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Four families' enduring grief

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 9/11/2002

A trying year
Since the death of her husband, Patrick, Patti Quigley (rear) has given birth to daughter Leah, arranged Patrick's memorial service and funeral, and seen her other daughter through kindergarten and off to first grade. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)

Patrick and Patti Quigley and their daughter Rachel.

Moving day
Pat Nassaney in Millville, where he and his wife, Margaret, moved to be closer to their two sons while grieving the loss of their youngest son, Shawn. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)

Shawn Nassaney and his girlfriend, Lynn Goodchild.

When Leah Quigley, now 11 months old, started making recognizable sounds, her first was ''da da da.'' As normal as that might seem, her relatives and caretakers did not find it the least bit cute. They tried to distract her with mugging and giggling, hoping to make her say something else, anything else. But only after Leah had mastered her da-da-das did she move on, in her own good time, to the ma-ma-mas.

Thirty-four days before Leah's birth, her dad, Patrick J. Quigley IV, woke up early. He got unusually flustered trying to find and iron a clean pair of pants. He kissed his wife, Patti, goodbye. Then he hopped in a limo to make his plane, United Airlines Flight 175. The 40-year-old Wellesley businessman sat in the first row of first class for the last and unknowable chapter of his life.

In the year since hijackers piloted her husband's plane into the World Trade Center, Patti gave birth. She arranged a memorial service, a baptism, and then, when some of Patrick's remains were identified, a funeral. She had her wedding ring stolen. She got her older daughter, Rachel, off training wheels and through kindergarten, a family vacation, and the beginning of first grade. She clung to her own sanity.

In her even-keeled fashion, Patti found the ''da da da'' episode more funny than heartbreaking. ''It's just the sound babies make first,'' she told her worried loved ones.

Yet the episode reminded Patti of the ordeals that are still to come, the kinds of trials that will strike even after a year or two or three of intense mourning.

''When is she going to ask?'' Patti wonders about her baby girl, who doesn't yet realize whom, or how much, she has lost. How will Patti describe the ''da da'' who tried through two years of doctors and tests and anguish to have Leah, the father who was so convinced of Leah's athleticism - from all her kicking in the womb - that he was already planning a basketball hoop for the driveway?

''I don't even know what I'm going to say when that day comes,'' Patti said.

So many Sept. 11 stories have already been told - stories of those goodbye cellphone calls from inside the Twin Towers, stories of lawsuits and memorial planning. This is not a story about that horrible day, nor is it a story about politics or money. This story is about what happened to four families in the 365 days since Patrick, Cora, and Jay, along with a young couple named Shawn and Lynn, took off from Boston's Logan Airport and never came back.

Some among these families have decided to move closer to the relatives they still have, or to move away from the houses where they lived when they saw their loved ones killed on television. They've turned the Zacarias Moussaoui indictment into bathroom reading. They've written poetry, accustomed themselves to discussions about body fragments, acquired hamsters and birds and fish, sobbed at ground zero - or avoided ground zero - and come up with reasons to live.

Authorities have identified 3,010 people believed to have been killed in the terrorist attacks one year ago today on four commercial jets, at the World Trade Center in New York, and at the Pentagon. That's 3,010 victims of mass murder - 3,010 people who left pregnant wives or indulgent fathers, teasing siblings, or small grandchildren; 3,010 people who should still be here today to read their children stories, to roll their eyes at their parents, to have more babies.

A year later, how many friends and loved ones wake up every day slapped with the realization that they still have to survive in this war zone of grief? Ten for every victim? Fifty for every victim? One Sept. 11 widow is known to have committed suicide. Everyone else, apparently, is still hanging in there.

''Every day is a bad day,'' said Steve Holland, who lost his wife, Cora. ''I have trouble breathing sometimes.''

Cora, the missing mother

It was nine months after Sept. 11 before Cora Hidalgo Holland's 31-year-old daughter, Stephanie, agreed to go out to dinner with her husband. Stephanie was morbidly obsessed with the idea that if they got killed in a car accident, their own children would be orphans.

It took eight months before Cora's husband, Steve, read a book. He and Cora always used to read in bed together, and before she left she had tucked the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel, ''Dr. Death,'' in his bag. Now the silence in their bedroom was unbearable.

