These are precious artifacts to those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11. But for at least 50 women, there are even more cherished reminders of the husbands who died that day. They are wives who were pregnant when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania—and they have since become proud and loving mothers. Of 52 new babies born to the young widows of 9/11, the first was 8-lb., 10.5-oz. Farqad Chowdhury, born at 9:13 a.m. EST on Sept. 13 in Queens. As of press time, the most recent was 5-lb., 12-oz. Robin Ornedo, born Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. The children include firstborns, a pair of twins and some who arrived on parents’ birthdays or anniversaries. They are Irish, Italian, African-American, Latino, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. And their parents hail not just from New York and Washington but also from Boston, Arizona, Toronto and even Sligo, Ireland.
On Jan. 24, 31 of the mothers were brought together in New York City by PEOPLE for this article and these photos, and they quickly formed a confederacy of mourning and support. (Invitations were extended to the entire group of new mothers, but for a variety of reasons some were unable to attend.) “We’re all asking God the same questions,” says Staten Island’s Dawn Shay, 27, mother of Robert, 5, Ryan, 2, and Jonathan, who was born Oct. 22. Adds Holli Silver, 38, of New Rochelle, N.Y., mother of Rachel, 3, and 5-month-old Danielle: “We don’t have to ask ‘How are you?’ because we all know how we’re doing. We all know what we went through.”
These wives and their husbands came together in different ways. Some, like Mindy and Fredric Gabler of Manhattan, were high school sweethearts; others met at work, as Holli and David Silver did. Baraheen Ashrafi and Mohammad Chowdhury, both from Bangladesh, had a traditional arranged marriage. The mothers themselves also share many similarities. They are young women (the oldest is 40, the youngest, just 25). And, it seems, each was married to the best guy in the world. “An angel on earth,” recalls Gigi Nelson, 40, of Huntington, N.Y., who gave birth to Lyndsi on Oct. 6. Their fondest memories are of vibrant men and the joys—and challenges—of building a family. Most remember a sweet shared moment, perhaps a goodbye kiss, before their husbands left for work.
As they confront the daunting task of raising children without the partners they assumed would always be there, some are already facing dilemmas—such as the one handed Courtney Acquaviva, 31, of Glen Rock, N.J., mother of a toddler, Sarah, and 8-week-old Paul: “My daughter and I were eating breakfast the other day and she asked me, ‘Is Daddy still dying?’ How do you answer that? She’s 3.”
They are also learning to handle chores both tedious and torturous—applying for charity relief, making mortgage payments, filling out insurance forms, seeking jobs and arranging child care. And requesting death certificates. After losing her husband, Linda Dickinson, 35, of Marlboro, N.J., mother of Erin, 8, and 3-month-old Patrick Joseph, found tackling the mountain of paperwork “a completely overwhelming task.” And as they get back to living, some are even wondering when it will be permissible to laugh again. “Sometimes I feel self-conscious,” says Jane Terrenzi, 28, of Long Island, the widow of Brian and mother of 3-month-old Elizabeth. “I was at a party recently, and I felt like people were thinking, ‘Why is the young widow having such a good time?’ ” Jenna Jacobs, 27, mother of 5-month-old Gabriel, who lost her husband, Ari, 29, has also felt that scrutiny, but says, “When I’m laughing, it doesn’t mean I’m not hurting.” Overall, though, there has been untold sympathy from a country doing its best to share the burden of sorrow. Dena Smagala, 31, of Holbrook, N.Y., who lost her firefighter husband, Stanley, and gave birth to Alexa Faith on Jan. 9, treasures the handmade Christmas ornaments sent to her by kids from all over the U.S., and Jacobs is deeply grateful for each of the 2,000 cards and letters she’s gotten.
Even those kindnesses cannot erase the fear of what one young widow calls “the void, the empty chair.” And so they sleep with their husbands’ well-worn pajamas, surrounded by pets and their babies. Ultimately, the women know that these final gifts from their fine, lost men are what will best sustain them. “How can such a tiny person do such a big job?” wonders Taryn McHale, 32, of Long Island, cradling baby Collin Thomas. “He’s helping me to laugh again, and to live. He’s healing my heart.”
The inspiring stories in the following pages capture the challenges and hopes of 31 special young mothers who, despite devastating loss, are beginning to rebuild their lives.
