Kathy says the news headlines and tabloid reports don't tell the full story of her grief. First, she sets the record straight on the source of her spending money. "I didn't use any of [the money donated to relief funds]," she explains. "None of that money was used towards my shopping. … All the money people sent to me went to my children. It's in the bank for my children."
Instead, the money she did spend on herself was from the Victims' Compensation Fund, monies that victims of September 11 received based upon, among other things, how much the deceased would have made over a lifetime. "The victims' compensation money was used—my husband's money—was used for that," she says. In accepting the money from the fund, Kathy was required to waive her right to sue the government or the airlines.
She admits that her shopping has not filled the emotional void left by her husband's death. "I want my husband—I don't want material things," Kathy says. "I don't even go out. I wear sweatpants every day." On using shopping to cope, Kathy says, "I didn't handle myself in the perfect way, no. I do have regrets."
Still battling depression, Kathy says she is in "a place where I want to move on." She also feels that more needs to be done to remember the lives lost on 9/11. "There are 3,000 families, and all we're asking for is a memorial down [at ground zero]," she says. "And we're not getting it. So the pain can't go away for me."
Kathy and Dan's daughter, Jessica, admits that her family has been in a state of denial since the tragic events of September 11. At first, Jessica coped with her loss by indulging her own online shopping addiction. Without anyone to console her during many sleepless nights, Jessica would turn to the computer for comfort. "[Online shopping] was a quick fix," Jessica says. "It was like a drug. I had something new—something to look forward to tomorrow. It became an addiction."
Without a body to bury or a gravesite to visit, Jessica says that even now her family has yet to deal with the death of her dad. "There's no closure for us," Jessica says. "We obviously know that he's gone, but there's no ground that we can go to and say our respects to him except for Ground Zero…which I refuse to go down there."
Why won't she visit the former site of the World Trade Center? Jessica says she can't stand the way people are "glamorizing" Ground Zero by taking pictures and selling memorabilia. She also can't stand it when people judge her family for their spending habits.
"I couldn't say, 'This person lost their brother, I know what they went through,' because nobody knows what anyone else is going through," Jessica says. "So when somebody judges me or my mother or my brothers, I become very defensive. That's my family."
Although from the outside Kathy is doing all the things a mother should do—like throwing birthday parties and going to her sons' sporting events—Jessica says, in many ways, it's like she lost both parents on the morning of September 11.
After hearing Jessica and Kathy's stories of shopping addiction and denial, psychologist Dr. Robin Smith stresses to Kathy the importance of moving on. "You're still alive," Dr. Robin says. "You still have three kids, and you've got to go on and live."
Dr. Robin says that many times, people try to fill the void of losing a loved one by taking on a "surrogate." That surrogate can be anything from shopping for expensive clothing to overeating, drinking alcohol or having an affair.
"You know, we can find something [that] will ease the pain," Dr. Robin says. "And temporarily, shopping or eating or drinking or affairs ease it. But it's a cheap way, because life won't let us get away with a cheap Band-Aid on a sacred wound."
One common misconception about grief, Dr. Robin says, is people think the worst pain occurs the day someone dies. But, many times, it takes months and years before reality sinks in and a person realizes his or her loved one is not coming home. To deal with the pain, Dr. Robin says that Kathy disconnected herself from life.
Currently, Kathy is fighting to have a memorial built on Ground Zero for all the September 11 victims, and she's not happy about New York's plans for the hallowed ground. But, Dr. Robin says, another way Kathy can honor her husband is to remember the last words he spoke to her—that he loved her and to take care of the kids.
"What would he want for your soul?" Dr. Robin asks. "Would he want you to be joyous? Would he want you to smile more? Would he want you to be more engaged in the parenting of your children? That's how you can keep him alive. If you want a memorial for him, you change your life. You parent your children. That's how he'll live forever and ever and ever."
In spite of everything that she's lost, Jessica reminds her mother that she still has her children. "We love you, and we want you to be happy," Jessica tells Kathy. "We want to be happy, too. We want to move on."
Jessica says all she wants is for Kathy to be the mom she was once—the mom who was "happy-go-lucky" and enjoyed life. "I want you back," Jessica says. "I know we're never going to get dad back, but think about [what] you said, 'We were so happy before that.' We can find happiness again."
To truly honor Dan, Dr. Robin says, Kathy could surround herself with life and make her own life the memorial. She could also surround herself with people who allow her to talk about her sadness—not her anger, Dr. Robin suggests.
"You [can] start even doing things in the house that allow it to live—that allow joy to come in there," Dr. Robin says. "That allows for feelings and friendships and gatherings to move on without Dan being there."
Oprah says she thinks September 11 was a wake-up call for America, and the sacrifices of the people who died that day should teach us about our own lives.
"You owe [Dan] a resurrection," Oprah says. "You owe him to rise up out of your depression—to come out of this veil of darkness and live. And live. And live."
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