Finally, one night last year, Stephanie summoned her courage. The next day, the couple and their children were leaving on a family vacation to Jamaica. As always, the prospect of flying had triggered complex emotions. “What if something happens,’’ Stephanie thought, “and I never did it?’’ She feared that if she didn’t act then, she never would.
“I could have waited to see if it got better, but I felt like my kids were losing a piece of me,’’ she says. “Ten years ago, I would have been content with not being content.’’
After their divorce, she moved to Framingham, to a leafy street a short drive from their old house in Wayland, where her ex-husband still lives. They share custody of their two children, Drew and Amelia, now 12 and 10, who spend half of each week at each house.
Now that her children are older, there are harder questions to answer. When Osama bin Laden was killed, Drew wanted to know if it was wrong to celebrate someone’s death.
Drew talks about joining the military someday, to defend the country and protect his mother. Stephanie believes his ambition stems from his grandmother’s death. “The hardest thing, for me, is for my children not to have her,’’ she said.
She spent the first part of the summer dreading her 40th birthday in August, not so much because of the personal milestone, but because of the season her birthday ushers in. Every year as September approaches, she wakes with dread in her chest, knowing what’s coming, but powerless to stop it.
Last month, three days before her birthday, she sat before her laptop researching master’s degree programs. She is contemplating a new career as a counselor, inspired by her work with Metco students in Sudbury. Maybe, she thinks, she will specialize in grief.
Part of her thinks it’s a crazy idea at her age. The other part thinks she has no time to waste. Her mother, after all, was enrolled at Cambridge College when she died, working to finish her college degree in her 50s.
“There are people who say, ‘You want to be happy? What’s that?’ But you only have one life, and you’d better be happy,’’ she said.
She is proudest of her small accomplishments: her children’s willingness to talk to her about anything; the way she has learned to be OK with quiet time, and stillness.
But she considers herself a work in progress.
“I think every year, we evolve,’’ she says, “and I know I’m going in the right direction.’’
. . .
After it happened—almost right away—Andrea LeBlanc started feeling out of step. Watching the country’s reaction, the appetite for revenge, she began to wonder why she wasn’t angry. She realized she felt despair instead.
The morning she lost Bob, she was in their brand-new kitchen. It was big and airy, 20 by 30 feet, flooded with sun from a half-dozen skylights. They had just finished building it, in March 2001, and Bob LeBlanc was still getting used to all that space. For decades—since 1973, when they moved into their house in Lee, N.H., the day after they were married—Bob had cooked in a cramped galley kitchen, tripping over kids and dogs and milling dinner guests.
That September day, their handyman was outside, listening to the radio as he built a new deck on the kitchen. When the news broke, he came inside. It took some time to be certain it was Bob’s plane, United Airlines Flight 175, but when she knew for sure, she remembers what it felt like.
“It was like shutters slamming shut,’’ she says, sitting in the same sunlit kitchen 10 years later.
They met when he was 40 and she was 27. Both had young children; both their marriages had just ended. Bob was a cultural geographer at the University of New Hampshire. To Andrea, a veterinarian with a 5-month-old baby and a 2-year-old, he seemed impossibly worldly and well-traveled. His personality was instantly engaging, happy, enthusiastic, insatiably curious. At 12, he left his mother a note: “Gone to see the ocean.’’ And he had, pedaling the 50 miles from Nashua on his bicycle.
His father had died before he was 1, and so he became self-sufficient. He delivered milk, flowers, and telegrams to bolster the household income; he learned to cook. Later, he cooked for Andrea and their children, clipping recipes, recreating dishes he had eaten on his travels. In their new kitchen, the wide island was supposed to keep visitors out of his way, but it didn’t quite work as planned. Instead of staying on their stools at the counter, the guests kept creeping forward, closer to Bob and his easy way, closer to Bob and his warmth.Continued...