She deeply loved her kindhearted cop
He was the kind of Port Authority police officer who would give homeless people bags of clothes, or help a female street vendor push her cart—or even attempt to rescue people from a building about to collapse. “Donald had a heart of gold,” says his wife, Jeannine, 36, a nurse who lives in New City, N.Y., and proudly wears a replica of his badge around her neck. Despite hospital policy, she wore the memento on Nov. 27, during Lauren’s C-section delivery. Mclntyre put a family portrait—dad, mom, sister Caitlyn, 5, and brother Donald Jr., 4—in her baby’s bassinet. “She is a little ray of sunshine that came into our lives after all the bad,” Mclntyre says. Lauren’s enchanted brother and sister are eager to comfort her. When she cries, Mclntyre says, “Donald Jr. will ask, ‘Do you miss your daddy?’ Then he’ll tell her, ‘I do. I cry too.’ ”
She felt her husband’s presence in the delivery room
During their three years together, Gigi Nelson and her husband, Peter, endured the loss of a late-term, stillborn daughter. They cremated the baby, whom they named Jasmine, but couldn’t decide where to place her ashes. Last Oct. 31 a small urn containing Jasmine’s remains was set inside her father’s casket. Says Nelson, 40: “Now they are together.”
Just three weeks earlier, at a memorial service for Peter, who died while responding to the terrorist attacks, Nelson had gone into labor but wouldn’t leave. Finally, later that night, near the end of another memorial service for Peter not far from her Long Island home, she stood up and said, “Okay, guys, time to go to the hospital.” Three hours later, on Oct. 6, Lyndsi was born. “Right before I gave birth, I looked up to the ceiling and, I swear, I saw Peter,” says Nelson. “We all felt his presence, even the doctor.”
Nelson, a nursing student who plans to return to school to complete her degree, won’t exactly be raising Lyndsi on her own. Peter’s children from a prior marriage, daughter Jamie, 13, and son Ryan, 10, have promised to teach their half sister everything their father taught them—especially soccer. And friends, including Peter’s faithful firefighting brethren from FDNY Rescue 4, call regularly to check on the family. “Peter always said, ‘If anything happens to me, you’ll be fine,’ ” she recalls. “And he was right.”
Childhood pals in Ecuador, they reunited 20 years later
The stars seemed to be crossed for Jose and Paulina Cardona. Growing up in Ecuador, the pair were playmates—until their families parted ways after Jose’s grandfather left his wife for Paulina’s mother. Jose moved to the U.S. at age 10, and the two lost touch for 20 years. They reconnected through relatives soon after she arrived in 1996 and wed three years later. Still, given the tension between their families, “it was very hard for us to love each other,” recalls Cardona, 33, a homemaker. “It was like Romeo and Juliet.”
Now a photo of Cardona’s Romeo sits in their two-bedroom Bronx apartment alongside the crib of Joshua, born Jan. 2. “He wanted this moment so badly,” she says of her husband, who also had a 12-year-old daughter, Sasha, from a previous marriage. On Sept. 11 Jose was at work at the brokerage firm of Carr Futures in Tower 1 and Cardona was undergoing a sonogram when a nurse burst into the room with news that a plane had hit the second tower. To chase away that memory, Cardona concentrates on a happier moment. Earlier that day, Jose, using a Spanish term of endearment that means “little chicken,” told his wife, “Take care of my pollito.”
Adjusting to life without her college sweetheart
Just 2 months old, Elizabeth Brian Terrenzi isn’t ready for baby steps. But her mom is. After the death of her husband, Brian, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor of Tower 1, a distraught Jane Terrenzi, 28, sold their Hicksville, N.Y., home and moved in with her parents. For three months the kindergarten teacher focused on happier times, like Brian’s excitement about having a daughter. “He drove through a red light on the way home from the doctor’s office,” she says. He would have been thrilled too when Elizabeth arrived on Dec. 9, sporting a cleft chin like his. Terrenzi, who attends a support group, plans to find a house and get the Labrador Brian wanted for Elizabeth. “I have to make a life,” she says. “I want to be a happy person for her.”
For the sake of her new daughter she tries to hide her sorrow
She’d had contractions the night before, and so on Nov. 9 Mindy Gabler went to her obstetrician. While waiting, she opened The New York Times to its daily profiles of Sept. 11 victims. And there he was: Fredric, her high school sweetheart and husband of three years, who died in Tower 1. “I saw his picture looking back at me, and he was saying, ‘I’m here with you,’ ” says Gabler, 30, a J.P. Morgan researcher from Manhattan who didn’t know about the story.
