My story: Grief at home and school

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photoBethany Toland

I was 18 years old and just barely into the second week of my senior year at Battle Ground High School. That Tuesday morning was fairly similar to days prior, with the sound of my alarm going off around 6:15 a.m. My dad is usually up by then, just starting his day with a bowl of cereal and morning devotions.

As I headed to the bathroom I heard him holler up that two planes had hit the World Trade Center Towers.

At that point, no one knew it was a terrorist attack and that the impact of the planes, in combination with fuel, would eventually bring down these magnificent buildings. It also was not known that later, a third plane would crash into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane would be heroically diverted into an open field in Pennsylvania.

I headed to school with a heavy heart and a tremendous sense of fear. What was going on? Why was this happening? It felt like a dream.

My first class of the day was American Sign Language. My teacher hadn’t heard about the attack, so my fellow classmates described what had transpired. We proceeded, probably like every class in the school, to turn on the TV. It was then that we learned that the south tower had collapsed.

I’ll never forget the sign my teacher used to describe what she was seeing. Absolute horror and shock. She kept signing over and over: “Two planes?...Two planes?”

What followed that day was a tremendous sense of grief, sadness and, yes, unity.

As a school, we were going through this tragedy together. The tears could be seen on many faces, and didn’t discriminate amongst male or female, teacher or student.

After school, I walked through the door of my home to the sound of sirens, people crying and the newscasters attempting to communicate what they were seeing.

I’ll never forget the images I saw. So many posters with the faces of the missing. Reporters struggling to convey the environment near Ground Zero, where many loved ones were frantically searching for brothers, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends, co-workers. All I could do was pray through the tears that were drenching my cheeks and shirt.

Ten years later, it still brings a variety of emotions to the surface. I never knew a soul that perished that day, and yet it feels like I do. Maybe it’s the ability to place myself in that sister who held up the picture of her brother, or that daughter who spoke about her mother’s last known location. And maybe even more so, it’s because of the countless Americans who died at the hands of misguided men, carrying out a cause in the name of God.