She doesn't want to share her grief with a nation
A series profiling six lives since Sept. 11: defining moments in a historic year.
(Page 3 of 3)
Some days, Sue says, she feels she hardly resembles the person she was a year ago. "I look at our government differently now, I look at low-flying planes differently now." She and Gracie don't go to the zoo anymore; they see too many "mommy-daddy happy families" there.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It bothers her particularly not to have her husband's body to bury. Though workers recovered a bone fragment matching Jeff's DNA, it's little comfort. Sue wants to put a stone at his head, to visit him, to mourn him on her own terms, "but I could bury him in a shoebox right now."
Some say every American is a Sept. 11 victim. Sue doesn't buy it.
If everybody grieved when the towers fell, why do they use the same tired lines on her they've always used? How can they say, "You'll find someone else"? Or, "He's in a better place"?
"I don't think he's in a better place," she says. "There is no better place. You might as well kick me in the stomach."
She knows Jeff wouldn't be proud of her anger. He believed in heaven. At Christ Church of Oak Brook, the 5,000-member evangelical congregation he was drawn to for its seriousness about the Gospel, he taught a class for newlyweds. His last lessons were about humbling yourself before God.
"I'm just not there yet," she says. "I don't believe there's a better place for him than, selfishly, with me. But mostly with my children."
Her children have always been the center of Sue's life sometimes, friends say, to a fault. Sue says they're the reason she's still alive.
But Jeff's friend Tad, now one of Sue's closest confidants too, says her single-minded family focus is more than a distraction from grief. "I think Sue sees loving her family as her way to love Jeff," he says. "Call it therapy, call it a love affair. Call it what you want: He was her sweetheart."
In some ways, Sue says, losing Jeff on Sept. 11 was probably a lot like what it would have been to lose him any other day. That same impossible feeling of: "I can't believe this is my life. I can't believe this is the rest of my life."
"The difference," she says, "is not many people get to see their loved one blown to bits over and over on TV."
And not many people's losses are celebrated as "anniversaries."
"I still can't quite spit out 'anniversary,' " says Sue "because anniversaries are happy things. They're things you celebrate. They're things Jeff and I celebrated."
She wants to mark the day, though. This Sept. 11, Sue hopes to take her kids to ground zero, to hear the names of the victims read, and to meet the wife of the man who sat next to her husband in his final minutes.
But she won't have much time to spend looking back. This March, after months of waiting, Sue got Hannah's adoption referral in the mail.
Two weeks ago, despite Daniel's promise never to fly again, the family boarded a plane to Beijing. Last Sunday, they held 1-year-old Hannah for the first time.
On Thursday, Sue plans to bring all five children home to Hinsdale.
There, in the crib by Sue's bed, a pile of teddy bears made from Jeff's favorite shirts is waiting. "I hate that Hannah will never know her father at least in this world," she says.
"But she'll know what kind of man he was, and she'll know he loved her. I'll make sure."