It took more than 11 months before Cora's son, Nate, would return to resume his freshman year at Fordham University in New York.

As slow as they were in coming, those at least were signs of progress. Other things weren't so easy to measure. When Steve gathered his children for brunch on the Fourth of July and asked, ''OK everybody, it's been nine months. How am I doing?'' they all burst out laughing. No one knew how to answer.

Cora, 52, was a doting mother. The first phone bill to arrive in their Sudbury home after her death detailed 330 minutes of calls to Jessica, her middle child, in New York. If Jessica got home after 7 p.m., she could count on a Cora message on her answering machine.

Though Jessica was 22 and out of college, Cora still shopped for her daughter's wardrobe and scheduled her medical appointments. Cora had boarded American Airlines Flight 11 on her way to interview home health aides for her elderly mother in San Bernardino, Calif. After that trip, she and Steve were supposed to go to New York to visit Nate's dorm, then help Jessica decorate her new apartment. Cora would have arrived bearing stacks of salsa jars (Pace Picante, medium) and trays of homemade enchiladas and rice.

But Cora would not have stayed long in New York, wanting to get back to Drew and Amelia, her ''grandbabies,'' in Massachusetts. Stephanie had no idea how to navigate both her children through the grocery store unless Cora was along to help.

It's not that Cora's offspring were lazy - it's just that no one else came so close to joyful perfection, whether choosing an outfit, sympathizing with romantic troubles, or baking M&M cookies.

Her husband, Steve, has spent the year trying to do for his children the kinds of things Cora did, usually despairing over how short he falls. The truth is, he does fall short, not that any other outcome was possible.

Steve is a steady and loving father who earns high marks from all three of his children, but he was a much smaller presence in their lives when Cora was alive. A doctor, he worked incredible hours for many years to provide for the family. He is also a quiet guy, one who automatically handed the phone over to Cora when the children called.

''I'm not a great parent,'' said Steve, 51. ''Cora was the nurturer in our family. If I had died, my children would've been much better off.''

But that, of course, was not an option. So Steve started making weekly dinners for the family and doing some baby-sitting, such as watching baby Amelia while Stephanie and son Drew were in parent-child gymnastics class. He took up care-package duty, ordering Jessica surprise books from Amazon.com, and bringing her salsa and cereal and a new lamp when he visited her recently. He also chose unexpectedly touching birthday presents, like a handcrafted set of salad bowl and tongs that Stephanie once mentioned she admired, a departure from his usual penchant for unsentimental household items.

He tripped up, too. He is still kicking himself for forgetting Stephanie's wedding anniversary a few months ago, the kind of occasion Cora loved to play up. He's so averse to the phone that Jessica once decided to test him by refraining from calling until he did. He failed the test, and after a week she gave up and called him.

''You can't take it personally if my Dad doesn't call. He's not a phone person,'' said Jessica, noting that she and her father have concluded that e-mail works better. ''Our family had to learn about each other.''

In fact, Cora's family has been caught off guard by the ways in which they felt like strangers. With Cora such a nurturing presence, Stephanie and Jessica, frankly, didn't need each other. They talked on the phone once a month, maybe.

Cora ''was Grand Central Station,'' said Stephanie Holland-Brodney, who lives in Wayland. ''We were the trains that went by.''

The sisters have become much closer friends - now it's Stephanie who calls Jessica every night.

Maybe it's because he's a 19-year-old guy, but Nate's not as communicative. He didn't seem to appreciate Stephanie's stabs at mothering in the early days after Sept. 11, so she backed off a little. Going to the movies with him seemed more appreciated than dispensing advice. They might talk about giving their DNA samples to the authorities, but not usually about their feelings.

Steve, too, prefers not to lean on his family for emotional support. But he struggles, every single day. He gets up in the morning and works, goes for 5-mile walks. He's lost 35 pounds and sleeps only four or five hours a night, never without interruption. The doctor in him knows exactly what to call it: anhedonia, which means, as he puts it ''you don't find pleasure in anything much.''

He likes driving Cora's car, where she once spilled a bottle of perfume - he can still smell her now. But he yearns to hear her say his name, to whisper to her until they fall asleep.

