Eleven years after terrorist attacks brought down the World Trade Center and took the lives of their loved ones, the memories are no less familiar, and the pain no less sharp for the Rodak and Brandemarti families.
As they’ve done every year since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the two families gathered in the stillness and shadows of the Place of Reflection in Mantua’s Chestnut Branch Park to memorialize John Rodak and Nick Brandemarti Jr. alongside family, friends and community members.
And as with every year, the loss—the holes torn in their families like the hole ripped in the I-beam at the center of the grove—was felt deeply.
“It intensifies as time goes by,” Nick Brandemarti Sr. said.
For he and his wife Nancy, it’s thoughts of a branch of the family that never had a chance to grow—a son’s fledgling career that might have turned into something special, a daughter-in-law they could’ve come to love, grandchildren that might have played in their back yard.
It’s not simply a matter of forgetting or healing, either, Joyce Rodak said.
“The pain is still there,” she said. “You go in different directions—I don’t know you ever heal.”
That pain was still evident on the faces of her daughters, Devon and Chelsea, who grew up without their father, and Joyce Rodak said it’s difficult to get past that empty space in their world.
“We’ve lost something that was so great in our lives,” she said. “I always keep him in my heart.”
The support of the community and the crowds who turn out to memorialize their lost loved ones helps, especially given the turnout at the Place of Reflection every year, Nick Brandemarti Sr. said.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I’d rather be here than go to New York.”
So, too, have been the outpouring of love and support from neighbors and others in the area, who have rallied around the families, Nancy Brandemarti said.
“This community has embraced us,” she said. “They truly haven’t forgotten.”
Even if the memories fade for others and memorials die out with passing years, Joyce Rodak said her family’s personal connection to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans makes Sept. 11 forever sacred.
“It’s something we will always commemorate, whether it’s in a personal way or a public way,” she said.