a peek into Chapter 4


No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 4 CSI (first draft unedited)

There were times since the attacks I felt like I had been cast in an episode of CSI – Crime Scene Investigation. The problem was I didn’t know my lines but everyone else knew theirs. I hadn’t even auditioned for the part, but I was cast in the role. It felt like the whole world was watching and expecting a brilliant performance, but I hadn’t seen the script. It was outside my realm of knowledge and experience. All those acting and dancing lessons from my youth weren’t going to help. This was real life even though it didn’t feel like my life.

Besides a new role, I had a new name – Mrs. Van Hine. When Bruce and I married I added Van Hine to my name, so my legal name became Ann Collette Clark-Van Hine. I had already owned my studio for five years when I got married. Actually, I met Bruce and started my own business on the very same day in September of 1975. At my studio, I was Ann Clark aka Miss Ann. Even at church I was Miss Ann. Bruce was more likely to be called Mr. Clark than I was to be called Mrs. Van Hine. But now I was Mrs.Van Hine, FDNY widow.

Filing a missing person’s report was something I never thought I would do. But nevertheless, a NYPD detective came to the house to deliver the forms. He was the father of a former classmate of Emily’s. Completing the forms was a task Christine and I tackled one morning while the girls were at school. Name, age, height, weight, social security number, tattoos were the easy questions to answer. Scars and whether ear lopes were attached or not took focused thought that I was struggling to achieve.

Gathering DNA evidence was another thing on the list of things I never imagined I would have to do. Bruce’s toothbrush, a dirty t-shirt and a comb were passed along to be used as possible sources of his DNA. Squad 41 also supplied items from his locker at the firehouse for DNA evidence. After the meeting on September 18, Emily and I visited a local lab to have our cheeks swabbed to supply our DNA as a way of determining Bruce’s DNA. Task complete or so I thought.

Fast forward to January 2002 and a letter from the medical examiner’s office requesting further DNA caused confusion and anger. The letter suggested items which may contain DNA such as toothbrush, comb, clothing and chewed gum. What? Chewed gum! After four months, I have a piece of chewed gum laying around. Are you kidding me? My quick angry telephone call to the medical examiner’s office was met by apologizes and realization on their part that using the standard DNA request form after four months had been a wrong choice. It was suggested that a parent’s DNA would help with identification, but I wasn’t asking my mother-in-law. No parent should have to supply DNA samples to identify their child especially an 80-year-old. It was bad enough that my 17-year-old daughter gave DNA samples back in September. A call to Christine asking her to investigate what happened brought clarity to the issue. After a few telephone calls, she found that in the aftermath of the attacks two DNA databases had been established – a state one and a city one. Christine was able to get the information/samples we had submitted to the right source. Side note: I felt badly about my nasty phone call to the medical examiner’s office. I realized these were extraordinary circumstances, but I hope we can always error on the side of the families and be aware that asking for chewed gum after 4 months isn’t helpful. Taking the time to simply create a new form would have saved me and many others further stress.

There were practical issues that needed to be addressed. Bruce’s car was at the firehouse in the Bronx. Parking is always at a premium in the city, I understood having Bruce’s car just hanging out in the Bronx wasn’t helpful to Squad 41. I knew they weren’t going to ask me to move it, so I asked Pastor Steve to arrange to get Bruce’s car back to Greenwood Lake. On Friday September 14, Pastor Steve and Rod, who was not only a fellow church member and friend, but NYPD ESU police officer traveled into the Bronx to get the car. They brought not only the car home but also Bruce’s wallet, watch and wedding ring.

Pastor Steve shared the details of their visit to Squad 41 – how the firefighters welcomed them, served them coffee and told stories. He was moved by the respect shown to Bruce’s personal items and even demonstrated how he was handed the wallet, watch and wedding ring. The wallet held in two hands with the watch and wedding ring balanced on top. Almost like presenting the rings in a wedding ceremony. He was deeply touched by the entire experience.

I was grateful the car was home and even more grateful for the personal items. I hadn’t given much thought to his ring or watch but when I saw them I remembered Bruce telling me that they (firefighters) leave their personal items in their locker when responding to a fire. I eventually had my and Bruce’s wedding rings sized to fit Emily and Meghan. I wore the anniversary ring Bruce had given me on my left ring finger. I felt that our marriage ended with his death, but our love continued. In the course of time, I stopped wearing even the anniversary ring. Wearing that ring on my left-hand lead to questions that had awkward answers. Unfortunately, the ring didn’t fit on my right hand.