''Everything is dark, dark, darkness,'' he said. ''What would I give for one more chance to see her?''

Jay, the missing father

Whatever it was that got 16-year-old Meghan Corcoran in an argument with her father the day before he left, she's blocked it out - along with so many other things. Anyway, it didn't seem important that they'd had a tiff, because goodbyes were so routine. John ''Jay'' Corcoran, 44, was an engineer in the Merchant Marine who would ship out to the Far East for 84 days and then come home for another 84.

Jay's wife, Diann, does remember that before they left their house in Norwell for Logan Airport that morning, Jay took his time wheeling the garbage to the end of the driveway, whistling as he went, even though they were running late. When they hit traffic, it looked as if he had a slim chance of making his flight, United 175.

''It was a `Get out of the car and run!' kind of goodbye,'' Diann recalls.

It was so like Jay to take his time, and so like him to insist on doing every last chore he could. Jay was a devotee of the Grateful Dead, a super-relaxed guy. That didn't mean, however, that he couldn't outtalk or outsmart most people in a political argument, and it didn't mean he couldn't keep house.

''The cleanest hippie ever,'' one of Meghan's friends called him. Every time he shipped out, he left a calendar detailing when to fertilize the lawn and when to give the dogs their heartworm pills. He took his checkbook with him and mailed out the bills from one port or another.

Jay made sure he was home for summer break every year, to hang out with Meghan and her brother, Jake, now 14, at the family's cottage in Maine. They got to stay up late, lying on the lawn and gazing at stars, swimming under a full moon, or listening to the Dead and Led Zeppelin.

Last year Jay stayed home longer than usual, into early fall, to help Meghan look at colleges and practice driving. He planned to do only half his usual stint at sea, so that he could come back in time for more college visits before her applications were due.

Much of Sept. 11 is a haze for Meghan. She remembers Jake sitting on the stairs for hours, redialing Jay's cellphone over and over, long after they knew he would never answer.

Only a few other five-second snippets stand out in her mind from the following few weeks, like the Norwell girl's soccer team showing up with fruit and pasta salad, knowing Meghan is a vegetarian.

''I don't remember stuff people say happened,'' said Meghan, now 17.

Same for Diann.

''November, December, January, February, those months are just gone,'' said Diann, 43, who tears up thinking about what she might have done or said during a time so bleak that her body has erased it. ''Was I a good parent? Was I a bad parent? I can't even remember. You hope you didn't shortchange them during that time.''

Diann's parenting has been more laissez-faire since Jay died. For example, they used to eat family dinners every night, even when Jay was at sea. Now Diann finds it too much effort to cook just for three. So there are no more family dinners.

When Jake came home with bad grades this year, Diann thought about grounding him, banning him from sports. But who could blame an eighth-grader for not caring about school when his father had just been killed by terrorists? Sports were one of his healthiest outlets.

Meghan was actually begging her mother for punishment just a week or two after Sept. 11. She'd snagged permission to go to a sleepover, neglecting to reveal it was actually a sizable party. Her thinking: ''I'm just gonna go out and have high school fun.''

She did have fun for a brief while, along with a half-dozen Pearl Harbors - a mix of vodka, Midori liquor, and pineapple juice that they said, rather crassly, you drink ''to get bombed.''

A couple hours later Meghan found herself lying in a pile of broken glass in the host's shower, crying and throwing up. It was the first time she'd ever drunk to excess, she said.

She got a ride home in the morning, stationed herself on the couch with a bucket, and cried to her mother about how sick and stupid she felt. Diann decided she's punished herself enough already.

Meghan was sick to her stomach a lot in the first six months, didn't eat much, and shrunk from a size 7 to a 3.

She missed more than 30 days of school and arrived late most of the days she did show up. Often, it was because she'd stayed up most of the night, then fallen into a dazed sleep until afternoon.

At one point Meghan agreed to see a therapist. But as she tells the story, as soon as she walked in the door the woman told her, ''I can tell by looking at you you're depressed, and I want to prescribe you something.''

It was not the way to win a teenager's trust. Two sessions later, she dropped out.