Four hours later she gave birth to a daughter, Alexis. Fred had picked out the name in memory of his grandfather, and he had thrown himself into first-time fatherhood, even playing music to stimulate the child inside her womb. Fittingly, his final conversation with his wife had been about the day’s doctor’s visit. That was at 8:20 a.m. on Sept. 11. At 8:54 Gabler’s cell phone rang as she walked to work; it was Fred, calling from his Cantor Fitzgerald office, but he was drowned out by static. “He called me, and I wasn’t there for him,” she says, in tears. Crying is something Gabler tries not to do for Alexis’s sake. “I never thought I would be in this situation, but I am,” she says. “But I don’t want her to feel or see my sadness.”
Life loses some luster without her ‘true gem’
For days her 4-year-old son Ben had been eagerly anticipating Sept. 12, the day of his Needham, Mass., T-ball team’s first practice. So when the big day arrived, Susan Retik, who also has a daughter, Molly, 2, and at the time was seven months pregnant, put Ben in the car and drove to the practice as planned. Though reeling from the death of her husband, David, an executive for Alta Communications who was on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center the day before, Retik, 33, told herself, “I can’t shut down.”
The events of Sept. 11 are still a blur to her. All that matters is that the husband she calls a “true gem,” and who phoned her that morning from Logan Airport before boarding American Airlines Flight 11 for a business trip to California, is no longer in her life. “I don’t feel like a whole person anymore,” she says.
Still, she wants her children to grasp the importance of carrying on, as she was forced to do on Nov. 19, the day baby Dina was born. “It was the first day of the rest of my life,” Retik, a full-time mom, says. “A new chapter.”
Her children’s smiles make her feel less alone
There it was, printed on an official document she got in the mail—”Courtney Acquaviva: Unmarried.” “That was like a punch in the stomach,” she says. “Me, single? No! Never! In my heart I’ll always be married to him.”
Sometimes her heart can fool her this way, sometimes it cannot. For the months after Sept. 11, when her husband, Paul, perished in the north tower of the World Trade Center, Acquaviva, 31, kept her emotions in check. She had to be strong for their daughter Sarah, 3, and the son, Paul, she would give birth to on Dec. 20. But then, in the delivery room, she felt her husband’s absence, and during the holidays that followed she cried for three straight days. Now her grief, instead of lessening, is often “just not tolerable,” she says. When Sarah asks about her father, she tells her, “Daddy couldn’t come home. A lot of daddies couldn’t come home. But they love us still.”
She met Paul at a New Jersey high school party in 1988, and they married eight years later. On Sept. 11 Paul was in his 103rd-floor Cantor Fitzgerald office when the first plane hit a few floors below. “We’re not going to make it,” he told his wife in a cell-phone call. “Do you know where all the paperwork is?” And then, before the line went dead: “Court, I love you.”
At home in Glen Rock, N.J., seeing her son and daughter smile like their father used to, homemaker Acquaviva feels less alone. “That is how Paul sends me love, when the children smile,” she says. “He’s still here, I’ve still got him. And no terrorist can take that away from me.”
Joy in a new baby who already resembles her father
Jon Perconti Jr. didn’t settle for a standard ceremony for his June 2000 marriage to Tammy, a former manager for AT&T Wireless. They invited 50 guests, including 20 of his colleagues from Cantor Fitzgerald, to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week of activities Jon had carefully orchestrated. “He made everything fun,” says Perconti, 30.
After Perconti lost the man she fell for in high school in Lodi, N.J., being pregnant gave her a reason to get up each day. And now, having to care for Julia Amelia, born on Dec. 8, helps her move forward, and with much joy. Perconti, who is delighted that the baby’s hand gestures already resemble Jon’s, says she hopes Julia will have her father’s “wit, strength, sense of humor and charismatic personality.”
An empty place at the dinner table
Last spring, when Stanley Smagala Jr. saw the dinner table set for three, he asked his wife, Dena, 31, “Who’s coming?” She handed him a baby’s bib inscribed with the words “I Love Daddy.” Now the empty place at the Smagala table in Holbrook, N.Y., is Stanley’s. Nearly four months before daughter Alexa Faith was born on Jan. 9, he died when the Twin Towers collapsed. The couple had struggled to conceive a child and weathered a miscarriage in August 2000. Stanley chose the name to celebrate “keeping the faith to have a baby,” says Smagala, a teacher. She’ll treasure his memory through videotaped tributes his friends are preparing, plans to rename their neighborhood block after him and talks she’ll have with Alexa. “I’ll tell her all the little things,” Smagala says. “How he liked hot chocolate made from milk, not water.”
