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The lives we lost on 9/11: How 3 families cope

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amny Photo Credit: Getty

For relatives of 9/11 victims, Sunday will add another day to the 3,651 when there has been an empty seat at the dinner table. Several of those left behind shared their stories with amNewYork.

A little girl's worst fear

When Cheena Jain was just 2 and a half years old, she figured out how to call her father, Yudh, at work. He loved telling that story.

Cheena’s worst fear was that her father would go to work one day and never return to their Rockland County home.

“He’d say that the chance of his dying would be like winning the lottery,” Cheena, 27, recalled. “He told me if anything ever happened to him, I would be able to move on with my life. In my head, I said, ‘No I won’t. I’ll die too.’ ”

Yudh, then 54, began working for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the North Tower in August 2001, just weeks before Cheena left for college.

On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 8, Yudh called his daughter to see if she’d received a care package.

“How dare you wake me up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday!” she snapped. “I’ll talk to you another time.”

That was the last time she ever spoke to her father.

“To say I lost my best friend is an understatement,” said Cheena.

She has been documenting the ceremonies at Ground Zero for 10 years and hopes to exhibit the photos.

“I look at them often,” she said. “When you lose someone, the story is personal, but 9/11 involves so many.”

Making sure they don't forget dad

On Tuesday mornings, James Selwyn’s dad, Howard, would call his son to wake him up for his early college class.

On Sept. 11, 2001, that call never came. His dad, Howard, was working at NYMEX, on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

When James woke up, both towers were gone.

Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit committed to helping children who lost a parent on 9/11, helped James get an internship in finance that year so he could eventually follow in his father’s footsteps at NYMEX.

“They take care of their own,” Selwyn said.

His brother Alex, then 11, read Howard’s name at the 2002 site ceremony, but the crowds and the chaos were just too much — that was the first and last time his family attended. 

Since then, James has done what he normally would on anniversaries: go into work at NYMEX’s headquarters, just as his father, who was 47, had done.

James always tunes in to the ceremony just to hear his father’s name read, “to make sure they didn’t forget him.”

Today, James lives in midtown with his wife, Amanda, 29, and their 9-month-old daughter, Hannah. He says he will take her to the site one day soon.

“I’ll bring Hannah there on my father’s birthday so she can see her grandpa’s name.”

'Eery day is 9/11 for us'

James Cartier, 26, loved working in the World Trade Center and flirting with all the pretty young secretaries on the top floors. His brother, John, 43, said that knowing his brother, “he tried to offer them a ride on his motorcycle.”

James, an independent electrical contractor, was working on the 105th floor of the South Tower when the first plane hit. His tower had not yet been attacked, but James immediately thought of his sister, Michelle, who was working next-door in the North Tower, which was already in flames.

James called John, urging him to find Michelle and get her to safety. Fortunately, she bumped into John on the street seconds before the South Tower collapsed.

James did not make it out.

“You don’t realize how many lives one individual touches in their lifetime until something like this happens,” John said.

James’ refurbished motorcycle is now in the window of the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site at 20 Vesey St. James loved Curious George and had a collection of more than 40 stuffed animals. Several renditions of the character have since been painted on his motorcycle.

Each year, the family attends a service held for victims’ families at the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“[Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said it should be the last year they read the names,” said John. “Every day is 9/11 for us, and I’ll remember my brother with or without his approval.”

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