''I don't want to be pumped through with plastic drugs,'' she said. ''I don't want to be fake happy. I want to be real.''

Over the summer, what ''real'' meant for Meghan was watching a lot of television and sitting around with her friends in the heat, using bags of frozen vegetables as ice packs. Her mother thinks Meghan might had have a little too much time on her hands, but didn't seem unduly depressed. She'd never hide in bed or miss the chance to see friends. Occasionally, she'd play guitar or write songs.

A summer job was impractical because she still has no driver's license, which is one of many things in her life that may or may not be related to her father's death. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's normal teenage behavior and what's grief.

She was nervous about driving even before Sept. 11. But she's only gone out on a couple lessons since then; it was something she always used to do with him.

Meghan recently left home for Assumption College in Worcester. It was low on her list of choices, but her scores plummeted a couple hundred points when she retook the SAT in November, and her SAT II subject tests were abysmal. She's a solid student with good grades and several starring roles in school plays. It's hard to know how things might have been if not for Sept. 11.

In the weeks before she left for school, Meghan expressed a lot of ambivalence. One day she couldn't wait to ''cut loose,'' to go to parties, meet guys. As the departure date neared, however, she moaned that she wasn't sure she wanted to go. ''I'm a child! Leave me alone!''

Escape kept cropping up in Meghan's thoughts. One August day she turned to one of her best friends and asked, ''When I move to my island where there's no poverty and sadness, wanna come?''

''I don't know,'' she said. ''I just want to move somewhere where there aren't any Unabombers and crazy people.''

Remembering Patrick

Patrick Quigley was a little shy, so it was a special moment when he held his Patti's hand in public or put his arm around her shoulder. On a twilight stroll through their new neighborhood late last summer, he did both.

Ahead, Rachel, 5, wove through the street on her bicycle and training wheels. Patti was pregnant, finally. Over the two years she and Patrick had spent trying to conceive, they had nearly given up on a second child.

On this walk, they discussed how nice their new neighbors were in Wellesley. After seven moves all over the country in a decade, Patrick made a career sacrifice to settle down in the Northeast, where they would be within driving distance of their families.

As they walked, Patrick and Patti joked about a Christian aphorism about hardship, the one that goes like this: God gives you only what you can handle.

''I guess God doesn't think we can handle much'' adversity, Patti told her husband with mock indignation, since they considered themselves strong people. ''Things are just so great.''

Patti often thinks of that evening just weeks before Patrick's death. ''Now I guess God thinks I can handle a lot more,'' she recently said through tears.

And Patti knows that she can. Pregnant 9/11 widows earned more pity from the American public, probably, than any other category of victims. Yet pitiful is not in Patti's nature. Athletic and fashionable, she exudes confidence. She gives a chipper, ''Hey, girl!'' when she answers the phone.

Now that Leah is teething, Patti feels the baby's gums, and exclaims, ''Oooh, bumpy, bumpy!'' as if she has no other care in the world. She even managed to keep her appetite in the critical month between Patrick's death and the birth of the baby for whom they'd so yearned.

Patrick's sister Ruth mentioned at his funeral in July that one of the things that most impressed Patrick on his first date with Patti was that she ate as heartily as he did, rather than picking daintily at her dinner.

Patrick loved good food and, even more so, good wine. In the last five years of his life, he turned wine collecting into a serious hobby, soaking up information from books and magazines, shopkeepers, and wine stewards. He enjoyed bringing home mystery bottles to try, although that meant a lot of bad wine going down the drain.

Despite his high-flying career as a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he dreamed of maybe, one day, opening his own wine store.

In the past, they'd had a wine refrigerator and kept bottles in storage, but finally, in their new house in Wellesley, Patrick was preparing a wine cellar. Ordinarily no handyman, he had just finished installing the shelves on Sunday, Sept. 9 and was feeling proud of himself. He already owned 800 bottles but left room for 1700.

Rachel, now 6, likes to sniff, swirl, and sip her milk out of a wine goblet - ''white wine,'' as she calls it.