FYI: Last glimpse into book for awhile. I am preparing a book proposal.  Thank you for reading. If you are interested in reading more, please subscribe to receive posts by email or visit and like my FB page  Miss Ann Says.

conclusion of Chapter 3

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No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 3 Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials  (First draft unedited)

Saturday morning Pastor Steve stopped by to say, “he was going for it.” Translation he was going to speak about salvation, faith, the gospel message. I knew Bruce would have wanted that. This was the time to show in words and actions what we truly believed. This was the “if we truly believe what we say believe it better be different” moment.  The service was scheduled for 2pm. The 15-passenger van came in handy. We picked up my parents and hung out at their house for a little while because we couldn’t arrive too early for the service. Things needed to be in place before we arrived. I, however, just want to get it over with.

When we arrived at Maranatha a huge American flag hung between two fire department ladder trucks. Firefighters were starting to gather. We waited in Pastor Charlie’s office with those who were speaking. When I realized I left my Bible in the van, Pastor Charlie handed me his and I was struck by the realization that he was one for many years who “gave me the Bible” each and every week. There was a sense of profound gratitude and comfort. It was awkward just hanging out waiting to start the service. Everyone had already expressed their condolences and small talk seemed inappropriate.

We were escorted into the sanctuary while Jon Werking played the prelude.  I wanted to look around to see who was there but that seemed improper.

The firefighters who had been waiting outside filed in to take their seats. Almost immediately someone started clapping. Eventually Jon stopped playing as everyone was standing and clapping for the firefighters.  My heart broke for the firefighters as the stress of the last weeks was evident on their faces. The honor guard processed carrying the various flags. The congregation sang “The Church’s One Foundation” led by Pastor Steve and the worship team from my home church. I love that hymn. The words speak such truth and there was a special memory from June 2001 attached to it.  When we attended the Sunday morning worship service at General Assembly for the Church of the Nazarene along with 20,000 other believers, all the words for the choruses had been projected on the screens except for the last song “The Church’s One Foundation.”  The assumption was everyone knew the words to that hymn. It is considered a standard in the church. The only problem was my girls didn’t know it. Bruce and I were shocked.  What do you mean you never heard that song before? We related the story to Pastor Steve who was equally dismayed but also realized that “we” hadn’t been singing those old standards in church that was quickly remedied. Hymns began to appear in the song list on Sundays.

Pastor Steve welcomed everyone saying, “we were here today to remember Richard Bruce Van Hine, who was a husband, father, brother, son, faithful friend, member of the greatest fire department in the world, committed church member and most importantly a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That set the tone for the rest of the service. The clergy who spoke were all those who had spoken truth into our lives through the years. These were men and women who knew Bruce.

Pastor Jerry besides being a pastor had been a member of the FDNY for 30 years. He and Bruce hadn’t been on the department at the same time, but that brotherhood bond was real. He was visibly shaken and said, “I am hurting today.”

Pastor Maureen Garcia, my mentor and friend, shared a George McDonald quote:


“…Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because He said, Do it, or once abstained because He said, Do not do it. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you…”


Dr. Dale Noel, a gentle and unassuming church friend, who had been a hiking buddy of Bruce’s offered a beautiful prayer. As part of the prayer he quoted 2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Pastor Steve would later mention those same verses and personalize them – “Bruce fought the fight, Bruce finished the race, Bruce kept the faith.”

Charlie and Craig offered words of tribute. Charlie mentioned he had only known Bruce for five years, but it felt like he had always known him. It seemed as they lived parallel lives as they both had started tree businesses in the 1970’s. Charlie spoke of tree work, hiking, firefighting and faith. He got a laugh from stating “in the fire department we say to be abused is to be loved. Bruce was definitely loved.”  Charlie included 1 Thessalonians 4 – “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”  I smiled when I heard him quote those verses as he didn’t know they were a favorite of mine. Sometimes little tattletales need to hear “did you know mind your own business is in the Bible?”

