the three most important words on 9/11

Part of a series in tribute to the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Twenty-three years ago, on a cold November day, my life totally collapsed like the World Trade Towers would collapse years later. My husband died suddenly. I was two months pregnant at the time after years of infertility treatment and all the heart-break that comes with it. I was too young to be a widow. Too pregnant. Too married and too in love.

9-11 Fragment by Susan Crile
The most indelible part of that change was the shift in paradigm that permanently altered the way that I saw the world. It was very disturbing at first, because it was suddenly very clear that this world was deranged. How we run it, what is important, how we ignore the most precious things in life—all seemed so, well—insane.

My husband’s death led me to write the book that I, myself, needed to read during that paradigm shift.That book opened up a world of people to me who, universally have had that same paradigm shift. We often joke that we are members of an exclusive club that we would never have joined given a choice, yet all of us know that we were now in possession of something urgently important—something sacred—as if God, Himself, had shared a secret with us.

Now, 18 years after I first published Companion through the Darkness, I have a wealth of validation for all that I suspected was real, and right and true about this world.

My husband and I were on different continents when he died and I never got the chance to say my last “I love you” before he exited this world. Of all there was to deal with in widowhood, that was my greatest wound—not saying good-bye with all the love that I felt for him.

As the days passed after 9/11, recordings of the last phone calls made their way into news coverage. Again and again, the frantic messages had been, I love you. It was the most important message that everyone wanted to say, as they faced death on either side of the phone. They were a lucky minority --they would have an easier time healing, accepting and moving on.

For, when the playing field of life is leveled and we're all equally helpless, only one thing remains important—I love you. 

We who have survived devastating losses have a very special quality about us because we know this in our bones. We have survived the unsurvivable. In the new life we are given, we discover things like redemption, forgiveness, the necessity of making meaning out of our suffering, the imperative to leave this world better for our having been in it, the greatness of small things, and the indisputable reality that we are all connected to one another. This new paradigm shift automatically directs us to do the next right thing. No one has to educate us about what is important and what is not—we know this in our bones now.

©2011 Stephanie Ericsson


  1. Beautifully written. When given the opportunity to say "I Love You" just one last time before your loved one parts this world, is more valuable to the process of grieving than any thing else you can imagine. Two people dear to me passed and just hours before, I was given such an opportunity. It didn't lessen the pain, but it did ease my heart and soul. I knew that they knew how I felt and that was a precious gift.

  2. Stephanie, your book is one that I've recommended to countless clients, colleagues, friends and neighbors over the years. I'm thrilled to have found your blog, and I look forward to more of your fabulous writing. The piece you've shared with us today is breathtaking in its simplicity and truth. With deep gratitude, I say "Amen!"