She’s saving up stories about their dad for her boys
Looking at her two sons—Tyler, 18 months, and Derek Chase, born Jan. 2—Kimberly Young Statkevicus imagines the romps they would have had with their playful dad, Derek, had he not died on Sept. 11. “He loved dinosaurs and trains and museums,” she says. “He couldn’t wait to share that with the boys.” As a way of preserving Derek’s legacy for Tyler and the baby, whom she calls Chase, Statkevicus, 31, a freelance writer, is saving clippings about him as well as copies of his research reports for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. She believes the information will be especially meaningful to Chase. Tyler, who likes kissing Derek’s picture, got to spend nearly 13 months with his dad. “For Chase,” she says, “his father will always be just a picture.”
Fearless in the face of catastrophe
One day in September 2000, Ari and Jenna Jacobs stood in the shade of a weeping willow and exchanged wedding vows. Less than a year later Ari, executive vice president of Caplin Systems, died in the World Trade Center. Six days later Jacobs gave birth to their son Gabriel. “He came out knowing Mom needs an easy baby,” she says. “We do a lot of looking in each other’s eyes.”
And a lot of talking. “I say things like, ‘Your daddy is so proud of you,’ ” she says. ” ‘He wishes he could see you.’ ” For Jacobs, 27, of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., caring for Gabriel is the best solace—she doesn’t attend counseling groups. “I’m a pretty fearless woman,” the homemaker says. “Ari loved me for who I was; I don’t want to be different.”
A precious gift arrived on her husband’s birthday
On Dec. 4, when she headed to the hospital for the delivery of her second child, Linda Dickinson brought along pictures of her husband, Patrick. The snapshots were supposed to provide a comforting distraction during labor. Instead, “I told my sister to take the pictures down,” Dickinson says. “They upset me.”
Still, it has been impossible for Dickinson, 35, to avoid memories of Patrick, who worked at brokerage firm Harvey, Young, Yurman Inc. and was attending a meeting at Windows on the World restaurant the morning of Sept. 11. Not only was their son, Patrick Joseph, born on the day his father would have turned 36, but daughter Erin, 8, is struggling to accept his death, especially since his body has not been found. “She’s still hoping,” Dickinson says, “that Daddy will come home.”
Meanwhile Dickinson—who remains in the Marlboro, N.J., house she and Patrick bought after their 1990 wedding—has a hope of her own: to adjust to her new life and find happiness again. “It’s different now,” says Dickinson, a full-time mother. “I miss my husband. I’m emotionally and physically drained, and there isn’t that other person to take over. You do the best you can.”
A reminder of the man she loved at first sight
To infuse his unborn child with athletic aptitude, Noell Maerz read SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to his pregnant wife Jennifer’s belly button every night. “He was very active,” Maerz, 28 and a homemaker, says of her husband. “He did everything, like mountain biking and whitewater rafting.” Noell even insisted that the couple, who married in November 2000 after meeting 11 years earlier on a commuter train, live just three blocks from the ocean on Long Island so he could surf. “Anything he had an interest in, he did,” she says.
Noell usually arrived home to Long Beach from work at 6:45 p.m., from Euro Brokers, Inc. That is now the hardest time of day for Maerz. “I still expect him to walk through the door,” she says. Maerz’s parents and sister have been helping her care for daughter Noelle, born Oct. 31, but “when I’m feeding her, I’m wondering whether he’d be feeding her then instead,” Maerz says. “And every time I look at her, I imagine what Noell would be thinking as he looked at her.”
They climbed life’s mountains together for 11 years
From the night they were introduced at a party in September 1990, Rob and Vycki Higley traveled through life as a couple. “We weren’t apart any day after that,” Higley says. Last September they camped on Vermont’s Mount Snow to celebrate the 11th anniversary of their first meeting. Just over one week after they got back, Rob died in the terrorist attacks. He was so devoted to Higley, 30, and their daughter Amanda, 4, that he had recently taken a job at Aon Corporation in Tower 2 that allowed him to spend more time with his family. Higley says, “He would make pancakes Saturday morning and take Amanda to McDonald’s.”
Rob was equally devoted to writing. He tapped out short stories on his laptop computer during his 90-minute commute from Brewster, N.Y., to Manhattan. Sadly, his works of fiction were lost on Sept. 11, but Rob did leave behind a final creation: daughter Robyn, his namesake, born Nov. 3. “He was a wonderful guy, very outgoing,” says Higley, who has quit her job as a bank teller and moved back home with her parents in Danbury, Conn. “She’s going to have a lot to live up to.”
Their love developed in phone call after phone call
Since meeting six years ago while vacationing in Mexico, Lisa and Joe Reina had a relationship that took flight in an endless series of telephone calls—many between his office at Cantor Fitzgerald and hers at Bear Stearns, where she was a bond purchaser. When her maternity leave began in early September, the chats continued. “He’d call me a million times a day,” recalls Reina, 31, “to make sure I was drinking my water and having my fruit and vegetables.”
