Thursday, September 11, 2003

Still grieving? Blame the media

Two years ago, when we watched two planes crash into the World Trade Center towers, we were shocked. Then, as we realized we were seeing the murder of thousands of people, we were horrified. Frightened. And furious. But most of us weren't grieving as we are today.I blame the media.

Anna Quindlen used her column in Newsweek to tell about Peter and Sue Hanson, who were aboard United Air Lines Flight 175 with their 2-year-old, Christine, "off on an adventure, sitting safe between them, taking wing." And the Associated Press shared the thoughts of Peter's mother, Eunice Hanson. Christine told Mrs. Hanson she was going to California to meet Mickey and Minnie. "I still expect the phone to ring," her grandmother said, "and hear her voice telling me about her day at school, closing with 'I love you, Namma.' "

The New York Times, hometown newspaper for most of those who died on that day, began its extraordinary "Portraits in Grief" series, described by then-executive editor Howell Raines as "snapshots of lives interrupted as they were being actively lived." Our national human loss included practical jokers, artists, mountain bikers, class clowns, mathematicians. And police officers and firefighters, of course.

On the first anniversary of 9-11, Cincinnati firefighters lined their downtown memorial with 343 pairs of empty black fire boots in memory of those who died. One was Christopher Pickford. "Tell them your mother said you couldn't go," she told him by phone before he left the firehouse to enter the inferno.

Christie Coombs, widowed when her husband Jeffrey died on American Airlines Flight 11, talked to reporters not about his death - but his life as a father, inline skating with his three kids. I could almost hear the "silly laugh" she described. Then there were the guys on Flight 93. Thomas E. Burnett Jr., who told his wife, Deena, he and other passengers were "going to do something." The last words of his fellow passenger, 32-year-old Todd Beamer, reported by a GTE operator, were: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

We came to know them.

I was told a little bit about the irreplaceable Douglas MacMillan Cherry by his father, Doug, standing in the yard of a Habitat for Humanity house on Beresford Avenue in Walnut Hills shortly after his son's death in New York. Resolutely dignified in his grief, he chose to continue work on the house. "Well," he said, "this is more than time-consuming. It's a real outlet." And a practical tribute to young Doug Cherry. A wonderful husband. A lot of fun. He nicknamed his friends. Then, for good measure, he nicknamed their cars. He was a good father. A good boy. A good friend.

The Rev. Mychal Judge's death certificate listed him as victim No. 00001. The New York Fire Department chaplain was the first official fatality of the World Trade Center attack. Rob Peraza, whose parents, Suzanne and Robert, live in Mason, was missing person No. 1226. But the Perazas shared pictures with strangers, including the Enquirer's Kristina Goetz: "The day he was born. The pacifier he wouldn't go without. His first bicycle, and his first date. Then as a grown man, a balding head, in Central Park, and with the woman he planned to marry." And he was no longer a number.

The death count from Sept. 11 is 3,016. The human detail provided by a free - and often intrusive - press reminded us that our loss is incalculable. Much more than a number.

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Cincinnati remembers in solemn prayers, reflective moments
Schedule of local events
Updates on today's memorials across the country
Emotional impact of 9-11 blunts as world changes
PULFER: Still grieving? Blame the media
9-11 aftermath stays with Loveland man
How Greater Cincinnati marked the first anniversary
Profiles of area victims in the 2001 attacks
3-D graphic of plans for the World Trade Center site
Photos of the attacks on the World Trade Center
Photos of the attacks on the Pentagon
Photos of Flight 73
Special multimedia coverage from Gannett News Service

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