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Winter 2002

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Coping with loss after 9/11

by Kirk Cassels ’02

     How do I begin this? My close friend died. He was on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center on September 11. His name was Tyler. In high school, people referred to us as Calvin and Hobbes: he was tall and humble, I was short and spastic.

     I know that I am not alone in my shock and grieving. In fact, at the Country Corner Café recently, I sat next to a man who lost one of his friends as well. During our breakfast, we read an article in the Saratogian about how to cope with the death of someone you love.

     One statement that stood out referred to America’s obsession with the “quick fix.” It would be nice if you could purge out all of your sadness with one push. But this is the wrong idea and it will not work.

     There are more than a handful of Skidmore’s community members who have been personally affected by this tragedy that we all wish we had never witnessed. I think that is important to remember.

     I also think it is important to remember something Dean Oles told me: people should not be afraid to express their feelings. Repeating that to myself—that it’s OK to break down if I feel the need—is comforting.

     As the cold reality fades away for some, it continues to chill others. For instance, you may be in the middle of your Spanish class two months from now and see the student next to you silently holding back tears. How should you respond? Do they want you to burst out of your chair and embrace them? Or would they rather you let them mourn in silence? I don’t know.

     “I don’t know” seems to have become my phrase lately. Friends and family ask how I am doing. I don’t know. Has it hit me yet, or am I still in denial? I don’t know.

     In fact, one of the only things I do know is that the love and concern people have offered me is more than appreciated. It may not be clear, because I don’t know how to react, but it is welcomed. I can only hope that the rest of those who mourn receive the same support. They will need it even when springtime lights up the campus a few months from now.

     I don’t like using metaphors very often, because they can be too cliché. But I will use one now. Grieving is like a large forest fire in the middle of a dry season. The initial burn is hot and fast, and it gets attention. Weeks later, everything is burnt to ground level and the attention fades. But the fire is not finished—it sill smolders underground.

     Back to my breakfast pal at the café. After mentioning how everyone has been much kinder and considerate to each other and to him, he expressed concern about the eventual drop in support. With this absence of care, the hidden fires can flare up.

     I would like to remind every friend, companion, mentor, associate, family member, and everyone else that a “quick fix” of caring will not do the trick. Some people may wake up every morning for the rest of their lives missing their loved one. Coping with this takes more than a few days. It takes weeks, months, and years.

     Hoping to receive more bits of support, I plan to go back to the Country Corner Café to see if my breakfast pal is there. At the end of our conversation, he told me that he would pray for Tyler’s family and for me. After returning that soothing statement, I felt a few yards of burning extinguish inside me.

Kirk Cassels ’02 is editor-in-chief of the Skidmore News; a version of this column appeared on its opinion page on September 21, 2001.


© 2001 Skidmore College