski, 34, of New Hyde Park, and his girlfriend Kaleen Pezzuti, 28, of Fair Haven, New Jersey, were working together as bond brokers for Cantor Fitzgerald.
Sometimes Valerio’s husband, Joe, a retired FDNY firefighter, attends the events, including the Nassau County remembrance, to support his wife. But most days, Valerio would rather not remember Sept. 11, 2001, at all.
“I was down there at the time of 9/11. It wasn’t a nice day,” Valerio said. “It’s something that’s very difficult to go through every year.”
Valerio, 55, was working in Manhattan that morning and was called to the scene. He arrived at 11 a.m., about a half-hour after the north tower collapsed. He can’t forget the rest of that day or talk much about it either.
He prefers to avoid visiting Ground Zero, a pilgrimage his wife makes each year.
In 15 years, the landscape looks different — the reflecting pools catch the sunlight, the names of the victims are beautifully etched on the panels surrounding the pools. But there’s another landscape in Valerio’s mind, too.
“Sometimes I go down there to the memorial and it’s tough for me,” he said. “I look around and it’s so nice now, but I remember.”
Sept. 11 memorials, vigils and events
- National September 11 Memorial & Museum ceremony for family members of victims of the 2001 and 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center, 180 Greenwich St., Manhattan, first moment of silence at 8:46 a.m.
- Town of Hempstead will hold its annual sunrise ceremony at Point Lookout, 7:30 a.m.
- North Hempstead 15th annual memorial service, Mary Jane Davies Green on Plandome Road in Manhasset, across the street from Town Hall, 8 a.m.
- Town of Islip memorial ceremony and parade, Veterans Memorial Park, 655 Main St., 9 a.m.
- Village of Lynbrook’s Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at the village’s Sept. 11 memorial Park at Village Hall, 1 Columbus Dr., 6 p.m.
- Guided meditation and walk for peace on grass near Sept. 11 memorial at Heckscher Park in Huntington, or at Dipamkara Meditation Center on New York Avenue in case of rain, 8:30 a.m.
- Free admission to the Francis X. Pendl Nassau County Firefighters Museum’s new 9/11 exhibit in Garden City
- Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church 9/11 worship service, 1845 Wantagh Ave., 10:30 a.m.
- Farmingdale United Methodist Church 9/11 observance, 407 Main St., 9:30 a.m.
- Seaford High School memorial candle-lighting ceremony, 1575 Seamans Neck Rd., 7 p.m.
- Elmont Memorial Public Library Sept. 11 tribute and memorial unveiling, 700 Hempstead Tpke., 11 a.m.
- Temple Sinai, 425 Roslyn Rd., Roslyn Heights, will be open to the community, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities include face painting and pony rides. Children will be able make cards and decorate cookies for local firefighters and police.
- The Sons of Italy in America — Vigiano Brothers Lodge # 3436 seventh annual 9/11 Tribute — A Candlelight Remembrance, Harborfront Park at Port Jefferson Village Harbor, 101A E. Broadway (behind Village Center), 6 p.m. The event is in memory of New York City firefighter John Vigiano Jr. and NYPD Det. Joseph Vigiano, two brothers who died rescuing others on Sept. 11.
- Memorial service dockside at Party Boat Central, 85 Woodcleft Ave., Freeport, on the Nautical Mile. Service starts at 6:30 p.m. A memorial cruise aboard the Miss Freeport V starts at 7 p.m., first-come, first-served for up to 150 guests.
- Check local firehouses, schools and libraries for further memorial observances.