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Sept. 11: One year after

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For widow and three children, a day that took away innocent outlook and a lifelong love

By Christie Coombs for The Associated Press

Often times when I lie awake late at night, I think about life before Sept. 11 when "normal" was easy to explain, when laughter and fun were common and guilt-free, and when loneliness was a feeling from the past. Life since then has taken on a different tone, altering the way we live, the way we love, the things we think about, and how we plan our future. What remains consistent in our house since that horrible day is the love we have for Jeffrey and now the incredible void that has been forced upon our young family.

Twenty-three years ago Jeffrey and I met as college students in Arizona. Although there were many differences between us, we found common ground in our love for each other, commitment to family, an understanding of the give-and-take, and our desire to spend our lives together.

He became a loving and devoted husband and father to our three children, Matthew, Meaghan and Julia. He parented with a sense of humor and a real grasp of the enormous responsibility he had undertaken. He was very much a big kid when it came to interacting with his family. He was truly in his element when he was wrestling with the kids, rollerblading with them in the neighborhood, hiking Blue Hills, playing hoops in the driveway, or boating and tubing on the Cape.

One question often asked of us is, "How has life changed in the last year?" Quite simply, everything has changed. There is far less laughter in the house, because he was not only the funny one, but he provided the entertainment. Although he disciplined when necessary, he was the one to invent the fun. The ever-popular game "push Daddy off the couch" is now but a fond yet painful memory for children too young to be thrust into the core of a national tragedy.

His silly laugh seems to linger in the halls of our home, enabling us to remember the happier times when sadness and the feeling of loss attempt to overcome our family. His smile has been imprinted on our brains, helping to guide us through each day where the reminders of the horrific mass murder are ever-present in the daily newspapers, TV news, magazines, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and billboards. Everywhere we turn, Sept. 11 and visions of the burning building come alive.

Sept. 11 took away my children's security; their ability to trust when we as adults tell them we're going to be there for them; their innocent outlook on life. It gave them one less person to express the pride in their accomplishments that only a parent can feel.

From me it took away my lifelong companion, the love of my life, my soulmate. It has caused me to dread the future, rather than anticipate it. It has put an indescribable level of loneliness into every moment of my life. Now I end each day with a letter to my husband in my journal rather than with a meaningful one-on-one conversation with the man I've loved for more than half my life.

And that day has caused me to wonder on a daily basis whether the last moments of my husband's life were calm or filled with fear and despair. It has left me wondering if we'll ever find the element of peace that some say comes with recovery of his remains. It has put me in the midst of a never-ending struggle between the need to move forward and the intense longing to go back. It has left us with a hole in our hearts so significant that it will never heal.

Jeffrey W. Coombs died on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. Coombs, 42, was a security analyst for Compaq Computer Corp. He lived in Abington, Mass., with his wife, Christie, and their children -- Matthew, who was 13 when his father died, Meaghan, 11, and Julia, 7. Coombs was a coach in Abington's youth soccer league. After he died, some league officials wanted to postpone games out of respect. But Christie Coombs insisted the games go on, for the sake of her children and getting back to some sort of normalcy. Here, she shares some thoughts of her husband and their life together.

Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001



Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.


Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.


Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.


Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.


For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.


A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.


Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?


Two cities
New York and DC one year later.


America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement

From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief

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