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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thoughts On September 11 and Anniversaries of Death

On September 11, we automatically think of that day two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, another into the ground in Pennsylvania, and one into the Pentagon. Each year since, there’s a somber service at Ground Zero, in Shanksville, PA, and at the Pentagon. The names of those who perished are read out. It takes almost an hour to read all the names. And, every year, I cry.

I didn’t know anyone who perished, but the September 11 observance is still deeply moving and sad. I think about those who lost family members in such a horrible way. I mourn for the lost and for those left behind.

Those who relive their personal tragedy every single year.

I live in Spain, which is considered a Roman Catholic country. The people “celebrate” the anniversaries of deaths by repeating their death notice in the newspaper. Each year, the date of death is remembered. Sometimes an anniversary funeral mass is done every single year.

A widow trudges to the cemetery on November 1st—All Saints Day—to leave flowers, clean the stone, and sit there for a few hours to remember. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on November 1 flowers. Many, many people visit the country’s cemeteries.

Some years ago, our family stopped at a particularly ancient church in the middle of nowhere. While we were walking around it, a man came up to us and introduced himself as the parish priest. He asked if we would like to see inside. Of course! He led us on a tour, answered our questions, and let us take pictures of everything. He even showed us the basement. There, we saw various processional pieces being stored. One that especially intrigued me was a carrying platform with a real human skull and crossed leg bones on it, similar to those on a pirate flag. I asked the priest what that was for. He answered, “so that the people can meditate on death.”

Immediately, I thought about what the Bible says we’re to think about. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

When we’ve lost a loved one, we will never forget him. There’s a time to mourn (Eccl. 3:4). Depending on how close we were to the person, we will mourn more or less. This is normal, and this is good.

But, I am wondering if it is helpful to relive that terrible grieving every year. Some of the September 11th families have attended the remembrance ceremony every year since the attack. They have listened to all of those names year after year after year. To some, it may be cathartic—to know that the whole nation shares their grief. But, to others, it must be like opening the wound again, and again, and again. Twelve years now.

No, we should never forget our loved ones. As Americans, we should never forget the attack, and we should do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.

But, I think it’s healthiest to remember the happy times. Remember our loved one’s beautiful smile, his sense of humor, the things we did with him. Remember his stories and his voice, how he moved his hands, what kind of a person he was. We might celebrate his birthday rather than the date of his death. Celebrate life!

. . . if there be any praise, think on these things.


  1. I know with my own Mom's death, there have been some years I wanted to commemorate and write about her on her birthday or the day of her death, but other years I wanted to just acknowledge it quietly in my own heart but not go into it deeply. I felt that way about the 9/11 coverage this year. Some years I try to watch, this year I just didn't want to. I think it is important to remember, and to comfort people on those anniversaries, and people grieve in different ways and are sensitive to being told they need to move on. Yet it is possible to get "stuck" in grief and not heal. I wonder if the country commemorated things like Pearl Harbor Day in the years following like they do 9/11 now.

    1. Some very good thoughts, here, Barbara. Each person does grieve in his own way, and it's important to respect that. And, I wonder also if they did Pearl Harbor remembrances every year. I remember being there, and it was almost palpable. It felt like those people were still there, somehow.

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. God bless you.

  2. Muy de acuerdo contigo!! Recordemos lo que Dios nos da, no lo que no tenemos o perdimos.

    1. ¡Que bueno verte aquí! Gracias por tu comentario, y que el Señor os bendiga.


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