Rachel always thirsts for stories about her father, begging her Aunt Ruth for childhood tales. Ruth has been teaching Rachel the nonsense version of Korean that she and Patrick spoke as children. Ethnically half Irish and half Korean, they were never taught their mother's native language. So they had mimicked the sounds she made on the phone with friends and greeted each other even as adults with that special sibling tongue.

Patti, too, talks a lot to Rachel about her father, and how like him she is. Rachel loves to hear it, but her mother is also afraid of going overboard, since she knows that each year's passing will make Patrick more perfect, less real. ''I don't want her to feel like she has to be like someone who's dead,'' she said.

Rachel asked to have a party for Patrick's birthday in February. They had a cake, and Patti asked everyone to tell a funny story about Patrick. It was something his relatives found incredibly painful, but they did it for Rachel's sake. Rachel was delighted, and later repeated the stories to everyone she saw.

Though the little girl has shown some anger and sadness, therapists have told Patti her daughter seems fine. Although she gave up ballet and sports after her father died, she has recently been easing back in. Meanwhile, Leah is a preternaturally calm baby.

The three of them together are often a happy and wholesome-looking family. So much so that it began to bother Patti, who sensed strangers in the store pegging her as yet another privileged, stay-at-home mom. That's why she switched her wedding ring to her right hand. ''I'm a widow. I felt like I was living a lie,'' said Patti, who is 38. ''Everything is not perfect.''

Then, one day at the gym, Patti took the ring off to rub moisturizer on her hands. She forgot to put it back on, and someone apparently stole it. Speaking to the police, rifling through health club laundry, and hanging up missing posters all proved futile.

''I couldn't hold on to my husband, I couldn't even hold on to the ring he gave me,'' she lamented. ''It's a whole 'nother loss, a stupid loss.''

She felt better when, at a jewelry store, she spotted a ring with three strands intertwined - one each for her, Rachel, and Leah. Rachel liked it too, and it turned out to have an appropriate name, an ''infinity ring.'' She's going to have a version made for herself and wear it on the middle finger of her left hand.

Patti and Rachel belong to a grief support group in which some other widows have remarried. Rachel once asked her mother if she would ever do so herself. Patti answered maybe. Hers is a world of home, parent social committees, and the gym, so it's hard to meet anyone. It's way too soon for her, but she won't say never. ''I'm not stupid,'' she said. ''I think I would miss having a relationship with a male.''

Some people might gasp, but it's part of Patti's practical nature. The thing that actually makes her feel as if she's betraying her husband is when she's so caught up with the children, errands, and the avalanche of 9/11 paperwork that ''you go through the whole day and you haven't thought about the person you love,'' she said, choking up late one night over a glass of Beaujolais from Patrick's collection. ''You've been so busy, and then you feel guilty. That is the hardest.''

Shawn and Lynn

One of the qualities that made Shawn M. Nassaney and Lynn Catherine Goodchild such an enviable couple was that they shared the same attitude toward their young adulthood, one that could be summed up as: work hard, play hard.

It was like that at Bryant College, where they met. Both stood out in sports, Lynn in karate and Shawn in cross country, and both found lots of time to party, too. By 25, they were excelling in the business world. Shawn was a sales trainer at American Power Conversion, a company that makes surge protectors. Lynn was a fund administrator at Putnam Investments. They had recently started taking night classes together at Providence College to earn MBA degrees.

They loved to travel. In 2000, they'd lived briefly in Sydney, where Shawn was transferred for work. In 2001 they pulled off several whirlwind trips, usually just three or four days long - Florida in January for a college friend's party, London for Valentine's Day, Disney World in July for Shawn's 25th birthday.

On this trip, on Sept. 11, they were supposed to catch a connection in Los Angeles from United 175 to a flight bound for Maui, Hawaii. It was going to be their last splurge for a while, as they had decided it was time to save money for graduate school and for marriage.

They were always cramming in every last bit of fun.

''It was almost as if he had a feeling that he wasn't going to be here long,'' said Shawn's mother, Margaret Nassaney.

Shawn's older brother, Ryan, remembers the end of a trip to New York, when they had only 45 minutes left before their bus was leaving. Ryan wanted to go to the bus stop and wait, but Shawn and Lynn insisted on a few spins around the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Ryan whined that it freezing cold and that the line would be endless. Lynn and Shawn dragged him anyway. ''The line was too long and it was freezing cold, but we had the best time in the world,'' Ryan recalls.

