This year on 9/11 Imagine had the privilege and opportunity to participate in Cantor Fitzgerald’s annual Charity Day in which Cantor and its affiliates, BGC Partners and GFI Group commemorate their 658 friends and colleagues and 61 Eurobrokers employees who perished on September 11, 2001. Each year on September 11th Cantor donates 100% of their global revenues to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund and selected charities around the world. This year, Imagine was selected to participate, and was fortunate to have actor Kimiko Glenn of Orange is the New Black, as our celebrity ambassador. Since its inception, Charity Day has raised and distributed over $147 million globally.
Being at Cantor last Tuesday, standing on the trading floor, and listening to Edie and Howard Lutnick, I was reminded again how it is possible to survive and carry on after devastating loss and trauma. It took grit, perseverance, and resilience for these two siblings to rebuild their company and their lives.
Grit, perseverance, and resilience is something we are privileged to see every day at Imagine. Over 300 children and adults from 55 NJ towns are currently attending Imagine. These are parents who had a child die or a partner or spouse. These are children whose mom or dad or brother or sister died. And yet they get up every day and carry on.
Grit, perseverance, and resilience is something I witnessed in my own mother who at the age of 44 lost her husband and had to find a way to carry on in the midst of pain, fear, and heartbreak. I often wonder, and study, how it is that some people are able to carry on and even thrive, while others struggle for years and sometimes a lifetime, never regaining their footing.
There are many factors that make it possible to carry on and even thrive. Imagine and our therapeutic model are designed to support healthy coping, build resiliency, and encourage post traumatic growth. Some of the factors that help with that include finding and being part of a community of support, making meaning from your loss, being of service to others, and doing something positive while we mourn. Edie Lutnick, whose brother Gary was killed on 9/11 along with more than 2/3 of the company’s employees, said the creation of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund and Charity Day gave her a reason to get out of bed every day. She said “find something larger than yourself, it will get you moving.”
I think for my mom the thing that was larger than herself was the fact that she had to support two children and help us carry on and thrive. For me, it was first volunteering for hospice in the 80’s, and then volunteering in the field of children’s grief support in the 90’s. Eventually it was the creation of two children’s grief support centers in NJ.
While major life trauma and loss can produce psychological distress, significant difficulty adjusting to the loss, and even serious psychological and physical impairment, for many people it can provide a doorway to transformation and growth. But it’s almost impossible to adjust to our loss, or for the phenomena of posttraumatic growth to occur, without support and without mourning. Grieving is a given, but mourning is optional –and for some mourning is a luxury/privilege, meaning that not everyone has the opportunity to mourn or the resources or support available for a myriad of reasons. Mourning looks like talking about the loss, remembering the person who died, sharing memories and stories, feeling our feelings without trying to suppress, repress, or numb ourselves, and creating a new relationship or bond with the person who died.
Imagine exists as a place for children and adults to mourn the loss of the person who died. We facilitate that by creating a safe space for people who are grieving to be in community with others, share their stories and memories, and discover they are not alone. Coping skills and tools while inherent in the model are also learned over time, through both the therapeutic space and model of Imagine as well as intentional activities that take place on each Night of Support.
We grieve forever. I know that may sound dire but it’s actually part of the nature of being human. The challenge, and the growth, come from learning to live with the joy and sorrow of life side by side. We are misled in so many ways by this idea that we are supposed to be happy all the time and that something is wrong when we are sad. Being at Cantor on 9/11 I saw this idea of joy and sorrow exemplified by the Lutnicks, by family members who lost someone that day, and by the employees of Cantor.
Imagine, like Charity Day, is an example of someone turning their grief into something good. Imagine was created thanks to the vision and generosity of Dr. Gerald Glasser who lost his son Tom on 9/11 leaving behind two little boys, Gerry’s grandsons. Dr. Glasser was committed to ensuring no child grieved alone and funded the startup of Imagine, with generous and much needed support annually ever since.
Imagine exists as a place of healthy mourning striving to support families in their time of need and to also give people resources to develop their own resilience and hope for the future. The need for grief support is relevant for every community that cares about providing emotional support for children during all the times in their lives when they are struggling with painful emotions and traumatic loss. Extra efforts at education, intervention and prevention must be made to reduce the risk that children will have a negative reaction to loss, and therefore a host of potential negative outcomes later in life (e.g., depression, anxiety, poor performance in school/work, substance abuse, suicidality, etc.). Grief can provide a doorway to transformation and growth for children and adults, and for our world. Providing support for grieving children is a decision that must be made consciously by each individual, collectively as a community, and together as a society.
At Cantor Fitzgerald Charity Day on September 11th, 2018 was Diane Starita Renzulli, an Imagine supporter and volunteer whose husband Anthony Starita died on 9/11.
“Although I have strived and worked hard to create a new life for myself and my family, 17 years later on 9/11 I am brought right back to that horrific day as if it just happened. Memories come flooding back of where I was, what I was doing, thoughts of “this can’t happen to me” and, of course, what about my children. I wanted the entire world to be obliterated, because my small world was. Being submerged in all of the media surrounding every anniversary, I have to remind myself of where I am now. I never in a million years thought I would persevere to live a happy and fulfilling life again. Although it hasn’t been easy to say the least. Oh how I wish Imagine was around back then, but am so thrilled for all the families that get to participate in this wonderful organization. I thrilled Cantor Fitzgerald has recognized them and included them in this year’s Charity Day. My family and I were privileged to attend with Mary and Kimiko. It is very cathartic for me to be with the Cantor family, Howard and Edie. It’s almost a comfort. It brings me back to a time when life was easier. Being on the trading floor, I can picture my husband, Anthony, surrounded by his co-workers, yelling, laughing and making lots of money! Cantor always was a company that takes pride in their workers and takes care of them. It is a very special place, as is Imagine. I am so happy these 2 organizations, that I am lucky to be part of, have connected to support those in need.”