The phone rang at their Staten Island apartment at 9:01 a.m. on Sept. 11, but Reina heard only static when she picked up. “I don’t know if it was him,” she says. For weeks afterward, she clung to the hope that Joe had somehow survived. But by the time she was ready to deliver Joseph Robert Reina III on Oct. 4, she had accepted the worst. So at his birth she surrounded herself with photos of her husband and even his boxer shorts. Now, though she doesn’t have his wedding ring or wallet, when she looks at little Joseph, she remembers what friends have said: “The baby is the last kiss your husband gave you.”
Strong enough to do the work of both parents
On Sept. 10 Jennifer Bowman, 25, then pregnant with their second son, was discussing baby names with her husband, Shawn. An avid reader, his favorite name was Jack, after Jack Ryan, the hero of Tom Clancy’s books. Shawn was already a doting dad, taking son Liam, almost 2, to breakfast every Saturday and rushing home each day from his job at Cantor Fitzgerald. “He wanted to be a big part of the baby’s life,” says Bowman, a nursing-home therapist. Since Sept. 11, she’s done both her part and Shawn’s for Liam and baby Jack, born Jan. 18. She nixed plans for a four-bedroom New Jersey house, buying a smaller one on Staten Island instead, and took only 10 days off to grieve. “I can’t let myself get depressed,” she says. “I have to go on.”
Lost without him, she clings to the sound of his voice
Five months after David Silver died in his Cantor Fitzgerald office in Tower 1, his voice still delivers the greeting on the answering machine at the New Rochelle, N.Y., home he shared with Holli, his wife of four years. “I guess I still don’t want him to be dead,” says Silver, 38, a homemaker. She was eight months pregnant on Sept. 11, watching Barney & Friends with Rachel, their 3-year-old, when she heard of the attacks. David’s body was found three days later, and rescuers retrieved his wedding band. “It’s all bent,” she says, sobbing. “I can’t even imagine what happened to him.” Having Danielle, born Oct. 9, join Rachel brightened things somewhat, but life remains an emotional battleground. “I don’t have hopes for the future,” says Silver, who now attends therapy and a 9/11 widows support group. “I can’t get beyond getting through the day.”
Finding ways to live and laugh again
Tom McHale’s wife dubbed him the Laugher because of the high-pitched cackle he often let loose. “You heard him before you saw him,” Taryn McHale says of the man she married in 1996. But Tom, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, took his impending fatherhood so seriously he asked his wife not to breastfeed. “He said if I bottle-fed, he could get up at night to be with the baby,” McHale recalls. Now McHale, 32, who is Kathie Lee Gifford’s personal assistant, leans on her boss when it comes to raising son Collin Thomas, born Oct. 18. “I was talking to her one night, crying, ‘How can he not be here to hold the baby?’ ” McHale says. “And Kathie said, ‘Of course he has held the baby—he had him before he sent him to you.’ That gave me peace.”
Financial security, but at too high a price
For her husband’s birthday on Oct. 3, Ronda Boyle made his favorite—carrot cake. “The kids and I ate it,” she says. “It was a hard day, but not like Christmas or New Year’s. They were tough.” Boyle, 27, a fiber optics technician who, unlike Allen, was working in a safe part of the Pentagon on the day that American Flight 77 crashed into it, charts her recovery with unusual markers. Last month it was a pot roast. At the grocery store, her brother asked why she hadn’t bought any meat. “I said, ‘I don’t have anybody to cook it for,’ ” she recalls. “But then I bought a roast and put it in my Crock-Pot. That’s a new thing.”
If there is a bright spot in her life, it is Nathan, who joined older brothers Dylan, 3, and Allen, 2, on Nov. 21. “All babies are precious, but this is a really good baby,” she says. “The kids force me to function.” Also brighter is her financial situation. Boyle, who lived in Fredericksburg, Va., says she and her husband had a tough time making ends meet. Allen was a subcontractor to Radian Co. and delivered pizzas on weekends for extra cash. Now, thanks in part to the Red Cross and a donation from Pizza Hut, “my kids will never want for anything,” says Boyle. In late September she also moved to Mesa, Ariz., with them to be close to her parents, who manage the trailer park where she has bought a mobile home.
But this newfound security came at a devastating cost. “The money is there, but Allen’s not here to appreciate it,” she says. “I feel like, in a way, even though he didn’t do it consciously, my husband sacrificed himself so we can have a better life.”
