Remembering 9/11: Sad, but normal
Rocky Mountain News
Today, Cathy Faughnan thinks she’ll be remembering with a lighter heart.
“I’ll probably think about Chris and do something fun,” said the 44-year-old mother of three. “I’ll do something he would like to do – like get out his bike and maybe ride it down to Boulder, which he loved.”
Seven years ago today, the life Cathy was building with her husband, Chris Faughnan, collapsed. The boyishly handsome bond broker who collected wine, loved road biking and being a dad died in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
“He just went to work, you know,” Cathy recalled this week at her Lafayette home. “It was a pretty day, gorgeous, with crisp blue skies, and he just went to work and I remember kissing him and saying goodbye.”
Chris and Cathy met at the University of Colorado, married in 1990, and settled across the Hudson River from New York to raise their three kids.
Then came the day that linked national and personal tragedy and brutally interrupted the lives of the Faughnans and thousands of other families. Since then, each year has been marked by its own sorrows and healings.
“On the first anniversary,” Cathy recalled, “I said it feels like I’ve served the first year of a life sentence and, OK, now one year of the life sentence is over and now I have the rest of my life to live in prison.”
Then good things began to happen again.
In 2003 friends introduced her to David Green, an information technology specialist from New Jersey. He was mourning the death of his girlfriend in a 2001 fire. Cathy was just weeks away from returning to Colorado to be close to her and Chris’ families.
After more than a year of daily phone calls, Cathy and David married, and “this New Jersey guy,” she laughed, “agreed to take on me and three kids.”
Today, Siena, 14, Juliet, 11, and Liam, 9, are thriving, with many friends and interests. But they don’t like the 9/11 publicity and prefer to grieve privately.
As Cathy thinks how she’ll juggle her kids’ schedules with her own private time today, she has to smile: “With three kids, there’s soccer practice, there’s football practice there’s cross-country, there’s lunches – it’s kind of a sad day, but it’s a normal day, too, and we have to move through it.”
Tonight, Cathy and Chris’ families, which have remained close, will attend an anniversary event at 6 at the Broomfield 9/11 Memorial. Last weekend, in Chris’ memory, they took part in the Buffalo Bicycle Classic and held a tailgate party before the Buffs game.
“Chris was a huge Buffalo fan,” said Cathy, who has kept the Faughnan name.
But somehow, this wasn’t the year for a deliberate, structured event.
“It just became too much,” Cathy said. “Part of the story is, what do you do at your seventh? It’s hard to keep up that level of enthusiasm. This anniversary isn’t ’10,’ and it’s not ‘five’ or ‘one.’ It’s kind of this in-between year.”
Time has blurred the tragedy with complexities. On one hand, “You do kind of get the feeling people are forgetting. They schedule back-to-school nights and football games. The day isn’t sacred as it is, in a way, to us.”
On the other hand, there’s a sense that the family’s own loss will forever be defined by history.
“Everybody who’s lost somebody has a personal story; the difference is our story gets told in public,” Cathy said. “When somebody dies in a car crash, people don’t call you, they don’t remember the date. It kind of makes me feel good that people remember, that they call me on that day.”
Around their home, photos of Chris are displayed with new family photos. Each year, the Faughnan family awards a scholarship to help send a graduate of Arvada High School, Chris’ alma mater, to a college of his or her choice. The Faughnan kids have begun to sit in on the interviews, where applicants are asked, among other things, “How would you prevent another 9/11?”
Around the house, Chris is remembered for his rollicking good humor, vintage music collection (including early punk rock) and the dictum, “Drink good wine, listen to good music and ride your bike!”
This summer, Cathy took the kids to ground zero, still incomplete save for a work-in-progress museum and thousands of photos, including one of Chris.
There, the kids peppered her with questions about their dad’s office: “How big was it? What floor was he on? What tower was he in?”
It was the North Tower – either the 104th or 107th floor, Cathy can no longer remember. What she does remember is the World Trade Center as it looked from across the Hudson.
“You’d drive down the street and look up and there it was – ‘Oh, the Trade Center’ – and when the sun was setting it would glisten off the building . . . and you think of those things that are lost and the people you will never have again.”
“We miss Chris, but I think our lives have started to take on shape,” Cathy said. “Someone who also suffered a death put it like this: ‘There’s a hole, and the hole never goes away, it’s just that life gets bigger around it.’ Now I think of life like this big, fat bagel – the hole is littler, but it’s still there.”
The phone rang for the umpteenth time, the dog, Maverick, skittered nearby, and Cathy smiled.
“So I guess what we have is a bagel with a hole – but it’s a puffy bagel. Life is full.”
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