Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The families are moving house, but they struggle to move on

By James Barron and Marjorie Connelly  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

They would always be their own universe, the Sept. 11 families. They were the people the victims did not come home to that day, the people who lived with an emotional rawness that was immediate, extraordinarily public and enduring.

In the three years since the attacks, there have been hints of the struggles the families have fought, of the lingering toll of their losses, of the agony of deciding, among many other things, whether to accept money from the federal compensation fund or to sue in pursuit of accountability. There have been, too, hints of recovery, or at least of a determination to repair their ruptured lives as best they could. Some have, over the nearly 36 months since Sept. 11, 2001, made their voices heard -- some publicly, some only at memorial ceremonies when the names of the dead were read out.

A deeper and more comprehensive portrait, though, emerges from a New York Times survey comprising scores of detailed interviews exploring the families' emotional, physical and spiritual status. That survey found lives colored by continuing pain.

Almost half still have a hard time getting a good night's sleep. A few said they no longer flew on airplanes. About one-third have changed jobs or quit. About one in five have moved since 2001, and one-fifth of those who still live where they did would move if they could. Very few have remarried.

The families are, it turns out, acutely aware of how others see them. Close to half those interviewed believe that other people feel too much has been said about what happened on Sept. 11. One-third said friends and neighbors avoided talking about the attacks when they are around.

And about half see signs that others resent the attention paid to them.

"They've got this idea that we're all multimillionaires and why don't we just get over it, or life goes on -- that whole general drift," said William Wilson, of Warwick, New York, the husband of Cynthia Motus-Wilson, 52, the head receptionist at International Office Centers Corp in the World Trade Center.

"The feeling I have is, nobody really understands," he said.

The rest of the world may have largely returned to its old rhythms, though with a new awareness of terrorism and new jitters about preparedness in case of an attack, but the relatives remain, by their own accounts, forever changed.

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