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What Families Impacted By 9/11 Want COVID-19 Families To Know About Grief

A single white rose lays atop of the names of those who died in the World Trade Center attacks, engraved in black granite.
A close up of the World Trade Center Memorial
(Ged Lawson
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Grief experts will tell you no two losses are the same. But there are common hardships. Sept. 11 and COVID-19 families share a loss that is sudden, unresolved, and saturated with news coverage.

We spoke with two Southern California families and a grief specialist about how to cope with long term grief. It's advice for anyone who has lost a loved one.

Lisa Frost poses with an award from Boston University with her parents Tom and Melanie
Lisa Frost with her parents, Tom and Melanie
Courtesy of Tom Frost)

Create Your Own Memorial, Tribute, or Ritual

Tom Frost lost his daughter Lisa. She was aboard United flight 175 that hit Tower Two of the World Trade Center. She recently graduated from Boston University and was on her way home to visit her parents.

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Living with grief means finding a way to continue your own life without the presence of someone you love. Katherine Shear directs the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University and recommends caring for a gravesite or creating a memorial to bring comfort.

“This has to do with finding a way to have a new kind of relationship with the person who died and in a sense, to continue to take care of them even though they're gone,” said Shear.

Touri Bolourchi photographed smiling with her daughter Neda
Touri Bolourchi and her daughter Neda
Courtesy of Neda Bolourchi)

Neda Bolourchi’s mother Touri was also on United Flight 175, on her way home from visiting family in Boston. Her remains were never found.

“It's just hard not to have a place,” said Bolourchi. “It kind of centers you when you go somewhere. And after all these years, they haven't found anything of her. You just have to create your own tribute to her and I tried to do that.”

Sept. 11 and COVID-19 families share similar experiences. They are unable to be with the one they love during their final moments of life or hold traditional burial ceremonies. When those rituals are disrupted, grief becomes all the more tumultuous.

Bolourchi created a stone memorial for her mom. “There are two flags, one is dedicated to all the people who perished on that day, and then one is just from my mom,” she said.

“They allowed us to plant a memorial tree at the lake and a friend of mine who is a mason helped me build a marker in front of it,” said Frost. “Right now that tree is like sacred ground in that city.”

Both Bolourchi and Frost have established scholarships in their loved one’s names. And the Lisa Frost Student Lounge at Boston University is getting a renovation this year.

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Shear said to keep in mind, there’s no exact equation. Just find something that’s meaningful to you.

Find Reliable Methods Of Self-care For When Grief Pops Up

But both 9/11 and COVID-19 families may deal with a barrage of unexpected reminders in the news and social media.

Frost said while the reminders are less frequent, they never go away. “It's every year you see the documentaries and 20 years later, it still gets me,” said Frost.

According to Shear, when you lose someone in a way that’s tied to a public event, be it a terrorist attack or a global pandemic, the event is a big part of your grief.

“That becomes one of the things that the person has to cope with,” said Shear. “It's not only that the person is gone but how they died becomes huge in the process of adapting.”

You never know when grief will reappear — a personal milestone or just a bad day at work. Shear recommends being prepared with a form of self care that works for you.

“Planning ways to take care of yourself and to let others also take care of you,” said Shear. “Plan something that can be pleasurable or satisfying.”

Frost said running outdoors helps restore his sense of calm. Bolourchi gets solace from reading books.

'Grieving Is A Natural Thing'

We sometimes make the assumption that emotional pain is bad but Shear disagrees that’s always the case. “Grieving losses that mean something to us is inevitable and there's no reason why we shouldn't do that,” she said. “The problem becomes when we start to second guess our own grieving. Grieving is a natural thing.”

Doing interviews can be tough for Frost but he finds comfort in keeping his daughter’s memory alive and doing good things in her name. “I am just so thrilled that she's still being remembered to this very day 20 years later,” he said. “I try to take things as they come and make it so that something positive comes out of it.”

Bolourchi feels like she has a “hole in her heart that will never go away” but she said that may be a good thing. “It reminds you to think of the good times,” said Bolourchi. “Go grab an album and look at pictures and you go, ‘Oh, I remembered this beautiful moment we had together.’ So, it's just a constant reminder of what a blessing they were in my life.”

If you’re struggling with grief, here are a few resources that can help:
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