Although I lived two miles from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and while standing at the end of my block, could smell the jet fuel and other chemicals that were burning at the crash site, I felt lucky. I knew no one dead or injured. My cousin, Harvey, an Arlington County (Virginia) police officer, was a first responder. He had been fishing on the Potomac River, heard the crash, and worked the scene for days, recovering body parts and evidence. My tribe was physically safe and I was so proud of my cousin.
Fast-forward fifteen years and my cousin, Corporal Harvey Snook III, is now buried at St.
Mary’s Cemetery in Hanover Township, PA. An aggressive lymphoma that started as a lump in his side soon grew into a garden of invasive, choking vines that strangled his kidneys and other internal organs until he was a husk of the 6’6 smart-ass, strong, stubborn, generous and loving man we loved so, so much. His cancer is assumed to have been caused by chemical exposure on 9/11.
In January of this year, he received a hero’s goodbye as his hearse rode past his house and past the police station in Arlington, where officers saluted his funeral procession. On a snowy Saturday the following week, we said a final goodbye as he was interred, the ashes of his K-9 companion, Russ, set on top of his own.
9/11 is always hard for me, having lived in Arlington. But on this anniversary, it’s that much worse. My cousin is gone. I am not alone in my grief. There are others grieving the loss of their loved ones on that day. There is a legion of people mourning the loss of their loved due to 9/11-related illnesses and an army of people themselves dealing with a host of diseases like cancers and COPD, caused by chemical exposure from all of the destruction.
If you are among this club you never wanted to belong to, I have your heart in mine. I have no comforting words, no solutions, no answers. Just give yourself time to think, to grieve, to be angry, to be scared. I found some solace in writing this article and maybe it provide can you with some tender support, too.
But writing an article doesn’t keep my breath from getting caught in my chest when I think about how Harvey was supposed to have retired in Pennsylvania, how he was going to buy land in the country, how my husband and I were supposed to bullshit around a fire pit with him, roasting marshmallows and drinking beers as we moved through middle and old age together. That is all gone. As Bruce Springsteen sings in his song Into The Fire, “Love and duty called you someplace higher.”
So, if your pain and grief is as present as mine today, I’ve got you. You’re not alone. This post by Rebel Thriver has ushered me through some dark nights, and I want to share it with you:
And these two Bruce Springsteen songs always get me through:
Sending you so much love.
You’re not alone.
5:13 pm: Please enjoy this tribute by Mary Hanula about my cousin. Thank you, Mary! I’m glad that big galoot connected us 🙂