Photography by Brian Moody
On Sept 11th 2001 Elizabeth Turner’s husband, Simon Turner, was at a breakfast meeting at the World Trade Centre in New York when the twin towers were attacked. Pregnant with their first child, Elizabeth’s life was catapulted into a new direction. She has since written The Blue Skies of Autumn – a moving memoir about how she had to hit rock bottom before she could start rebuilding a life for herself and her young son William.
The last time I spoke to Simon was at noon on Sept 11th 2001. He was in New York setting off for a breakfast meeting. I was in London seven months pregnant, expecting our first child and fretting about what buggy to buy. I went off to lunch and Simon left the hotel to go to the World Trade Centre.
When I got back I saw on the TV screens ‘breaking news’ that the World Trade Centre was on fire. I assumed a private plane had had an accident. We were all glued to the screen and then I watched as a black dot soared across the sky into the other building. At that point I, and the rest of the world, knew this was not an accident but a terrorist attack. As I went into my office I closed the blinds. For me the public part of 9/11 begun at that moment. Then my colleague came in to tell me that both buildings had collapsed. I went completely numb; inside I knew that something had happened to Simon. That’s when the madness started and the world I’d lived in completely disappeared.
The next morning the doorbell rang and it was the Press. One of them asked, ‘Please can you make a comment about your husband’s death at the World Trade Centre yesterday’. It was shocking. I hadn’t got to that point at all. I was still trying to make contact with Simon. From there on it all spiralled – Family Liaison officers, the Police, DNA samples, and family and friends on 24 hour rota. I was never left alone in case I went into premature labour. Those months were complete chaos and madness but at the same time my innate instinct was to take care of myself for the baby’s sake.
After William was born life changed again. I turned to look after him whilst exploring how to handle the enormous grief I was facing. The shock and fear were immense. The attack had happened in another country for reasons which had nothing to do with me or with Simon. I kept thinking ‘why me? What did I do to deserve this?’ But most of all I felt that my little boy had lost his dad and couldn’t lose his mum too. I knew I’d have to find a peaceful place within myself and that the cycle of violence and hatred had to stop with me. But choosing to stop the cycle is just as difficult as choosing the other path of anger and hatred. I had no idea how to do it.
So I laid my hands on everything I had and started reading books, having therapy, talking to friends and family. I was ready to be helped by professionals but nothing worked for me until I was introduced by a friend to Reiki – a holistic teaching which is used in healing. At first I thought I was mad doing it but it was the only thing that worked. It was the first time I was able to switch off my brain and find relief from the obsessive thoughts. I had been approaching my grief in an intellectual way but grief is an emotion and not something you can deal with in the mind. Sometimes I just had to feel the pain – an outpouring of tension and tears. Over time it allowed me eventually to pull the plug and completely empty myself of all the emotions. It was only then I knew there was no need for bitterness or retaliation and I found peace inside myself. From then on I was able to reengage with life – I wasn’t normal again but I was able to laugh and be a whole parent.
I also decided I wanted to explore the route of forgiveness. For me forgiveness is about finding an inner peace and accepting the cards you’ve been handed in life. It’s not that the pain has gone or that things are back to how they were before. Forgiveness is accepting that we are all human beings and that we are not separate even from those who have hurt us. All of us as individuals contribute to the world in which we live and therefore each individual has the choice to create a new path forward.