Survivor Tree Inspires Messages of Hope
Our Art Cart invites summer visitors to leave a message of hope at the Survivor Tree, but the activity is one that can be completed at home any time of the year, just with just as much meaning.
Mark Brisman, an attorney with Harris Beach on the South Tower's 85th floor, was 34 when he was killed on September 11. For the next three years, his wife Juliette and their two small children assumed their last goodbye had been that morning. But the recovery of Mark's wedding band in 2004 brought a part of him back to his family and reshaped their lives. Juliette, now a motivational speaker and grief counselor, recounts their love story and the significance of that ring in her memoir "A Heart Returned." She'll be signing copies of the book at the Museum on Thursday, October 27. Here, she answers some questions about her experience as a 9/11 widow and the surprising resilience that can come out of epic tragedy.
What inspired the book and what role did it play in my healing process?
The idea to share the true and remarkable story detailed in the book was born many years ago. As early as 2004 when I got the phone call that changed my entire perspective. The response from the people closest to me when I told them that Mark's wedding band had been recovered and now returned, was emotional and impactful, as it was for me. I had this desire to keep the story close to me, as I wasn't ready to share it with the public or to acquaintances even. At the time, I had nothing "left" of him except this keepsake, and I was overly protective of it, as I was of his memory. As the years passed, and I became acquainted with a community of people like myself that had lost loved ones, both as a peer and then later as a volunteer bereavement group leader, my perspective changed. It is through the sharing of our and their stories that we keep a connection with our loved ones, as well as their cherished memories alive.
What do you wish more people understood about the experience of losing a loved one on 9/11?
That the experience mirrors that of grief in general, in that it is a unique and personal experience and that it isn't a one-size fits-all approach. Some 9/11 family members channeled their grief into taking immediate action, speaking out against terrorism, organizing fundraisers and charitable endeavors of all kinds. Others, such as myself, took solace in seeking privacy away from public view. At the time, as a mother of two young children [Rachael, 4, and William, 2 1/2], I felt very vulnerable. Keeping to my regular routine with the support of my existing family and friends was the way I chose to deal with my loss at the time. Having the whole country and the world feeling a collective sense of shock and sadness was both comforting and overwhelming to me personally.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
A few things. First to honor the memory of my husband Mark and the extraordinary person he was. His devotion and love for his family, as well as his integrity as a professional was truly inspirational. In the 34 years he lived. Mark set a wonderful example and was a great role model.
I am hopeful that readers will be moved and influenced by the book in a way that motivates them to seek that connection with their loved ones, both living and those that have passed on. There is a spiritual theme in the story that suggests our loved ones are never truly gone from our lives.
The final thing is that it is possible to find meaning and purpose, even joy, after a devastating loss. I hope people learn from my experience in the book. That you don't have to be perfect, and there is no road map per se. Be your authentic self, you are enough. Be flexible and open-minded and accept help and support when it is offered. Go at your own pace, and accept change into your life.
Why is it important to continue to tell the stories of those killed on 9/11, especially to a new generation?
As time passes, it is easy to view this tragedy as an event, something impersonal, on a grand scale. To remind people that the thousands killed were individuals with rich and full lives, as husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and colleagues.
As Alice Greenwald [former CEO and President of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum], so eloquently states in the forward of the book, "With this poignant love story, Juliette Brisman has transformed the abstraction of mass death into something real and recognizable. She has through her telling, saved a world of one."
"A Heart Returned" is available at our Museum Store.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff