- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

The enormous difficulty of recovering World Trade Center victims is creating a new kind of mourning process, in which families hold full-scale funerals without bodies.
Helping families deal with the catastrophe's aftermath has been so unsettling that even some veteran funeral directors seek organized grief counseling.
"We're funeral directors, but we're people, and we don't have ice water in our veins," said Anthony Martino, vice president of New York's Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association (MFDA), which plans a grief seminar for about half of its 200 members.
"You might think they'd be prepared, but in the end they're like the rest of us, never prepared," grief counselor Darcie Sims said of the MFDA program she will conduct Monday afternoon.
"Sometimes, they need to be reminded that what they offer is more than the casket. It's the service and emotional support," she said. "Remember, they are burying friends, neighbors, colleagues and, in some cases, their own relatives."
More often than not, however, funeral directors handling World Trade Center ceremonies do not bury anyone, but instead arrange what one has called untraditional rituals for families "who don't have the tangibility of a body to be present at the program."
So far, police had notified families that 325 persons were formally identified by the New York medical examiner, and Surrogate's Court judges authorized 1,098 instant death certificates without physical proof of death under a provision for a disaster with a final expected toll of around 5,000.
Innovative services have been held in venues as disparate as the New York church where a fireman's helmet arrived on a firetruck and was borne down the aisle in lieu of its missing owner, to Mr. Martino's Hess-Miller Funeral Home, which conducted Catholic funeral Masses the morning after wakes featuring photos of victims, clothing, favorite music and, in one case, a Mets baseball cap.
Some choose to use an urn containing debris from the terrorist attack site, a few ask for an empty casket and plan a graveside service if the body is recovered.
Some New Jersey funeral directors move the ceremony to the deceased's pleasurable haunts, including a country club and an oceanfront beach club, for what are variously termed funerals, memorials, celebrations of life, or simply, gatherings.
In the Red Bank, N.J., area that was home to 150 victims, the Sidun Funeral Group offers special programs like Share the Bear, Legacy Candles and Memory Board Memorials to provide what general manager Ted D. Sidun calls "personalized, memorable and meaningful funeral service experiences."
"Whatever you call the ceremonies, families have an opportunity to narrate more about the individual's life, their loves and passions, and to say it in a way that's more descriptive than usual," said Maryann Carroll, of the New Jersey Funeral Directors Association, which represents 550 businesses.
Almost anything can happen at such "gatherings," from singalongs to the memorable moment at Hess-Miller on Sept. 14 when the widow of Hernando Salas who fled the World Trade Center only to be hit by debris outside arrived alone for visitation as an unrelated candlelight vigil was ending outside.
After Mr. Martino told the crowd Mrs. Salas might need comfort, the surprised widow was hugged and kissed by a line of 500 candle-bearing strangers.
Mr. Martino had no problem confronting assumptions that professionals who handle death every day would show no emotion.
"I've been choked up since September 11," said Mr. Martino, who personally mourned a fireman who drove his limousines on days off.
"We may do this day in and day out, but you don't leave your feelings at the door," said David Walkinshaw, of Arlington, Mass., speaking for the National Funeral Directors Association. "The truth of the matter is we need grief counseling and the ability to decompress just like anyone else in these intense type of situations, firefighters or police officers."
Mrs. Sims has counseled funeral directors on a smaller scale for 10 years, but said yesterday the New York group with which she will meet at a La Guardia Airport hotel rejected her proposal for such a seminar six months ago.
"This one is so horrific for our entire nation that everyone needs support," said Mrs. Sims, who rejects the cliche "closure" in discussing funerals.
"To me, the only thing that closes at the funeral is the casket. You don't stop having the relationship with this person. You don't stop loving them just because they die," she said.
"No one has ever asked us how we feel," said Miss Carroll, who complained that funeral professionals took unfair hits in false press reports suggesting the excess of deaths would bring a financial windfall.
"Funeral directors here have been working without charge to obtain death certificates and coordinating very creative ceremonies memorializing a loss without any remains," she said. "There is no bonanza. Frankly, there's really no positive economic impact. Most funeral directors are working for free or offering sharply discounted services to World Trade Center families."

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