Loving letters remind her of the man who is gone
When Maria and Jonathan Ryan brought their first child, Autumn, home to Bayville, N.Y., in 1998, the proud papa buzzed around his daughter taking snapshots. Three years later the homecoming for Colin Jonathan, born on Oct. 2—three weeks after the death of his father, who worked at Euro Brokers on the 84th floor of Tower 2—was memorable in the worst way. “That’s when I really realized that Jon was gone,” says Ryan, 31, a homemaker.
He was, his wife says, “a guy’s guy”—a Yankees and Jets fan who enjoyed martinis and cigars. Ryan is compiling a book of letters written about Jonathan by his friends. But it is Colin who helps her get through each day: “It keeps me going just to look at him.”
Out of tragedy, a fund for infertile military couples
Out of the ashes of the Pentagon, where her husband, Kip, died on Sept. 11, Nancy Taylor vowed to create hope and renewal. Two months later the idea came to her. Fertility treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had produced the Taylors’ two sons, 2-year-old Dean and then Luke, who was born on Oct. 25. So she started the Kip Taylor Memorial Fund for infertile military couples, which has raised 540,000 from family, friends and neighbors. “I’d like to either help renovate part of Walter Reed’s fertility clinic or somehow help the couples directly,” says Taylor, 37.
She still hasn’t returned to her job as part-time editor of a health-care newsletter. The boys distract her, but their McLean, Va., home feels empty. “At first the mornings were hard, waking up and realizing Kip wasn’t there,” says Nancy. “Now the evenings are tough.” She has found comfort in the kindness of strangers: The Minneapolis woman who made Luke a patriotic quilt. The Atlanta schoolchildren who made a blanket out of American flags. A military wife who sent a beaded purse necklace. “I wore it to Kip’s funeral,” Nancy says, “and put his wedding ring in it.”
There will be another gift, originally intended for Dean, that both Taylor sons will relish. In January 2001 his parents assembled a time capsule to be opened on his 21st birthday. It includes a recorded message from Kip. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am that we did that,” Taylor says.
She missed her husband’s final phone calls
Stacey Staub last heard the voice of her husband, Craig, an executive at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods on the 89th floor of Tower 2, in two tense messages on her answering machine. “The first one was, ‘Stace, it’s me. Pick up!’ ” she recalls. It was 8:49 a.m. and she was in the shower. “The next one, at 8:54, he said the same thing, and you could hear a sigh. He was frustrated that I wasn’t there.”
Eleven days later, on what would have been his 31st birthday, their first child, Juliette, was born. This time Staub made sure that she was connected with her husband. “I watched the birth through a mirror,” recalls Staub, 31, a former art director. “And I had pictures of Craig everywhere, so no matter where I looked, I saw his face.”
But she is facing harsh truths as well. “The phone calls get fewer and the help gets less,” she says with an air of resignation. “And the reality is that our husbands are never going to come home.” Still, she believes that in less tangible ways, her husband is near. “I’ll be holding Juliette,” Staub says, “and she’ll be looking off somewhere and smiling and cooing, and there’s nothing there but a white wall. It makes me feel Craig’s presence.” Her husband’s belongings fill the Basking Ridge, N.J., house that the couple built last fall, and Staub is planning to have a quilt made from his old clothes: “I want to wrap it around me, look at the pieces and remember a story for each one.”
Now happiness is a few daily laughs with her kids
When Morgan Antonette Rodriguez was born on Sept. 14, her mother, Evelyn, hadn’t eaten for three days—not since Morgan’s father, Anthony, had called at the end of his shift to say, “The city is being attacked. I can’t come home.” Joined by her parents and sister-in-law in the delivery room, Rodriguez, 25, cried for her husband. “But I was happy Morgan was there,” she says.
In Derek, 4, and her smiley infant (Anthony had two kids previously), she sees reminders of the man she married 3½ years ago—like when her son does the Latin dance moves his dad taught him. “I don’t think my son understands the situation,” she says, but the Staten Island graphics manager hopes to help the healing this month with a trip to Disney World. “Every time my kids laugh,” she says, “it makes me laugh.”
Married by tradition, but their hearts soon followed
At first it seemed as though custom, not Cupid, had united Mohammad Salahuddin Chowdhury and his wife, Baraheen Ashrafi, both of whom were born in Bangladesh. “It was an arranged marriage,” Ashrafi explains. The pair, whose union was set up by their families, met for the first time at their 1992 wedding in their homeland. “It took time to get to know him,” says Ashrafi, 28, but true love slowly blossomed. “He was very understanding, very nice.”