Craig had actually always known Bruce. Bruce’s parents and Craig’s parents had been friends since the 1930’s. Craig and Bruce grew up together. Craig introduced me to Bruce. Craig spoke of Bruce as a loyal friend and a keeper of secrets. If you told Bruce something in confidence Bruce didn’t repeat it.

Then it was my turn to speak, I walked to the platform trying not to make eye contact with anyone. There was a coin imprinted in the podium and rubbing my finger over it felt real, felt solid.

“To the firefighters, thank you for how you have cared for us. To the firefighters’ wives and girlfriends, we need to sit and have tea, soon. To my friends and family, I want to say I have no regrets. To my church family, thank you and I think I have gained a few pounds. Different thoughts have come to mind as I thought about what I wanted to say but I haven’t written anything down. Here goes. This past June, we went on a family trip to Indianapolis for General Assembly for the Church of the Nazarene. I had the opportunity to go to General Assembly four years ago and I knew if I was afforded the opportunity to go again I wanted all of us to go. So, we decided to make it a family adventure. The only problem became Meghan’s eighth grade graduation was Tuesday and I needed to be in Indianapolis on Wednesday. So, we made it an adventure and drove overnight. I can tell you two things – it was very dark and there are lots of big trucks. I had printed out my schedule and possible schedules for the girls and Bruce. I had a plan. Within hours the girls and Bruce had a different plan. I was disappointed and as I prayed the still small voice of God said “I told you to get them here. I didn’t tell you to plan their days.” So, we decided that dinners and evening service were together.  And we had the best time. I believe the same is true for today Bruce got you here. Personally, I would have preferred a different way to get you here. We showed you God. And what you do with that is your business. God is a gentleman. He will never force his way in. We showed you love. The Bible says God is love. So, you have seen God.”

I returned to my sit during a standing ovation. Pastor Steve would give a sermon entitled “prepared in and out of season” in which he gave a strong Gospel message. One more song and the Benediction concluded the worship service. Pastor Steve invited the two city officials to read the letters from the Mayor and the Governor. I got my wish the mayor wasn’t present. Not because I told him not to come but because there were so many funerals. The two gentlemen I ran into at Squad 41 were present. They were very respectful of our wishes and I appreciated that. Before the colors were retired Captain Vomero of Squad 41, presented Emily with a Memorial Firefighter helmet and Charlie handed Meghan Bruce’s dress hat. Years ago, Meghan had secretly added a piece of paper to the inside of Bruce’s hat so that when he took it off at functions he would see it. It said, “I love you Dad” and was signed Megs.

Captain Vomero instructed the firefighters to file out and again there was a standing ovation and thunderous applause. And then Emily, Meghan and I walked out the side door followed by my family. I felt like I was leading a parade. There was a silence that you could almost hear. As I walked around to the front of the church the firefighters stood in formation, I heard only one sound my heels on the pavement. The firefighters stared straight ahead I offered a weak smile. There were people standing across the street, but the silence was what filled my mind. How can it be so quiet? Midland Avenue is a busy street.  Silence except for my heels on the pavement. There was no bag piper. I decided I couldn’t do the bag piper that would have been the thing that sent me over the cliff. We reentered the church through a downstairs walkway for the reception. Cheesecake from the Bronx and coffee Bruce’s favorites.

Days before the service, Emily, Meghan and I came up with a code phrase just in case things got weird. We didn’t even know what that meant but felt it was a good idea to have a phrase. Our phrase was “Bubble moment.” You know how in comics there is a bubble above the person’s head not the dialogue bubbles, but the what I am really thinking or the what were you thinking when you just said that bubbles. If Emily or Meghan needed my immediate attention no matter where we were or what was happening “Bubble moment” was all they had to say. Thankfully my daughters’ friends from school, camp and church attended to be their support system as I navigated greeting people. There were no bubble moments just amazement at the number of people who attended and the distances they had traveled to be at the service. Friends drove up from South Carolina and were driving back following the service.

The postcards gave us a true sense of who had attended. Many were placed in the basket and many more arrived in the mail for weeks. The fact that people took the time to share stories and encouragement wasn’t lost on us.

