By Nancy Peterson, LCSW
Brian Sweeney was aboard Flight 175 on a day that will live in infamy. He was on one of the two airplanes that were flown into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When Brian’s wife, Julie, listened to her voicemail, this is what she heard:
“Jules, this is Brian. Listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, go have good times—same to my parents and everybody. I just totally love you… and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye babe. I hope I call you.”
Soon after leaving this voicemail, Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
My husband and I went to New York City this past summer for our 40th wedding anniversary, and one of our most powerful experiences was visiting the 9/11 Museum. We heard many heartbreaking stories at the museum—stories like Brian and Julie’s. But we also heard many incredible stories of heroism.
Outside of the museum is the 9/11 Memorial, which has been built within and around the two footprints of the old towers. Seeing the many flowers inserted into the memorial, such as the one in the accompanying photo, I was deeply touched. This particular flower made me wonder whether Daniella, the woman named in the memorial, ever got to say to goodbye to any of her loved ones before she was taken away from them in such a shocking way. Did she get to say “I love you” one last time? Did she at least get to leave her message of love on a voicemail?
The 9/11 Memorial reinforced in me how important it is for all of us to tell our loved ones that we love them. We should also ask ourselves: Do we regularly stop and think about the things that we love about them?
I still remember a time when I got mad at my husband 30 years ago. This was so long ago that I have no idea why I was mad. But I still remember the incident to this day because of how I responded. As I felt irritated inside, I decided to write a list of all the things that I love about my husband. That wasn’t very hard for me to do, because I love a lot of things about him.
So I looked around for a piece of paper on which to write my husband’s good points, and I happened across a long strip of paper that is used for an adding machine. It seemed only fitting that I would use adding machine paper since I was adding up all of my husband’s great qualities—an inventory of love, you might say.
As I wrote down each quality and added up my reasons for love, I felt my anger wash away because this simple exercise helped me to put my anger in perspective. It reminded me of how much I love him, and it helped me to go back to him to talk about the issue in a kind and healthy way, rather than a defensive and negative way.
So, I encourage each of you to take the opportunity to go through the same exercise. Write down all of the positive qualities of your loved one. And then tell your loved one that you love them—and why you love them. Share the things you wrote down, and go through this ritual regularly. You might even think about sharing these things each September 11, or maybe even on the first day of every month.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning once famously wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” (And she didn’t even need an adding machine to do it.) Many of us have heard those immortal first lines, but few know the rest of the poem. So let me close with her last line: “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”