After joining her husband in New York City nine years ago (he came to the city in the late 1980s), Ashrafi, a homemaker, embraced her new life while honoring her Muslim faith. They prayed together each morning, including on Sept. 11, shortly before Chowdhury left their apartment in Woodside, Queens, for his job at the Windows on the World restaurant in the Trade Center. Still reeling just two days after the tragedy, Ashrafi gave birth to a son, naming him Farqad, which means “star.” In the months since, she has struggled to regain her footing in the face of occasionally derisive words and actions from strangers. One day a group of teens spotted her in traditional Muslim dress and jeered, “Let’s go for a jihad.”
Hardest of all has been explaining Chowdhury’s death to their 6-year-old daughter Fahina. “He’s in the stars,” Ashrafi told her. The little girl responded by asking for binoculars. “I want to see my dad,” she said.
Carrying on with the help of sitcoms and a baby boy
He wasn’t ordinarily forgetful, but when Ronald D. Milam walked out of his cubicle at the Pentagon for a 9:30 a.m. meeting on Sept. 11, he left his wallet behind. Now he lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and that wallet—”sitting on the dresser like he’s going to come back and get it,” in the words of his best friend, Col. Robert House—is one of the few things of his that his widow, Jacqueline, 33, has left. That, and the couple’s 20-month-old daughter Myejoi and infant son Ron Jr., born Jan. 6.
Milam, herself an Air Force captain, was working on the opposite side of the Pentagon when American Flight 77 slammed into the building. She escaped physical harm, but not emotional anguish. “I pray for the strength to get through the day,” she says. In between feedings, laundry, vacuuming and other chores at her Brandywine, Md., home, she tries to “watch a little TV. The comedies make me laugh and take my mind off things.”
Something else cheers her too. While pregnant, says Milam, “I kept rubbing my stomach and saying, ‘I want him to be the spitting image of his father.’ ” Her prayers, it seems, were answered. “He’s got his daddy’s nose,” she says, smiling at her newborn. “And his big feet.”
A weary mother of three, but with grit to spare
Sports enthusiast Robert Shay liked to joke that he was going to have enough sons to start his own basketball team. By September he was halfway there, with Robert III, 5; Ryan, 2; and a third boy on the way. But when baby Jonathan arrived on Oct. 22, there was no talk of sports. Six weeks earlier Robert, of Cantor Fitzgerald, had died inside Tower 1. “People say I’m strong, but it’s hard,” says Shay, 27, who met Robert at a St. Patrick’s Day parade seven years ago and married him three years later. “The baby needs 24-hour care. And all the kids need to know I’ll be there for them.” She is deeply grateful for the support of her family, who “dropped their lives” to help. And although she is nervous about their financial future, Shay, a full-time mom, is determined to keep Robert’s dreams alive—starting with buying a house to replace their cramped apartment on Staten Island so each boy has his own room. “He’d be so proud of me if I did that,” she says.
Love was on the menu in the restaurant where they worked
For two weeks rescuers searched for Michael Lyons in the Trade Center rubble. For all that time his wife, Elaine, believed he would be found. Then one night, after pals from his South Bronx squad gently suggested holding a memorial, his brother Brian told her things didn’t look good. Lyons, 32, broke down. “Hearing it from him made it real,” she says.
The couple had met as teens working in a Yonkers restaurant. Love bloomed, Lyons recalls, because “he had a great sense of humor.” Years later Michael became a real Good Humor man, working weekends near their Hawthorne, N.Y., home. But his fun on the ice cream truck couldn’t match the joy he felt on the fire truck. He first tried firefighting as a stopgap after earning a mechanical engineering degree from Manhattan College, then turned down lucrative engineering jobs to stay with his squad mates. Since Michael’s death, his widow feels she has grown, assuming responsibilities, such as paying bills, that he always handled. Lyons, a homemaker, is filling a scrapbook on his life for daughters Mary Michael, born Nov. 2 and named for her father, and 18-month-old Caitlyn. “I think,” she says, “they’ll be proud of him.”
A calm baby and a pear tree offer respite
There is no grave site for Kenny Tarantino. But his softball pals planted a pear tree in his memory at a ballpark in Bayonne, N.J., where he lived. “This is our special place,” says his wife, Jennifer, 33, who takes sons Kenny, 4, and 2-month-old Jason Joseph there twice a week. “We go to talk to Kenny.”
Though her friends submitted the missing-person report and placed signs all over the city, the sapling, says Tarantino, is the greatest act of kindness she has received since the death of Kenny, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of Tower 1—a possibility Tarantino initially couldn’t imagine. “I thought he was invincible,” she recalls.
