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Remembering September 11

Article - Sunday, September 11, 2011
One decade after the attacks of September 11, 2001, 10 people pay tribute to loved ones lost and share the unique, enduring ways in which they celebrate their lives.

Real Simple Magazine, September 2011

Photo by Gareth McConnell

“I Write Letters to My Big Sister, Even Though I Know She’ll Never Write Back.”

Sarah Wainio | 24 | Baltimore
Her sister, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, 27, a retail district manager, was on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In August 2001, when I was 14, my older sister, Lizzie, sent me a card in the shape of a sunflower. In it, she wished me luck on entering the same high school that she and our brother, Tom, had attended. She closed with “You are following a fine tradition of Wainios…and I am sure you will make the biggest splash.” About a month later, Lizzie died on Flight 93; she was on her way to San Francisco for a business trip. Afterward I didn’t want to talk about what had happened, not even to my grieving family. Instead I carried around a few of Lizzie’s things: some photos, an article of her clothing, and that sunflower card. I took such comfort in the sway of her script. I touched her words again and again, just wishing I could hear her speak them.

To this day, I carry that card in my purse. And I write Lizzie back from time to time. I tell her how much I miss small things, like playing with her hair. I tell her about my job (I work in fund-raising at Towson University, in Towson, Maryland). And I ask her the questions that I can no longer ask her in person. She doesn’t respond, of course. I don’t believe in a cosmic connection where she ever will. I don’t believe that she can see me writing these letters from heaven. But the fantasy of it all, the small escape from reality that I allow myself when I think of what I would say to my big sister—and of what she would say to me—is cathartic.

I don’t do anything to commemorate 9/11. But I do a lot to remember my sister. She isn’t defined by that one day. Her life meant so much more than just the way it ended.

To read the other nine stories, click here.