Today is the first of the Radio Rookies series Our 9/11: Growing Up In the Aftermath. Jillian Suarez’s story is one she says she doesn't want to tell with tears. Jillian’s father, a New York City police officer, didn't come home on September 11th and for three months her mother held out hope he would be found alive -- until she received a call that his remains had been found. Now 18 years old, Jillian rarely speaks about the loss she feels. For this piece, she decided to push through her silence to sit down with some of the closest people in her life, including her mom, to talk about her father’s death and what his absence has meant in her life.
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JILLIAN: Ma, can you tell me the story of what happened on 9/11
MOM: Starting from when I woke up? Okay. I remember waking up 4 in the morning and seeing your daddy leave. I saw the back of his head as he was leaving and then I went back to sleep.
JILLIAN NARRATION: This is a story I never even wanted to tell, so wait maybe you’re wondering why am I telling a bunch of strangers? I just want to be done with it. Just let it out! Listen, everyone has a best friend. I lost my best friend two days after my birthday, my dad. I'll tell you the story, but I want to tell it without tears.
JILLIAN: Were you scared to tell me the truth?
MOM: Yes. I couldn’t tell you the truth at that moment ‘cause I was not gonna lose hope about your daddy being gone. He was a very strong man and I didn't want to hear anything negative from anyone. They kept searching, searching and searching and 3 months passed by and then that's when they told me that they had found him and then following that morning I had to tell you that they found daddy. And I remember that you smiled but you didn't know. And I told you it wasn't good and then I just remembered one tear coming down out of your eyes and you want to take a break?
JILLIAN: What bothers you the most?
MOM: That I didn’t get to say goodbye to him and I couldn’t tell him how much I love him and he’s not here to see you grow up. Okay? Next!
JILLIAN: How do you feel about me not talking about 9/11?
MOM: I think you should talk about it. Do you feel that it's important to talk about your feelings and 9/11? I’m asking you that question.
JILLIAN: I don't know
MOM: Why, you don't know?
JILLIAN: I don't know
MOM: Don't you want to talk about it
JILLIAN: I don't know, this is the first time talking about it.
JILLIAN NARRATION: I'm not comfortable. I don't know why I'm just not comfortable.
I actually get mad when someone tries to talk to me. I'd rather just hang out with my friends walk around in the city, shopping, movies, going out to eat, dancing - you get idea. I don't think anyone would really get it - what its means to lose your dad in a terrorist attack. And then to be reminded of it every 5 seconds, especially the news, pretty much every year - I get so annoyed. Nobody in my family, besides my mom, ever wants to talk about life after him.
JILLIAN: Hey Tif, Tif
JILLIAN NARRATION: Like my cousin Tiffany ...
JILLIAN: Tif Tif Tif Tif Tif Tif Tif. can you wake up, Tiffany. I need to ask you something please. TIFFANY: I’m not doing this. JILLIAN: You have to TIFFANY: Why?
JILLIAN NARRATION: See?
JILLIAN: Because it’s about daddy TIFFANY: Oh no I don't know what to say.
JILLIAN NARRATION: Everyone has always said, "I'm here for you," "Stay Strong," "I'm here if you want to talk," blah blah blah the usual condolences and I usually just say yeah. I know. It sucks. Sometimes I smile and say thank you. Don't get me wrong I appreciate the sympathies. But, I just want to be left alone.
JILLIAN: Why do you think I never talk about my loss? MOM: Because I think it hurts you quite a lot. Why do you think that you don’t talk about your loss.
JILLIAN: I just don’t feel like talking about it. MOM: Why? it’s ok to talk about it
JILLIAN: I don’t want to talk about it
MOM: ‘Cause it bothers you a lot, it hurts you a lot? JILLIAN: Yes
MOM: Do you feel, which I know this is how I feel, a sense of emptiness?
MOM: Yes, because we’re not complete anymore.
JILLIAN NARRATION: The worst is during November till January, that's when I shut down. Not having him around for the holidays really brings me down. I also sleep so much more. And when it comes to finals I barely pass because all I do is sleep instead of studying. Sometimes, I think I need to talk to someone professional. But, I’m not ready
MOM: If you don’t talk about it, you won’t, you can’t keep healing.
JILLIAN: I’ll heal within time.
MOM: Talking about is part of the healing process.
JILLIAN: But it takes time.
MOM: Yes it does and so far it’s already ten years and I know ten years still feels like one year. It’s always gonna feel like one year.
JILLIAN NARRATION: I don’t think people understand that you need to be ready to do certain things, like talking or just letting out your feelings in general. One day I’ll talk more, just not right now… Telling you my story is enough – So I did it, I told you and I didn’t cry, well, in front of you. For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Jillian Suarez.
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