To Be Remembered
Sixteen years after 9/11, we are reminded once again of how vital it is to be remembered.
When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11/01, over three thousand children under the age of 18 lost at least one parent in that tragedy. Countless lives were lost or changed forever, and among them were birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents, as well.
There were birthparents who had not yet had the opportunity to reunite with the child/ren they’d placed, like Tom Burnett, who left behind an unfinished letter to his birthdaughter that she received only after those towers fell. There were birthparents who died that day having never told anyone they had placed a child for adoption, and there were others whose passing devastated the adoptive families who wouldn’t exist were it not for them.
There were adoptive families affected, like that of three-year-old adoptee David Gamboa-Brandhorst, who died with his adoptive dads on Flight 175. Another adopting dad Jeff Mladenik knew he had a new daughter waiting for him in China, but he lost his life in a fiery plane crash, forcing his wife to complete their adoption as a single parent, meaning daughter Hannah lost her adoptive dad before she’d even met him.
And there were other adoptees impacted, like Laura Dennis, who had reunited with her birthmom 6 months before the attack but lost her adopted uncle in the Twin Towers, and Lisa Paterson, who lost her own adoptive dad at age 11 and then had to explain to her twins why their dad would never return home from work on 9/11/01.
There were also children who were actually or effectively orphaned by the events of 9/11. Children like Rui Zheng, who lost both her parents on Flight 77, and Kahleb Fallon, the son of a single mother who was adopted by his aunt and uncle after she died in the World Trade Center. The daughter of the late Catherine Gorayeb was only adopted in recent years, after the conclusion of a lengthy, painful battle between her aunt and her birthfather. (Edward Kranz had reportedly forfeited custody prior to 9/11, but later contested her aunt’s quest to adopt her seven years later– two weeks after $2 million in victim’s compensation had been awarded to the child.)
There were birthparents and adoptive parents and adoptees amongst the helpers, too; the firefighters and police and paramedics who responded that fateful day, as well as the brave troops who have gone on to battle terrorism here and abroad.
Even the unborn children of pregnant 9/11 survivors also bore the trauma of the experience, according to researchers. Undoubtedly, America as a nation was forever changed by the experience; airport security became a multi-million dollar industry. Military action ensued against terrorist factions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands have lost their lives as a result.
And the ripples left behind by the 9/11 atrocity have continued to impact scores of others who will never be able to pursue the DNA tests needed to confirm relationships with those lost on 9/11. It even affects adoptees who were not even born here nor visited the Twin Towers, like Adam Crapser and the late Phillip Clay, because of changes in immigration law enforcement since 9/11 that have unfairly targeted international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to secure their citizenship here in the US as should have been done.
To be remembered is to live on in the memories of others; to be valued by those whose lives you have touched, or to be honored by those who never knew you yet do not forget your existence. We remember the 9/11 victims and survivors through memorials, such as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The name of each victim is read aloud at the 9/11 memorial service held each year, because to say each name and have it heard is to pay tribute publicly to those whose lives have mattered. Survivors still get together for reunions, because those who have been through a life-changing event together draw strength from time spent with each other.
This is not unlike the things that are routinely done in open adoptions to honor kinship connections and to treasure our shared experiences by celebrating “A-Day” and the relationships that brought us together. We recognize the importance of raising children to know the relatives (by birth and by adoption) who are significant to us, through photos and videos and phone calls and visits, and we do all we can to preserve family memories and create new ones through reunions such as Camp Abrazo.
The heartaches survived by those impacted by adoption are different, of course, than the horrific traumas of those who experienced the losses of 9/11, yet whatever life challenges and tragic losses have been endured, it is the resilience of the human spirit that enables both to remember the past, yet look with hope to the future.
To be remembered is, perhaps, the lingering blessing that can outlive any loss in this lifetime, thus we honor the memory of all whose personal tragedies on (and since) 9/11/01 still grieve us so deeply.