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Published on 08/14/02

Be prepared for 9/11 anniversary remembrances

By Merritt Melancon
University of Georgia

We've gotten on with our lives after the Sept. 11 attacks. The thoughts and feelings we suppressed to do that, though, haven't gone.

As the Pentagon and World Trade Center tragedies' first anniversary approaches, prepare for some of those post-attack feelings' and fears' resurrection, says University of Georgia human development specialist Don Bower.

"Anniversaries of tragedies often dredge up painful memories," said Bower, an associate professor with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "Feelings of sadness, isolation, anger, lack of meaning and despair are common, especially if our grieving hasn't resulted in some sense of resolution."

Forum for sharing

Anniversary rituals can help us cope with anticipated grief, Bower said, by providing some structure for our remembrances and a forum in which to share our thoughts with our friends and neighbors.

As families and communities consider memorials, Bower said, remember a couple of things that may help promote healing.

  • Recognize that not everyone will experience the same emotions around the anniversary. Although its stages are universal, grief is experienced individually and personally. Understand that others may not share your particular feelings around this tragedy.
  • Not everyone will want to recognize this kind of anniversary. Some will think it's important to "move on" or that focusing on painful events of the past only makes recovery harder.

Variety of rituals

For these reasons, Bower says, community remembrances around 9/11 should provide a variety of rituals. Make the "celebration" activities compatible with the moods of your family.

Expect TV to be saturated with video images from that time, which can trigger more distress for children and others who may be on edge emotionally. Consider limiting how much of this your family should see.

Many communities choose to become active participants in helping heal emotional scars. One of the best ways to do this is to get involved in community service that overpowers the anger and sadness with productive contributions.

Positive examples

These are especially effective when adults and youth work together. Some examples:

  • Write a note of thanks to the public safety professionals such as firefighters, police and EMTs for all they do to protect your community.
  • Donate blood (or money) at a community blood drive.
  • Plant a tree in remembrance of someone special.
  • Volunteer to share your time and talents with a community youth-serving organization.
  • Organize a block party to bring your neighbors closer together.
  • Beautify the landscape in a public area.
  • Visit a senior friend and encourage her or him to reminisce.
  • Respond to everyday affronts such as road rage with forgiveness and courtesy.
  • Speak up when you see other people being demeaned or taken advantage of.

'Family-friendly' communities

"These ideas may seem unrelated to a sad anniversary," Bower said. "But they have been shown to contribute to a community being 'family-friendly.' Communities that are characterized by these attitudes and behaviors help promote resilience in the face of tragedy.

"While anniversary remembrances can resurrect old feelings of pain and confusion," he said, "they also offer a way to channel pain and confusion into a sense of control over the events in our lives and a hope for a brighter future."