Though the turnout at this year's 9/11 memorial ceremony appeared smaller than in years prior, the mourners who came to recite or listen to the names of the loved ones they lost seemed to need it as much as ever.
Those who recited names spoke of their loved ones in shaking voices, occasionally breaking down in tears. Mothers and fathers addressed their lost children directly, wondering aloud when they would ever feel better.
"I'm waiting for the pain to go away," Elsie Gross Caldwell told her son Kenneth Marcus Caldwell, who she lost 12 years ago today.
In previous years, the people who read names would put in a request and be selected at random. This year, the memorial organizers said they were able to accommodate more people, and everyone who requested to do so was allowed to read. The youngest reader was a 7-year-old girl.
Many expressed appreciation at having the memorial closed off for their privacy.
"Today's different than any other day, because today it's just family members and that's very important," explained Dennis McKaeon, the founder of a support group in Staten Island that buses family members out to the memorial every year. "You put together people who have gone through the same tragedy and they understand, they're able to trust each other."
"There's no tourists snapping pictures," McKaeon added pointedly.
Nick Chiarchiaro, 71, came to the memorial on McKaeon's bus. He lost his wife, Dorothy, and niece, Dolores Costa, that day. They both worked at Fred Alger Management on the 93rd floor of Tower One.
The last time he spoke to them was when he dropped them off at work that day. The towers were hit as he was driving back over the Brooklyn Bridge, but he didn't know it until he got to his sister-in-law's house and got a phone call from another family member telling him: "Turn the TV on, an airplane just hit the building."
Chiarchiaro said he knew immediately they were dead.
"You know how you feel things in your heart at times?" he asked.
One of the last people to read the names of those lost that day, Andrea Treble, read her sister's name then took a moment to press "whoever ends up leading the city" to carry on the tradition.
The families don't need pomp and circumstance, Treble insisted. But they do need the names.
"The reading of the names," she said firmly, "is the least we can do."
Linda Amato, whose younger brother, police Sergeant Timothy Roy Sr., perished when the South Tower fell, was one of those who come every year specifically to hear "Timmy's" name read.
"We wait to hear it, then I cry," Amato said simply.
For many families whose loved ones' bodies were never found, names seem to be all they have to hold on to.
Karen Marlo lost her 28-year-old son Kevin Marlo, an investment banker at Sandler O'Neill. She said Kevin and his sister Christine were very close. Christine, 14 months older than Kevin, wore his clothes for two years after he died.
Karen and her husband travel from Pennsylvania every year to hear the names read.
"We don't have any part of him," she said. "All they found was his Blockbuster card."
Walter was 39 at the time. Denise, now 46, comes to the memorial service every year with her three sons and a group of people she met through St. Clare's, a church in Staten Island.
The group, started by St. Clare's parishioner Dennis McKeaon, 56, is called Where to Turn.
"The first thing people told me after 9/11 was they didn't know where to turn," Mckeaon explained. "So we gave them a place to turn."
"He said he was going to be there forever and he really has," Denise added. [embedgallery id= 216890]
Denise said a lot of people don't understand why she keeps coming back: "People say, 'You're crazy, you're still going down there? Don't you want to get past this?'"
But there's an unparalleled comfort in being around other people who have experienced the same trauma, she said.
"We do feel each other's pain, and no one understands the pain we go through on a daily basis," Denise said. "We all met through [Where to Turn] and coming down here takes away the pain more. Coming down here makes you feel better."
Denise said she remembers acutely the moment Walter called and told her a plane had hit the building, and that he'd be home soon.
She wasn't worried because he'd been there at the time of the 1993 bombing. That day he had called her from the ferry terminal to tell her he was on his way home — so she didn't doubt the same would happen in 2001.
"I swore he would get home," Denise said. "I think about that to this day."
A few days later, she discovered an email he had sent her.
"He said they can't get out of the building, all the doors were blocked," she recalled. "They're waiting for the fire department to come — he'll be home."
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