The reality that our personal loss was part of something so much bigger was reenforced by the fact excerpts of the Bruce’s memorial service aired on the evening news and were mentioned in the newspaper.

















a little more of Chapter 3

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No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 3 Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials (first draft)

The Family Assistance Unit of the FDNY left a fifteen seat passenger van at my house in case we needed it. The firefighters had joked “take your girls to the mall in it.”  I don’t think so.On Friday September 28, we piled into that van to make the journey to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The bridges still had military on them, traffic moved at a snail’s pace. When we arrived in Brooklyn, there was a huge dump truck blocking the entrance to a street that was no longer accessible. Am I in a foreign country? This is America!  At the Brooklyn Naval Yard, identifications were checked, and we were escorted to a party boat that looked sad. The boat was in fine shape but there were no flickering lights or people in party attire just us and another family that looked shell shocked. We were joined by FDNY, NYPD and Red Cross personnel. We were given a brown bag lunch that had been packed by school children and included drawings. The NYPD Chaplain visited each family and offered words of condolences and support. The Red Cross volunteer gave Emily and Meghan teddy bears and handed out little packets of tissues. I commented “Wow, Look the Red Cross has tissues with their logo. I guess they hand these out at all kinds of disasters.”  Okay that wasn’t a normal comment. Get it together. You can do this. You have to do this. Greater is He who is in you than He that is in the world.

When we arrived at the marina in Manhattan, there was a row of identical small sailboats covered in a gray ash and pieces of white paper everywhere. The other family on our boat included a pregnant woman before disembarking she was given a paper mask. A plywood walkway lead to the site. We followed our escorts as Meghan walked with Christine, I walked with Emily, my sister Barbara had flown in from California and she walked with Christine’s husband.

The gray ash covered everything and seemed to hang in the air. It was definitely a bizarre experience – not knowing where I was or even why I was here, being escorted by uniformed police officers and firefighters, the awareness that anyone wearing a hat removed it as we walked past, arriving at the viewing corner (Liberty and West Streets) and being handed a map marked “you are here.” There was the realization that no map could help you grasp where you were or what you were seeing. Heavy equipment – dump trucks, all forms of construction equipment. The smoke hung in the air as it rose from the pile. Twisted steel. Devastation. Suddenly it was too real for Meghan and she burst into tears. Christine brought Meghan to me and I gave Emily to Christine. I held my 14-year-old daughter and cried with her. I squeezed her tightly and tried to protect her from the reality, but I couldn’t.

After a few minutes, the NYPD chaplain stated that he was going to read Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me along the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Then he said “I am going to recite the Lord’s Prayer. You are welcome to join me.”

I joined in “Our Father which art in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Leading us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

“For thine is the kingdom…”  Oops! At this point I realized the chaplain had stopped. Oh, the Protestant and the Catholic versions of the Lord’s prayer end differently. Scripture was just read and spoken in the middle of the World Financial Center and no one said, “are we allowed to do that?”  My word will not return void. Thank you, Lord.

We decided we wanted to visit Bruce’s firehouse in the Bronx. On a good day getting to the Bronx from Manhattan was an adventure but when you factored in we had to go back to Brooklyn via boat we were in for a long journey.

“No problem, we will make it happen.” Said Aldo our Squad 41 escort. And he did.

When we arrived at Squad 41 two official looking men in suits were just exiting their black town car.

“Wait here. I will be right back.” said Aldo as he jumped out of the van.

Timing is everything and this would be one of those times I realized my presence could suck the air out of a room or, so it seemed. The two suits were city officials who came to Squad 41, to learn about Bruce before they attended his service. Under normal circumstances these two men would have never been expected to represent the city at a funeral, but it was all hands-on deck. The shock of “running into” the widow and her children was visible on their faces. I felt bad. The visit was a great opportunity to thank everyone at Squad 41 for all they had done.

Chapter 3 continued…

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No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 3  Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials (first draft)


Through the years, one of the discussions Bruce and I had was about funerals especially in light of being a Christian and the possibility of a line of duty death. We both agreed that if we truly believed what we said we believed then when one of us died it better be different. If we believed in eternal life than our life and death should reflect that belief. We disagreed on line of duty funerals. I felt the presence of the city officials and all of pomp and circumstance really had nothing to do with the deceased and/or their family. I felt it was impersonal and intrusive. Once after a rather heated discussion on that matter I had told Bruce “I don’t want the mayor at your funeral. He doesn’t even know you.”

