Brendan Fitzpatrick was two years old when his father Thomas, a bond salesman and financial advisor who worked on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Much of what Fitzpatrick knows about his dad, he’s learned from his family: his grandparents, his mom and his dad’s brother, whom he says love to tell stories about his dad. He knows his laugh and his grin remind his mom of his father. He knows that his dad was funny and had a positive attitude. He knows that, if he was still alive, they would share a common love for peanut butter.
“My loss didn’t really become as real to me when I was a kid because I didn’t really realize what it had meant,” he told A Plus. “…as I got older, in eighth or ninth grade, I think that was when I really started to understand this is what happened.”
Fitzpatrick credits much of his ability to talk about his father and to process his loss to the support system he found at Tuesday’s Children, an organization focused on helping families who have been impacted by terrorism or trauma through programs in mentorship, leadership, and college and career guidance. The nonprofit was created with the purpose of focusing on those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, but has since expanded their mission to assist members of the military community. Additionally, the organization has provided outreach to communities that are recovering from tragedy, including Sandy Hook and Las Vegas.
“The grief will always be there for the widows and for the children, but what we like to feel is that we’re focusing on their long-term resilience and long-term recovery,” Terry Sears, executive director of Tuesday’s Children, told A Plus.
In 2008, a group of kids who were involved with Tuesday’s Children came to the organization with the desire to connect with other kids who have been affected by terrorism to create what they hoped would be a “community of global healing.” That summer the organization launched Project Common Bond, a camp that brought together 40 kids from six different countries — Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Spain, and the U.S. – who had all been touched by terrorism.
“We knew immediately that we were on to something very powerful because the bond between these young adults was instantaneous,” Sears said. “From the moment of the first greeting, it was, ‘I get you and I get what you’ve been through.'”
Fitzpatrick, who is now a sophomore at Boston College, has attended Project Common Bond four years and says that some of his closest friends are from the camp. He lists the chance to eat a meal with another camper and learn his or her story as one of his favorite parts of the experience.
“Even though it’s a different conflict and we’ve lost different people, it doesn’t mean that their loss is any different from ours and [we] really have this common bond between us,” he said. “It really just helps us build this strong connection.”
Being around others who have experienced a similar loss has helped him talk about his in an open, public and productive way, Fitzpatrick said. He said it felt like no one at school really understood the impact losing such an important figure in his life at such a young age was really having on him. But at Project Common Bond, he felt like he could talk about what he was feeling in an empathetic environment.
“Being able to talk to people who have lost different family members than I have even really opens up your eyes to understand other people’s emotions,” he said. “I feel like understanding is one of the other ways that we can begin to move toward a more peaceful world.”
Each year, Fitzpatrick and his family spend part of Sept 11 at the memorial in Westchester, New York where they write messages to his father on balloons. When he was younger, Fitzpatrick said he wrote things like “I love you, Dad” or “I miss you, Dad,” but as he’s grown up, his messages have gotten longer and longer.
Last year, his first year away at college and his first Sept. 11 away from his family, Fitzpatrick was able to find people who would take care of him on that day. He and a group of friends gathered outside with balloons to write messages to Thomas. Fitzpatrick needed two to write everything he wanted to say.