The couple's death moved Shawn's two brothers to reexamine their lives. Yet they've changed in opposite ways.

Ryan, 29, muses a lot about the ice skating story and similar tales and thinks about how his little brother never wasted his time and how short his time turned out to be.

''I'm not taking anything for granted,'' Ryan said. ''I know I'm a better person, not that I was a jerk before.''

A pharmaceutical salesman, Ryan used to be very concerned about climbing the corporate ladder, becoming a district manager as fast as he could. Ambition meant nights and weekends on the road, away from his wife and 15-month-old son. No more.

''I'm not giving up my weekends, and I'm not giving up my nights,'' he said. ''Some things I'm not going to sacrifice anymore.''

The oldest of the three brothers, Pat Jr., was stirred by the other side of Shawn's personality.

The family had not realized how successful Shawn was in his burgeoning career. They didn't know how rare it was for APC to send someone in such a junior position to work in Australia. They didn't know he was a darling of management who always earned the highest ratings.

Once Shawn was gone, the accolades that gushed from his colleagues made a deep impression on Pat Jr.

''I was just working to work, to make money. I was so lackluster,'' said Pat Jr., 31, who works for Fidelity Investments. ''Now I take it a lot more seriously, I have more focus. Shawn was so organized, he had a time plan for everything. I'm trying to incorporate that into my life right now.''

The family has been inspired in other ways, too. Shawn's father, Pat, who hadn't penned a verse since he was courting Margaret, wrote a few poems in tribute to Shawn and Lynn. Margaret is trying to be less demanding of other people. ''Shawn thought I wasn't always patient,'' she said. ''I want him to be proud of me.''

The biggest change in the family was Margaret's and Pat's move from Southbridge to Millville, just over the state line from Pawtucket, where they had raised their children. Shawn, Ryan, and Pat Jr. used to share a triple-decker owned by their grandmother there; Lynn lived in Attleboro.

As empty nesters, they had migrated to Western Massachusetts for Pat Sr.'s job in Holyoke. They never liked being so far from family, but that distance became unbearable in the months after Sept. 11. Pat was sitting at his desk one day shortly after the holidays when the thought just hit him - ''That's it, we're moving back.'' Even though it would mean nearly three hours of commuting a day, he didn't waste time deliberating.

They chose to build their own house so they could get what they wanted quickly, without scouring the market. ''I felt a real sense of urgency,'' Pat recalls. ''I didn't want to wait 15 months.''

The first thing they brought into the new, brick-fronted ranch was a framed photograph for the mantle: Shawn and Lynn holding a red, white, and blue banner at the Sydney Olympics.

Moving day was a happy occasion. As he directed the movers, Pat joked that their next move would be ''in a pine box.'' As they carted boxes around, they said ''yaw'' to each other in place of ''yes'' or ''yeah,'' a saucy verbal mannerism of Shawn's they subconsciously adopted after his death. Still, several waves of grief washed over Margaret that day when she thought about the fact that Shawn would never be able to visit them in that house.

It's like that a lot. Things can seem normal for a little while. Then the shadows creep in again.

''The darkness is still there, you have to push it away,'' Pat Sr. said. ''The loss hasn't lessened, but we all get a little stronger, and that allows us to beat those emotions back so they're not in our face. We're not going to live long enough to heal from this.''

Dreaming and planning

Despite her better judgment, Diann Corcoran still instinctively scans crowds for her husband. Last fall she called Visa to check whether there was any insurance tied to Jay's credit card. The operator demanded to know where the other cardholder was, even after Diann said he was deceased. It turned out that there were thousands of dollars of recent charges in Mexico.

''That dog's in Mexico!'' was her first reaction, and it was a good feeling. In the instant before rational thought set in, she actually found comfort in the idea that Jay walked out on his family to become a beach bum. At least it wasn't a suicide bombing that took him away; Jay did love a margarita.

