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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2001 / 17 Tishrei, 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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It's OK to twist and shout -- GENEVA, Ill. - It was, I think, when the wedding reception disk jockey fired up that touching old standard, "Twist and Shout," that I became convinced that life in my family would continue robustly despite our terrible loss.

People with hair even grayer than mine were on the dance floor, as were children who haven't yet learned how to do long division. There was wild movement and great laughter. And in all of that I could begin to see the shape of a future - however different that future will be now.

My wife and I were here with other members of the family celebrating the marriage of the son of one of my sisters - just 11 days after the son of another of my sisters had been killed as a passenger on the first hijacked airplane to crash into the World Trade Center in New York.

The wedding date for Doug and Janelle, of course, had been set last year, and they eventually decided not to postpone it, although everyone knew we would be people of divided hearts.

I agreed with their decision, though I wished my sister and her husband, parents of my nephew Karleton, could have been with us. But they were where they needed to be - in Boston with Karleton's wife and son.

At the wedding rehearsal dinner - and as part of the wedding ceremony itself - we honored Karleton by naming him, by acknowledging the stunning empty space in our wounded hearts and by imagining how much fun we'd all have had if he'd been here to offer his relentlessly funny commentary on whatever we were doing or saying.

And yet we also celebrated. We surrounded Doug and Janelle with our presence, our best wishes, our hopes, our love. And in that familial act, we pledged that the terrorists who murdered Karleton would not murder our spirits, our lives, our determination to be family.

It is almost impossible to know how to proceed with life after such a terrific loss. All across our nation, other families have been struggling with that same question after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Even people who didn't lose family members or close friends have been traumatized and must find a way to keep going.

I am able to tell you now that moving on is possible. I have experienced it here in northern Illinois with my grieving family.

But let's be clear about our new reality. Our lives will forever be different because of Sept. 11. We never again will gather for a wedding or a funeral or a family reunion without a sense of deep loss. Every Sept. 11 from now on will be a landmine.

Every time my dead nephew's wife or his son has a birthday, the time will be reshaped, will be more poignant, will be bittersweet. Next week, on what would have been Karleton's and Haven's seventh wedding anniversary, we will all cry again.

But if we quit celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and other milestones, the killers would win. And we can't have that. As that lovely reception song, "Great Balls of Fire," filled the air here, I walked over to Doug's paternal grandparents at their table and asked why they weren't out on the dance floor being as foolish as the rest of us.

"Oh, I think our dancing days are over," Grandma said.

I looked at Grandpa. He nodded: "I have to agree with her."

Well, for their own physical health reasons, they're probably right.

But this family's dancing days are nowhere near over. And we want the malevolent people who killed Karleton to know that.

Comment on JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' column by clicking here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved