Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Today is my personal 9/11

We each have our own personal 9/11.  Mine is today.

Remember September 11, 2001.  That’s not difficult for anyone who was alive and aware on that day.  Not only was it a day of disaster for everyone affected.  But the implications and subsequent actions of that day have spread a level of violence around the Middle East and over Europe.  Even our own nation today is gripped by a sense of dread and fear that is a major factor in our presidential election.  And all this is fifteen years after “the event”.

It is hard to think about that day of disaster and the aftermath without the realization that we have been formed by the history we have lived.  And so it is for each of us as well.  We may have lost someone on 9/11.  We may have lost someone in the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the other conflicts around the world.  Or we may know someone who experienced this loss.  I would suspect we are only one degree of separation from someone affected by 9/11 and its aftermath.

But each of us has another 9/11.  It is our own day of personal disaster which has formed and informed our lives.  No one makes it through this life unscathed.  In fact, the times of trial are in large measure what make us who we are.  As human beings we know successes and tragedies.  We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays.  But the 9/11 days are often ones we hold in our hearts and suffer in privacy.  How tragic that we do not share these as well since they are equally and sometimes even more important in our lives.

Today is my own personal 9/11.  On this day in 1997 my daughter Lea, at age 22, ended her life by her own hand.  She was beautiful, intelligent and troubled by demons that I know little about.  I carry the deep sadness of her loss every day and cherish the memories which over time are fading, to my great sorrow.  Her life ended and mine was changed forever.

This is not a secret I must keep, or a person I must pretend did not exist.  To this day I hesitate when asked by a new acquaintance, “Do you have children?”  I have two wonderful living children.  Sam lives in Florida with his family and is a medical doctor.  Elizabeth lives in Baltimore and is a nurse.  Sometimes I answer with information about them, and choose not to get into the whole story of Lea.  But every time I feel so insincere and afraid I am committing an act of betrayal against Lea.  Yet mentioning that I had another daughter who died is quite the conversation stopper.  Often it is just silence.  Sometimes in evokes an “I’m sorry”.  And occasionally it brings forth “What happened?” with sincere concern.  I choose the context in which I allow such pain to resurface and with whom to share it.

9/11.  We survived.  We were changed.  We are still struggling to live into the world it created.  And there is no denying it.  But we are all survivors of our own 9/11 events, those times of tragedy and loss which have made and indelible mark on our lives, our psyches, and our subsequent actions and decisions.  I hope Lea’s death has made me a more compassionate person and someone more passionate about making this a world where such suffering is in decline.  And I know that my own 9/11 and your own 9/11 can be shared with one another in such a way that we are all empowered to live more authentic, faithful and decent human lives.

Today is my own personal 9/11, and I will forever honor its memory and meaning for me and anyone who claims to know and love me.



  1. This is beautiful Mr tunkle I am sorry for the tragic loss of your daughter on this day. The strength that you guys have is incredible and your life stories are truly inspiring it has been a true honor to have met the tunkle's

  2. I can only imagine the pain you and Judy feel. It may feel somewhat like the pain I've felt for the infant I gave up for adoption. There will always be a hole in my heart for him, and in your heart for Lea. There are not many words I can say that will ease the pain you feel, but I promise you that you and Judy are in my heart today. God bless you and may you fine some peace. Love you and Judy.

  3. Keeping you and J and the family in my thoughts and prayers, Paul, even these many years later.

  4. Judy & Paul + family, out thoughts are with you on this sad and painful anniversary.