Bruce responded, “That’s your problem because I won’t be there. I’ll be dead.”

In the past week or so, I experienced the power and strength of the “brotherhood” and even though I didn’t understand it I wanted to respect it. I wanted to do what Bruce as a firefighter would have wanted but I also wanted to do what was right for our family. My pastor, family and friends all had input about the service but the main voice I listened to was my own, Emily’s and Meghan’s. We decided a Saturday would be best – Saturday September 29. The location won’t be our home church as I didn’t want the girls remembering Daddy’s service every Sunday. Maranatha Church of the Nazarene in Paramus, New Jersey was more centrally located. Bruce and I were married at Maranatha when it was in New Milford before the move to the bigger location. Emily was the first baby dedicated in the new building so Maranatha offered a sense of home without being our home church.

People were resuming their normal lives. We were slowly putting one foot in front of the other. Still living in the immediate – what needs to be accomplished today. Most days Emily and Meghan went to school. My home church set up a schedule for meals and an information source on the church website. Carol organized postponing the start of classes at the studio. I contacted the YWCA Childcare Center and Wyckoff Christian Preschool, where I also taught, to postpone starting until the first week of October. Christine and I tried to figure out what needed to be done for the service and life in general.

Squad 41 was calling twice a day. Firefighters were still arriving on my doorstep. One afternoon the Captain from Squad 41 and a few of the firefighters came to the house. We all set round the kitchen table, drank coffee and they offered the assurance that they were doing their best to find “the guys.” Two firefighter friends, both named Jim, came one evening and shared stories which brought laughter from my girls. A welcomed sound.

Pastor Steve suggested a worship folder for the Memorial service that would include the order of service, Bruce’s obituary, photos and messages from the girls and I to Bruce. We wanted the service to celebrate Bruce’s life and bring glory to God. We carefully choose the songs and readings. The girls and I discussed who we would like to participate.  Bruce’s mom pastor was invited to participate as well as other pastors and friends. Mom Van Hine supplied some childhood photos. We sorted through albums and boxes to find photos to tell Bruce’s life story not only as a firefighter but as a hiker, tree guy and most importantly as a son, brother, husband, father and friend.

Instead of a guest book for people to register their attendance, we included a printed postcard with our address on one side and a place to share a memory or thought on the other. A basket to leave the postcards in is a good idea. What am I going to wear? What are the girls going to wear? Should we have a bag piper? What about a reception afterwards?  Cheesecake and coffee? Do I really have to do this?

a bit of Chapter 3 – No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY.

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Chapter 3

Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials –  first draft (unedited)

Tuesday September 18 was the first time I ventured into the city since the attacks.  Squad 41 notified me of a FDNY meeting and their offer to pick me up and take me to one of the various gathering spots from where I would be moved to the actual meeting. It was all quite mysterious. I supposed the intention was two-fold – one keep the media away and to protect the identity and privacy of the family members. I decided that we would get ourselves into the city. Manhattan had been my stomping grounds during my teens and twenties. In recent years trips into the city were for Christmas decoration viewing or museum trips with my girls. I didn’t see the need for a FDNY escort so Tony, Carol’s husband, drove me, Christine and Emily in. Meghan stayed at “Auntie” Carol’s house.

As much as I didn’t feel I needed a FDNY escort, I felt the need to represent my firefighter husband in an honoring way. I carefully choose my attire to show respect for the importance of a meeting that would be attended by the governor, mayor and other city officials. I was shocked when we arrived and there were people wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

The drive into the city was surreal. Men in full military garb with the biggest guns I had ever seen were guarding the George Washington Bridge. I felt like I had been transported to another country.  We don’t have military on our bridges. This is the United States of America.  Looking at the skyline, I had no idea where the towers had stood. They were south of the Empire State Building but where?

Christine commented “I thought I would know where they had been. Like there would be a cardboard cut-out or something?”

We chose the Fire Zone at Rockefeller Center as our meeting spot. We were met by concerned faces, offered cups of water, cookies, restrooms and assurances the buses would be arrive shortly. Plain clothes police or security or whomever directed us to the buses as they received instructions in their earpieces and spoke into their sleeves.

As we crossed the closed off street, Emily said “Mom, I think we are in a bad movie.”