Marking her seventh wedding anniversary three months ago was painful, but there was reason to celebrate her Dec. 7 birthday: Jason’s arrival at 5:25 p.m. “He has such a calm about him—like my husband,” says Tarantino, a homemaker. She, too, has found inner peace: ” ‘Don’t be such a perfectionist,’ Kenny used to say. And here I am doing it. I’m the person my husband wanted me to be.”
In a search for solace, she returns to her roots
Dan Lee was supposed to go to Canada with the rest of the Backstreet Boys’ crew. Instead he boarded American Flight 11 from Boston to L.A. to be with Kellie Lee during her Caesarean. On Sept. 13 Lee, 32, then a contract administrator for a construction firm, delivered Allison, their second child. Accepting Dan’s death has been tough for Lee, who feels guilty. “He wasn’t on the plane except to be with me,” she says. Less than a month after Allison’s birth, she packed up the baby, sister Amanda, 3, and her sorrow and moved to her parents’ home in Erie, Pa. Since then, assistance from generous strangers as well as Dan’s coworkers and celebrities like Stevie Nicks, the Backstreet Boys and Bette Midler has improved her finances. “People have been wonderful,” Lee says. This month she and her daughters got their own home in Erie. As soon as she can, says Lee, “I want to get back to real life.”
A new arrival helps soothe his siblings’ grief
Parked a few blocks from Ground Zero, a 1997 white Dodge Ram gathers dust. Scott Larsen had driven the van to his fire station near the Trade Center on Sept. 11. In the months since, his homemaker wife, Carolann, has chosen to leave it there. “I don’t want to get rid of it,” she says, “but I don’t know if I want to drive it either.”
A far easier decision was choosing the name for the baby boy Larsen delivered less than 48 hours after Scott died in the attacks. August—Larsen’s father’s name—had been Scott’s pick all along. Making his debut so soon after his father’s death, August proved to be a welcome distraction for his older siblings Marisa, 9, Brenda, 8, and Scott Brian, 4. “My kids went from one day of being very sad,” says Larsen, 35, “to the next day having a baby brother.”
Since Sept. 11, the Larsens have been showered with kindnesses. Among them: Anne Beiler, the owner of Auntie Anne’s pretzel chain, donated Christmas gifts; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani stopped by on Christmas Eve (“My son kept thinking he was the President,” says Larsen); and a Utah couple in their 90s sent a handmade quilt. When August is older, Larsen will explain his father’s sacrifice: “I’ll tell him that hopefully a lot of children were able to have their parents come home because of his dad.”
Her husband lives on through a book she wrote and one final videotape
Even before he became a dad, Steve Russin loved children. “Steve got a set of Pokémon cards and traded them with the kids on the block,” says his wife, Andrea, 34. On Halloween three years ago, “he dressed up as Spider-Man and climbed the trees and a lamppost. All the kids were laughing.”
Yet even her upbeat husband was worried when the couple, already parents of 2-year-old Alec, learned in January of last year that twins were on the way. “It took about two months before he was comfortable that we could handle three children,” says Russin. “Then he was so excited. He would say, ‘We’re not just having one baby, we’re having two!’ ”
Fraternal twins Olivia Sabrina Gail and Ariella Sarah Dayle were born just four days after their father died in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices in Tower 1. Steve had met Andrea, an occupational therapist, at Moran’s, a bar in the World Financial Center a few blocks from the Twin Towers, in 1994. They married two years later and in 1998 moved to a four-bedroom home in Randolph, N.J. After Alec was born, “Steve would play like a child with him,” recalls Russin, who often shows her son the video Steve shot of them on Alec’s first day at preschool—five days before the attacks. Each time he sees his father’s image, Russin reports, Alec runs to the screen, shouting, “Daddy!” Russin says the tape “makes Steve alive.”
After giving birth by Caesarean section, a grieving Russin put her feelings into writing. The result was Where’s Daddy?, a 21-page children’s book Russin hopes to publish in honor of her husband. In the meantime Steve is never far from her mind. “I would like,” she says, “to believe he is still with us, helping us out.”
Galina Espinoza, Thomas Fields-Meyer, Susan Horsburgh, Richard Jerome, Mike Neill, Joanna Powell, Susan Schindehette, Michelle Tauber, Alex Tresniowski Reported by K.C. Baker, Vickie Bane, Sharon Cotliar, Samantha Henry, Diane Herbst, Caroline Howard, Jennifer Longley, Jane Sims Podesta, Debbie Seaman