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9/11 Anniversary: Firefighter's Widow Says, 'We Always Think We Have Tomorrow' (Part 4)

  • Nikola Krastev

The 11 September attacks on the United States -- three years ago this week -- changed much about the way we live. Today, security in many parts of the world is tighter, fear of terrorism is high, and governments are actively trying to hunt down Al-Qaeda-linked or -inspired groups. But if many hope the war on terrorism can prevent new attacks, those who have already lost loved ones in terrorist strikes know nothing can make their lives normal again. Among these people is Nora Farrell. She lost her husband, Terrence -- a 45-year-old firefighter -- when he rushed to the World Trade Center on 11 September to help people escape from the burning buildings. His body was found buried beneath the wreckage of the collapsed towers six weeks later. A devout Catholic, Farrell says her faith has sustained her over the past three years, along with her friends and her two children.

New York, 8 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Terrence and Nora Farrell were married for 16 years and raised two children -- 17-year-old Terrence Junior, whom everyone calls T.J., and Rebecca, who is 11.

Rebecca is an ice-skater and will participate in a 9/11 commemorative show called "Stars, Stripes, and Skates," a fund-raising gala for the children of families affected by 9/11.

Nora says the 9/11 tragedy has made her children more willing to express their emotions.

"They're both doing phenomenally well, but they say, 'I love you' every time we part. My daughter hugs me like she's not going to see me again, whether it's to go down to her friends or she's going on the school bus, she'll hug me and say, 'I love you, mom.' They're both very affectionate kids, but it's like a daily vocabulary: 'I love you,'" Farrell says.
Nora says she does not want her husband's name to be carved on a wall that is part of the winning project for the 9/11 victims' memorial at Ground Zero. The reason, she says, is that a name is just a name and that Terrence was more than that -- a husband, a father, a brother.

Nora says her husband was a great father, even if he didn't show his emotions all the time.

"He was a man that didn't say ['I love you'] enough, but we knew it. He didn't have to say it, but I knew it. He came from a family of six boys, so I imagine, you know, 'I love you' was not a common vocabulary. You know, macho, you can't cry if it hurts. He was a great man. He was a hard worker, and he worked for those kids so they could have things," Farrell says.

Brian Farrell, one of Terrence's five brothers, wrote on a website dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy: "Terry was more than just a firefighter. He was a man who served his community for 27 of his 45 years. He was a hero to so many of us, long before 9/11, and his loss is one that can never be eased. To know him was to love him. He was not a talker, and when he did he mostly mumbled. His brothers and friends always gave him a hard time, and he would just laugh and enjoy life to the fullest."

Nora says her marriage to Terrence was strong, and that he was a steadying influence during a time when their son was facing multiple surgeries.

"We had our good times, we had hard times. I'm telling you, my son had a lot of medical challenges, and we pulled through that. I hear people today -- they just had a baby and the husband takes off. But I have a son who had a lot of surgeries, back-to-head surgeries six months before 9/11. And my husband was always there. He was our rock. I just watched Oprah [Winfrey, host of a popular TV show in America], and men leave their wives with four or five kids. They have everything -- a beautiful home, beautiful wife, healthy kids -- and they take off with another woman. My husband -- he worked three jobs to pay bills, and he never complained. He never complained," Farrell says.

Nora says she and her husband, like so many families, thought there would always be time to do things together, to say, "I love you."

"We were contented. He did his thing, I did my thing. But we always came together. He loved to build things. I loved to sew. He spent a lot of time working. He should've spent more time with the kids, but we always think we have tomorrow. It's hard to see my kids grow up without their father. When it's time for a family photo, he's not there. I and my children will never see his face again. He had so much to offer. He was so good with his hands. He was a smart man, and it's all gone," Farrell says.

After the 11 September attacks, the U.S. government set up a victims' compensation fund that distributed financial help to each victim's family according to a sliding scale, in proportion to the victim's economic level. Nora says she is satisfied by the U.S. government's response to the tragedy.

Before its closure in June, the fund processed more than 7,300 claims for death and physical injury arising out of the 9/11 tragedy.

The minimum compensation award per deceased victim was set at $250,000; the maximum was more than $3 million.

RFE/RL asked Nora if she has found solace in working hard.

"Solace in working? No, I find it in the sunrise and in the sunset, and being by the water. And being busy. I get up every morning for my children. I focus on them because, you know, we've had.... We got married, we had a family, and we worked together, and it's all on my shoulders now, and I'm not complaining because I have my health and I can get up and do it. When I get down in the dumps, I just think of people that are in the hospital that can't do it," Farrell says.

Nora says she intends to find a quiet place to reflect on Saturday, the third anniversary of the attacks.

"I'm just going to lay low, be quiet with my children. That's all. Go some place where it's secluded, probably somewhere near the water and just spend the day with them. I just feel much closer, the kids and I. We're just, you know, the three musketeers, or whatever you want to call us," she says.

After 9/11, Nora attended trauma counseling with her children, but gave it up after a few months because she says it didn't help. She says her children underwent psychological evaluation after the tragedy and seemed to be coping well.

Nora says she has visited the site of the attacks -- called Ground Zero -- twice since her husband's body was found.

"[I went] twice -- I believe November [2001] and March [2002] when my son had to go see his surgeon. And I was never there again. I felt sick to my stomach. My husband was there. He laid there for six weeks. And there were people there that they still did not find, and it was just a sick feeling," Farrell says.

Nora says she does not want her husband's name to be carved on a wall that is part of the winning project for the 9/11 victims' memorial at Ground Zero. The reason, she says, is that a name is just a name and that Terrence was more than that -- a husband, a father, a brother.

More stories on the 9/11 anniversary from RFE/RL:

A Day Filled With Unforgettable Events, Images

War On Terrorism Expands To Global Battlefield

Experts Say Winning War on Terrorism Requires Patience, Flexibility

Major Events In Global War On Terrorism In Past Year