As expected, the credit card charges proved to be a case of fraud. Diann learned just a few weeks ago that some of Jay's remains had been identified through DNA testing. She and her children decided that eventually they will hold a funeral, but not until they know they won't get any more remains. Cora Holland's children are hoping her remains are not identified, wondering what good it could do them. For Patti Quigley, though, the remains, the funeral, and the cemetery plot gave some comfort Patrick had come home.

The ways that families have responded to this tragedy are as varied as the people they lost. Some coping mechanisms are admittedly a tad frivolous, such as Stephanie Holland-Brodney's tendency to buy her children new toys or shoes or caped Batman pajamas. Her husband has learned not to question anything that can be labeled a ''Cora purchase.'' When Meghan Corcoran has a bad day she's liable to bring home a new hamster or some goldfish.

On a more lofty note, many people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 have established scholarship funds and held benefits, such as the second annual 5-kilometer road race in Shawn Nassaney's name, scheduled for Sept. 29.

Some have found solace in activism. Steve Holland joined the board of one advocacy group, Families of September 11, angry about the political establishment's response to terrorism - why so many Enron hearings and no independent investigation into the failure to prevent the attacks? But Holland is on leave from the board now, not sure he has the time or stamina to be a crusader.

He has chosen not to apply for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund; since Cora was not a wage earner, he says he doesn't want taxpayer money. Lynn Goodchild's family applied for the fund, which makes them ineligible to sue the airlines, while the Nassaneys, Corcorans, and Quigleys have not decided whether to do so.

Visiting ground zero was a moving experience for Patti Quigley, who was awed by the epic efforts of workers and volunteers at the site. The Corcorans haven't gone there and feel no urge to do so. The Nassaneys and Goodchilds are visiting for the first time today, along with two busloads of Lynn and Shawn's family and friends.

Patti will give a speech this morning at Wellesley Middle School, then attend a lunch for family members organized by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Martin T. Meehan. Jessica and Nate Holland intend to ''be hermits'' in Jessica's Hoboken, N.J., apartment.

Approaches to mental health also vary radically, even within one family. Stephanie Holland loves her therapist, while her father chooses not to see one. Jessica didn't like therapy, but found great comfort in ACCESS, a plane crash support group that paired her with a ''mentor'' who lost her mother in the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990.

For some reason, it's common for grieving family members not to dream about their deceased loved one, even if, like the Nassaneys, they wish fervently to see that person in the realm of dreams. In contrast, Meghan Corcoran reports, ''Every time I have a dream, something explodes.''

Stephanie Holland-Brodney once dreamed her mother was in the kitchen reading an issue of Newsweek devoted to the attacks. Cora looked up and asked, ''Am I involved in this?''

''Yeah, Mom,'' Stephanie answered. ''You have to go now.''

Stephanie realized she was trying to say goodbye.

Stephanie has said goodbye, as have untold thousands of others. Shock and disbelief are, for most of the grieving family members, long gone. Still, on this anniversary there is no reprieve, no solution, no light at the end of the tunnel.

There are, though, some new plans. Patti Quigley wants to take a wine-tasting class, so she'll know what she has in her basement. She's also thought about getting involved in providing school supplies for Afghanistan.

Stephanie Holland-Brodney, who used to be a teacher, has the idea to write a grief book for children. She brought home a bunch of such books for her son, but they mostly just confused him. One used an extended metaphor of leaves falling from a tree, causing Drew to ask, ''So Grandma Cora's a leaf?''

For most of the year, Drew stuck with his fantasy that Cora was on an extended vacation in a ''Blues Clues'' spaceship. Then, a couple weeks ago, Drew saw an episode of a favorite cartoon, ''Caillou,'' in which a bird died. As Caillou learned about death on PBS, it started sinking in for Drew that the same thing happened to Grandma Cora. He knows now that eventually everyone dies - albeit, usually when they're bigger than he is.

''I'm sad,'' he told his mother. ''I don't want to get bigger.''

She realizes it will take years to explain to her children what happened to Grandma Cora, to the extent that it can be explained at all.

As long a road as it is, Stephanie, for one, is looking forward to Sept. 12, 2002. She's sick of the anniversary hand-wringing. And while it's not clear whether her life will get better, it's hard to imagine it getting worse.

''Nothing can be as hard as last year,'' she said.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/11/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

© Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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