Life seemed to just be beginning for Massapequa Park resident Melissa Pascuma-Gangi 13 years ago.
She was 23 years old, engaged with her wedding date 10 months away and only four days into her teaching career on Sept. 11, 2001, when she received news that shattered her world.
Her father, Michael Pascuma Jr., was trapped in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He had been having breakfast at Windows on the World, his Tuesday ritual, before heading to work at the New York Stock Exchange.
Pascuma-Gangi said her brother had spoken with their father briefly over the phone. He said, “There’s a fire. I’m trying to get out. I have to go.” That was the last time the family heard from him.
“It’s very hard for me to talk about my dad without getting emotional even on a daily basis with my kids,” said Pascuma-Gangi, who is now 36 and has two daughters. “Thirteen years later, it’s still hard.”
Pascuma-Gangi did speak about her father publicly Tuesday night at the Town of Oyster Bay’s Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at Tobay Beach in Massapequa. About 150 people attended the service near the town’s 9/11 memorial, which features a piece of steel recovered from Ground Zero and a wall containing the names of town residents killed in the attacks.
The ceremony included prayers, music, a candlelight vigil and a reading of the 90 names. Afterward, Town Supervisor John Venditto opened up the microphone to anyone in the crowd who wished to speak.
“As a teacher and mom, I hold it in almost every single day of the year, you have to to get through your life,” she said. “But this is the one opportunity I give myself to write something down and not hold everything in.”
Pascuma-Gangi’s oldest daughter, Madison, 9, also shared a poem she wrote to her mother last year on the 12th anniversary of the attacks. It concluded with the words: “Don’t be sad, he’s always watching you.”
Donna Hickey, the widow of FDNY captain Brian Christopher Hickey, also spoke to the crowd.
In the last 13 years, Hickey, 60, of Bethpage, said she’s lost a child, watched two others get married, and became a grandmother of four without her husband — her “high school sweetheart” -- by her side. Their oldest son, Danny, inspired by his father, has since become a New York City firefighter.
“There’s a lot of milestones you have to go through without them,” she said. “It’s bittersweet; you hope the day will come when you can be as happy, but I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen.”
Hickey said she keeps her husband’s memory alive by sharing stories and photos of him with her grandchildren.
“I’m constantly talking about him all day, every day to whoever wants to listen,” she said.
She also visits the town’s 9/11 memorial often, finding the setting at the beach very peaceful.
She said she prefers the town’s intimate Sept. 11 memorial to the one in Manhattan.
“It makes you feel like you’re not alone, we are like a family,” she said.
Venditto said the town is committed to holding the ceremony every year for as long as necessary.
“I’ve learned since Sept. 11,” he said. “Time doesn’t heal all wounds.”