“Me, too.”

Boarding the bus, I saw faces with the same dazed look I am sure my face had. Most people had family or friends with them, my heart was deeply saddened at the sight of a young man who was all alone. Is he representing his dad? He is too young to have to be the man of the family.

The bus drove a few blocks to a large hotel where we were directed to a ballroom. We found four seats at a table and introduced ourselves. The one young woman was the fiancé of a firefighter. The other three people were the wife and grown children of an FDNY officer.

I glanced around the room to see if I knew anyone. Since my interactions with the other wives from Squad 41 was only at the yearly Christmas party and annual dinner dance, I didn’t think I would recognize anyone. Over the past few days, I had spoken to one of the other Squad 41 wives whose husband was also listed as missing.  I had promised her if/when the time came to declare them dead I would take that first step. I would take the lead.

Mayor Giuliana, Governor Pataki, Chief Thomas Von Essen from the FDNY and the Medical Examiner spoke. The purpose of the meeting was to inform us that the mission was going from rescue to recovery. They had found no one alive in days so it was time to change the focus. The heavy equipment was going to be brought in to move the debris. There was discussion about DNA samples and opportunity to give DNA before you left. In the years since that meeting, some FDNY widows have come to call it “the leave your DNA at the door meeting.” The formal meeting part was followed by a question and answer time during which time many people myself included wandered around looking for familiar faces.

I eventually saw the other wives from Squad 41. I didn’t really know these women as personal friends. Our husbands worked together but I didn’t know them. So here we were navigating this terrible event together but not together. I remember hugs, brief conversations and the promise to pray for each other. At one point, I said “why don’t we pray right now.” Did I just say that out loud?

I found Tony while the other wives gathered their families. The scene is so vivid in my mind. I’m standing in this large ballroom, the noise level was high, there were people all around, the commissioner of the FDNY was onstage answering someone’s question and we are holding hands in a circle. And for a moment the other voices in the room fade away and there was only this circle of people and Tony’s voice offering a prayer of hope. More hugs and promises to stay in touch.

The next morning, I informed Christine that it was time to have a memorial service. It was time to pronounce Bruce dead. I decided that there were three groups of people that I needed to know were okay with the idea before I made plans – my daughters, my mother-in-law and the Squad 41 firefighters. In a phone conversation with my sister-in-law, I realized my mother-in-law had scheduled a meeting with her lawyer to change her will. I took that as a sign that she assumed Bruce was dead. I mentioned to Charlie that I wanted to have a memorial service. He assured me that it is up to me when and where but that the fire department hadn’t given up hope of finding the guys.

That evening, Christine and I sat on the living room floor with Emily and Meghan.

“Where do you think Daddy is right now?”


“Then it is time we plan a memorial service.”

“But what if we are wrong? What if they find Daddy?”

“I would like nothing better than for Daddy to walk into his own service. I don’t          have to be right, but it is time.”

a little more from Chapter 2 – Sunday – No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family & the FDNY

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Chapter 2 (first draft)

Joy comes in the morning

By Sunday my house was full of people with the best of intentions but it was too much. My friend and pastor, Steve Shomo, stepped in and suggested daily guidelines – Ann doesn’t answer the door or phone, Ann takes a nap every day, Ann eats three meals a day. The time for circling the wagons had come. My baby sister became my protector.  If you wanted to talk to me you would have to get past her unless you were on the list. Yes, there was a pen and paper list of people. Originally the list was people who needed to be contacted and people who I needed to hear from for encouragement. On Sunday, the list became a list of who had access to me.

Within days the list grew into a spiral notebook full of tasks to complete, contact information for the FDNY and NYPD as well as quick resource of numbers for friends and family. I started printing emails and placing them in a three-ring binder so Bruce could see them when he came home. One of those emails was from a young man who had spent the night in our pop-up trailer. Some people bring home stray cats or dogs but Bruce brought home hikers. Appalachian Trail thru hikers to be specific. The Appalachian Trial runs through Greenwood Lake so in the summer time there were hikers invited to sleep in our yard or take a shower or both. Bruce enjoyed hiking and he wanted me to enjoy it too but it wasn’t my thing. I did play a role in his hiking ventures. I was the drop off or pick up person. On ocassion the pick up involved an extra passenger who became a guest for the evening.

