9/11 Widows: Five Years Later

PEOPLE revisits the new moms who lost their husbands on the day of the attacks

01 of 10

SUSAN RETIK

SUSAN RETIK
Erica Berger/CORBIS OUTLINE; Courtesy RETIK FAMILY

Then
Retik's husband David, 33, died on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. She told PEOPLE in Feb. 2002, "I don't feel like a whole person anymore." But the mother of Ben, 8, and Molly, 7, and Dina, 4 (with whom she was pregnant at the time of the attacks) wanted her children to grasp the importance of carrying on, as she was forced to do on Nov. 19, the day baby Dina was born.

02 of 10

RETIK

RETIK
ALEX TEHRANI

Now
Several months after her loss, Retik, now 38, helped found Beyond the 11th, a charity that has raised more than $325,000 to help 500 Afghan widows and their 2,500 kids. In another unforeseen turn of events, the Needham, Mass., mom is now happily engaged to Donald Ger, 39, a business consultant she met online. "Nobody wants to be the victim," Retik says. "Once I felt strong enough to help someone else, that's what got me through."

03 of 10

CAROLANN LARSEN

CAROLANN LARSEN
Erica Berger/Corbis Outline; Courtesy Larsen Family

Then
The stay-at-home mom delivered a baby boy named August less than 48 hours after her firefighter husband Scott, 35, died at Ground Zero. 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 Jr., 4. "My kids went from one day of being very sad," Larsen said, "to the next day having a baby brother."

04 of 10

LARSEN

LARSEN
ALEX TEHRANI

Now
After her late husband Scott's death, Larsen packed away his clothes in boxes, and last year moved to the house across the street in their New York City neighborhood. Larsen, 39, who says she isn't interested in dating, instead devotes herself to her four children. "With them around, you don't have time to think about anything," she says.

05 of 10

JACQUELINE MILAM

JACQUELINE MILAM
Erica Berger/CORBIS OUTLINE; Courtesy Milam Family

Then
Milam, an Air Force Major, was working on the opposite side of the Pentagon from her husband Ronald, an Army Major, when American Flight 77 slammed into the building. While she escaped harm, he did not. The mother of then 20-month-old daughter MyeJoi was pregnant with the couple's second child, son Ron Jr. (born Jan. 6). "He's got his daddy's nose and his big feet," Milam told PEOPLE.

06 of 10

MILAM

MILAM
ALEX TEHRANI

Now
On July 4, 2004, Milam, 38, moved from Washington D.C., to San Antonio, Tex., with her two kids. "It was Independence Day," she recalls, "like starting over again." Someday, she says she will take Ron Jr., 4, and his sister MyeJoi, 6, to visit their father's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, but for now, she's looking forward. "Some people say, 'She's just avoiding dealing with it,'" Milam says. "No, I'm not. I'm just moving on."

07 of 10

LINDA DICKINSON

LINDA DICKINSON
Erica Berger/CORBIS OUTLINE; Courtesy DICKINSON FAMILY

Then
Dickinson's husband Patrick, 35, was at Windows on the World restaurant the morning of Sept. 11. So it was a bittersweet moment when the Marlboro, N.J., mother gave birth to second child Patrick Joseph on Dec. 4 – the day his father would have turned 36. "I miss my husband. I'm emotionally and physically drained," said Dickinson, who was left to raise little Patrick and daughter Erin, 8. "You do the best you can."

08 of 10

DICKINSON

DICKINSON
ALEX TEHRANI

Now
After her husband's death, his mother gave her a gift. "She said, 'I know you loved my son very much, you were a wonderful wife, and I want you to be happy and not alone,'" recalls Dickinson. At the time, she couldn't imagine such a thing, but in August 2005, she reluctantly agreed to a blind date with Christopher Pancila, 34, an officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were engaged this spring and will marry in October.

09 of 10

LISA REINA

LISA REINA
Erica Berger/CORBIS OUTLINE; Courtesy REINA FAMILY

Then
Reina's husband Joe, 32, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. Weeks after 9/11, she clung to the hope that Joe had somehow survived, but by the time she was ready to deliver the couple's son Joseph Robert Reina III on Oct. 4, she had accepted the worst. When she looks at little Joseph, she takes consolation in what friends have said: "The baby is the last kiss your husband gave you."

10 of 10

REINA

REINA
ALEX TEHRANI

Now
Three years later, Reina, 36, married N.Y.P.D. sergeant Robert Ruggiero, 37. When the couple met at a mutual friend's party in March 2002, she had no interest in dating. "It was hard for me to be friends with another man," says Reina. But platonic play dates (Ruggiero has a 5-year-old son from his previous marriage) eventually turned romantic, and the couple's daughter, Raiana Nicole, was born in January 2004. At their wedding that October, little Joseph, then 3, gave his mom away.

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