No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 3 Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials (first draft)

The Family Assistance Unit of the FDNY left a fifteen seat passenger van at my house in case we needed it. The firefighters had joked “take your girls to the mall in it.”  I don’t think so.On Friday September 28, we piled into that van to make the journey to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The bridges still had military on them, traffic moved at a snail’s pace. When we arrived in Brooklyn, there was a huge dump truck blocking the entrance to a street that was no longer accessible. Am I in a foreign country? This is America!  At the Brooklyn Naval Yard, identifications were checked, and we were escorted to a party boat that looked sad. The boat was in fine shape but there were no flickering lights or people in party attire just us and another family that looked shell shocked. We were joined by FDNY, NYPD and Red Cross personnel. We were given a brown bag lunch that had been packed by school children and included drawings. The NYPD Chaplain visited each family and offered words of condolences and support. The Red Cross volunteer gave Emily and Meghan teddy bears and handed out little packets of tissues. I commented “Wow, Look the Red Cross has tissues with their logo. I guess they hand these out at all kinds of disasters.”  Okay that wasn’t a normal comment. Get it together. You can do this. You have to do this. Greater is He who is in you than He that is in the world.

When we arrived at the marina in Manhattan, there was a row of identical small sailboats covered in a gray ash and pieces of white paper everywhere. The other family on our boat included a pregnant woman before disembarking she was given a paper mask. A plywood walkway lead to the site. We followed our escorts as Meghan walked with Christine, I walked with Emily, my sister Barbara had flown in from California and she walked with Christine’s husband.

The gray ash covered everything and seemed to hang in the air. It was definitely a bizarre experience – not knowing where I was or even why I was here, being escorted by uniformed police officers and firefighters, the awareness that anyone wearing a hat removed it as we walked past, arriving at the viewing corner (Liberty and West Streets) and being handed a map marked “you are here.” There was the realization that no map could help you grasp where you were or what you were seeing. Heavy equipment – dump trucks, all forms of construction equipment. The smoke hung in the air as it rose from the pile. Twisted steel. Devastation. Suddenly it was too real for Meghan and she burst into tears. Christine brought Meghan to me and I gave Emily to Christine. I held my 14-year-old daughter and cried with her. I squeezed her tightly and tried to protect her from the reality, but I couldn’t.

After a few minutes, the NYPD chaplain stated that he was going to read Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me along the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Then he said “I am going to recite the Lord’s Prayer. You are welcome to join me.”

I joined in “Our Father which art in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Leading us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

“For thine is the kingdom…”  Oops! At this point I realized the chaplain had stopped. Oh, the Protestant and the Catholic versions of the Lord’s prayer end differently. Scripture was just read and spoken in the middle of the World Financial Center and no one said, “are we allowed to do that?”  My word will not return void. Thank you, Lord.

We decided we wanted to visit Bruce’s firehouse in the Bronx. On a good day getting to the Bronx from Manhattan was an adventure but when you factored in we had to go back to Brooklyn via boat we were in for a long journey.

“No problem, we will make it happen.” Said Aldo our Squad 41 escort. And he did.

When we arrived at Squad 41 two official looking men in suits were just exiting their black town car.

“Wait here. I will be right back.” said Aldo as he jumped out of the van.

Timing is everything and this would be one of those times I realized my presence could suck the air out of a room or, so it seemed. The two suits were city officials who came to Squad 41, to learn about Bruce before they attended his service. Under normal circumstances these two men would have never been expected to represent the city at a funeral, but it was all hands-on deck. The shock of “running into” the widow and her children was visible on their faces. I felt bad. The visit was a great opportunity to thank everyone at Squad 41 for all they had done.