September 7, 2011 12:53 pm

A 9/11 widow finds her own way to grieve


SEATTLE, Wash. – From ships to statues to rubble-hewn crosses, there have been dozens of memorials to commemorate the lives of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But none could bring solace to Abigail Carter, a Canadian woman who lost her husband Arron that fateful September day.

“These icons represented death or more specifically, a 9/11 death. They are symbols of a more universal mythology; they certainly do not apply to the man I knew and loved,” she wrote in 2005 article.

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Carter said she had to find her own way to grieve and it came in the form of a birdbath, a book and a blog.

After having returned from the first anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero, Carter searched for a way to remember her husband. She turned to her husband’s pet name for her – “Bird.”

Carter and her children, Olivia and Carter, built a birdbath adorned with butterflies, birds, a brown cow, golden retriever, a horse and a moon – all symbols of the love they shared as family.

She also started to write, and through her words she finally began to heal.

“It was very cathartic as well. I was writing and crying and writing and remembering,” she says.

It was Arron she remembered – the man she met and fell in love with in 1986 in her hometown of Toronto. The couple got married in 1990 and lived around the world, eventually settling in Montclair, N.J.

On the morning of September 11, Arron went off to work and attended a trade show at the World Trade Center. When the planes hit the towers, Arron called Carter to tell her that a bomb had gone off. It was the last time she heard his voice.

Carter became a widow at the age of 36.

“You’re battling all kinds of crazy emotions. You’re angry, you’re sad. It’s just this big mish-mash,” Carter says.

But slowly she began to channel her grief, compiling a memoir of her private pain – pain that would serve a greater purpose.

“I began to recognize – part of my own healing would be in helping others,” she said.

Today, Carter counsels others coping with personal loss, whether it’s through mental illness, addiction or the death of a loved one.

“She brings that perspective of having lost her husband in a sudden and public way,” says Dave Shull who runs the school for recovery in Seattle where Carter speaks. “I think in some ways, they see a natural connection that says, all of us have been through traumas and none of us have surrendered to those.”

Sharing has also opened Carter’s world up beyond her grief.

“You know, the moment you start, sort of hearing other people’s stories, that’s the way of pulling the lens out because then you realize, other people are hurting as well and you might actually be able to help them,” she said.

Carter’s children have also noticed her new calling.

“I think it’s really cool that her way of grieving, I guess you would say, and her way of getting through it, is by telling her story,” said Olivia.

Now ten years later, Carter said she’s finally found a way to honour and remember Arron, albeit sometimes with tears.

“I think he’d be proud of me. He was always the one who was giving me a swift kick in the butt, so yeah, he’d definitely be proud,” she said.

By losing so much on 9/11, Abigail Carter found new parts of herself.

“You go into grief thinking it’s the worst thing to ever happen to you and in some ways, you come out thinking it’s the best thing that ever happened to you,” she said.

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