On Father’s Day 2001, Bruce invited two young men to spend the night in our pop-up trailer, enjoy a hot shower and a home cooked meal. We were in the process of selling the pop-up so it was already set up in our driveway. In our conversation over dinner we learned that the one young man, David, was a doctoral candidate who was trying to finish the AT before beginning his studies and the other was his cousin who had agreed to accompany him for a portion of the journey. The dinner conversation would also reveal that we were reading the same book – The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkerson. A tiny little book that had caused a big stir in Christian circles. Interesting discussion followed. Bruce prayed for safe journey as they continued their hike and David prayed for us. After dinner that evening, television news reports would reveal a horrific fire in NYC in which three firefighters died in the line of duty.

Bruce attended the funeral of one of the firefighters on the Tuesday which was also Meghan’s eighth grade graduation. He was running late and called to see if Meghan was okay with him wearing his uniform to her graduation. Little did we know how precious the photos of Bruce in his uniform and Meghan in her cap and gown would become. The receipt of a simple email brought all those memories to mind.

Another excerpt from Chapter 2 – Friday No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family & the FDNY

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Chapter 2

Joy Comes in the Morning (first draft)

Friday would be the first time I ventured out. I commented to friends I had spent more time at home in the last few days than in months. Christine drove Emily and Meghan to school on Thursday (it was their choice to go) but I decided to drive them on Friday. I needed to do something normal and to get out of the house.

On the way home, I went  to CVS.  That was a weird experience. My ability to remember what I needed and where items were located in the store was definitely impaired. There was the sense of being in a bubble – separate from my surroundings, almost invisible but completely exposed at the same time. How can these people be being going about their lives like everything is normal?  I felt there was a big flashing sign on my head. Can they tell I am barely holding it together?

I also stopped by my local library. The librarian had a confused look on her face as she looked up from the desk.

“What are you doing here?”

“My library book is due!”

“Oh, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing!”

“I’m doing” became my pat response to “how are you doing?” I was doing something like returning my book to the library but as far as how are YOU doing that question I couldn’t answer.  How are you coping was another question asked time and again that question was easier to answer because I wasn’t coping I was hoping in God’s promises. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness on Christ the solid rock I stand.” My hope wasn’t built on Bruce coming home which was my heart’s desire but it was build on God is in control. At first I said I was hiding behind God and peeking out every now and then to see if it was safe. I envisioned God as this big rock and we (Emily, Meghan and I) were placed securely behind him. After a while, God became the arms I rested in as He carried me and my girls down a path we never expected to be on.

I was reminded of something that happened at family camp just weeks earlier. Justin, Bruce’s godson, was a preschooler at the time. Justin was warned if he kept misbehaving he was going back to his campsite. Well he misbehaved again and his Dad scooped him into his arms to carry him back. Justin was crying and fighting against his Dad but all his fussing made little difference. His Dad was following through on his promise of what the consequences of not listening were. Justin was going back to their campsite. As I remembered that I was struck by the thought Justin could have rested in his father’s arms. Because either way fussing or resting he was going back to their campsite. I had the same choice (not because there was disobedience) but because this was happening and I could rest in my Heavenly Father’s arms or go kicking and screaming either way it was happening. God eventually put us down to walk but He was ever ready to scoop us up when we needed the extra support.

In the first days after the attacks I was stunned by the outpouring of encouragement from friends, family and strangers – the telephone was constantly ringing, people were arriving with food and offers of support. A friend from church showed up early on the first morning to tell me he was going to the site to look for Bruce. Day after day people stopped by. Many times, I greeted them at my fence to ward off any problems with my 130-lb. dog and to keep those conversations out of ear shot from my daughters. My dog was 130-lb. lap dog in a Rottweiler body. Buster Brown was his name and he was protective of his girls. When someone stopped by he would position himself between me and the person. If the girls were outside he would switch to standing between them and the visitor. He rarely barked at visitors. He just stared at you that was enough to get his point across – don’t mess with my girls. A rumor spread that “Ann wasn’t doing well! She won’t let anyone in her house!” Actually, if you were coming for a visit of course you were invited in but if you were just dropping off something for the forementioned reasons you probably didn’t get in but that was strictly to protect you from my dog and guard my kids’ privacy.