An emotional wringer for 9/11 families

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By Peter Schworm and Meghan Irons
Globe Staff / May 3, 2011

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Elinor Stout was taking a shower at home in Concord when she heard her husband shouting words she had wanted to hear for years, so many years she had lost hope she ever would. Osama bin Laden, the man behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed her eldest son, was dead.

In disbelief, she ran to the television, where she watched President Obama deliver the news to the nation. As the reality washed over her, nearly a decade of loss and grief surfaced, and she wept.

“We have waited so long for this,’’ said Stout, whose son Tim was working in the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. “It has been a long 10 years.’’

Perhaps more than anyone, the families of Sept. 11 victims absorbed news of bin Laden’s death with fierce emotions. Several said that, to them, he was not merely the architect of an event that forever scarred the American psyche but the one human responsible for cutting down the lives of loved ones. Still, after nearly a decade of waiting, it was both a moment of catharsis and a fresh realization that nothing could erase the anguish he caused.

“There’s relief that we finally got him,’’ said David DeConto, a 55-year-old from Sandwich whose brother, Gerald F. DeConto, died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11. “But it brings back all the old emotions, and it won’t bring my brother back.’’

While bin Laden’s death sparked jubilant celebrations worldwide, many families of Sept. 11 victims felt only measured joy, and found themselves confronted once more with aching memories. Cindy McGinty of Foxborough, whose husband, Mike, was killed in the attacks, said she had wished for bin Laden’s death for years and hoped it would someday help her find comfort. But yesterday, even as she admired the swell of patriotic unity around bin Laden’s demise, she still felt somehow empty.

“It’s sort of a hollow feeling,’’ she said. “I can’t say it’s brought the peace I had hoped for. It’s not like this brings Mike back, and it’s not like it really heals any hearts. For this, there really is no closure.’’

Family members were quick to praise the military’s skill and daring in executing the raid, and said bin Laden’s killing honored the sacrifice of service members and their families. It also sent an important message, they said, that the United States would never stop searching for those responsible for terrorist attacks, although some worried that terrorists would seek to avenge bin Laden’s death.

“The war still goes on,’’ said DeConto, who took satisfaction that Navy SEALs killed bin Laden because Gerald DeConto was a career Navy officer. “We have to remain vigilant.’’

Yet some relatives took comfort that the victims of Sept. 11 had been avenged. Almost a decade later, the dead could finally rest in peace, they said.

“When I heard, the first thing I thought was, ‘OK, Mom, they got him,’ ’’ said Stephanie Holland-Brodney, who lost her mother, Cora Holland, in the attacks. “Justice was served. But the comfort is not for me, it’s for her. That’s what’s important.’’

With her mother’s birthday and Mother’s Day approaching, Holland-Brodney had braced herself for an emotionally draining week. When she learned about bin Laden’s death Sunday night, she felt the familiar heartache return.

“It absolutely brings some comfort,’’ she said yesterday. “But today is my mom’s birthday, and I can’t wish her happy birthday. Sunday is Mother’s Day. And I won’t be able to see her.’’

Terry Greene, whose brother, Donald, was killed aboard Flight 93, felt a churn of disbelief, disappointment, and “black sadness’’ from memories of Sept. 11.

Greene, of Cambridge, said she knows the world is safer without bin Laden, but wished he had been captured and brought to trial.

“I would have loved to have stripped the mask away from him and see the small person that he really was,’’ said Greene, a member of the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. “But now there is no body, there’s no person to confront. It’s like the mythology will continue.’’

Others said that as long as they had mourned, they had waited for bin Laden’s death, and were comforted by the idea he could do no more harm.

“It’s been nine years, nine months, and 22 days,’’ said Irene Ross, of Jamaica Plain, who still tears up when she thinks of her brother, Richard, a passenger on the doomed American Airlines Flight 11. She voiced relief that bin Laden is “somewhere that he will never hurt others again.’’

Yesterday afternoon, families of Massachusetts victims gathered in front of the Sept. 11 memorial in the Public Garden in Boston, where they laid 206 white roses to commemorate the victims with Massachusetts ties. Dorothy Grodberg of Jamaica Plain came to mark the death of bin Laden and remember her daughter, Lisa Fenn Gordenstein, who was on Flight 11. It has been a difficult decade, she said. Bin Laden might be dead, but her grief is never done.

“I don’t think there will ever be closure,’’ said Grodberg, who wore a button with an image of her daughter pinned to her jacket. “I don’t see how.’’

Peter Schworm can be reached at Meghan Irons can be reached at