On September 10, 2001, the last words my mother said to me before she died were, “If you don’t love him, don’t marry him.”
She said this on the phone a week after my parents had celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. My mother’s name was Joan Donna Griffith. She was an assistant vice president and office manager at Fiduciary Trust on the 97th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
The next day, I watched my mother’s murder on television with the rest of the world.
I was living in California with a boyfriend who I didn’t love, in a relationship where we simply tolerated each other and went through the motions as a couple. We had purchased a 60” TV two days before the terrorist attacks. That morning, he came into the bedroom where I was sleeping to tell me that the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane. I rushed into the living room and saw the smoke, flames, and heard the fear in the voice of the on-air reporters.
I was in shock and tears were streaming down my face and he didn’t console me. I grabbed the phone and kept calling my mother’s office. The circuits were down. Then the line was busy, but I kept calling. I finally got through to my father who had spoken to my mother briefly after the first tower was hit. She had seen the other tower hit and was crying and afraid. I was numb.
Many details from that day are fuzzy, but what I clearly remember was realizing that I was alone. I had lived in California for a few years and had many work friends, but there was no family support structure for me on the West Coast. That morning, my boyfriend did not hug me or ask how he could help. He patted me on the shoulder as he left and went to work. I also decided to go to work even after seeing the towers fall — I went because I needed normalcy, but also because I needed to be with people who cared about me.
That day my co-workers, like all of the world, were also in shock but they kept checking in on me. They hugged me, brought me food, asked how I was, how my family was, and asked if I had heard from my mother. My boyfriend never called me that day to check on me. In fact, I was reluctant to go home because I knew I needed support that I wouldn’t find there. For the two weeks that followed, planes were grounded, but I went into work each day unproductive, and knowing that the love I felt there would help sustain me until I was able to fly home to be with my family.
I had tolerated not being loved, supported, and fulfilled (physically, mentally, or financially) in a relationship for several years because I was stubborn, immature and scared. I knew shortly after I had arrived in California and made the decision to stay that he was not the one. Even knowing this, I plodded through the relationship, acting as if I was OK, and even began to plan a future with him. I had convinced myself that we should be married because we had been together for over two years and that’s what was supposed to happen (no ring, no problem! No love, no problem…sigh).
Reflecting back, I realize that I was coming to terms with my mother actually being gone, but I was also mourning the hopes I had for a good relationship. I was dealing with the depression that I felt knowing he wasn’t the one despite occupying the “boyfriend role.”
I often wonder why it took my mother’s death for me to finally make the decision that I needed to make years before. The saying, “When one door closes, another one opens” is so true. After my mother died and I followed her final piece of advice, I reconnected with Taj, the man who is now my husband.
He had learned that my mother had been in the towers and reached out through his cousin to reconnect and offer support, and he has been my rock since. A 13-year marriage to someone who loves me and makes me and our family a priority made me realize that I had been undervaluing myself and getting in my own way by tolerating my former relationship.
My mother’s final words were a reminder, a directive, and most importantly, they were a love note from her to me.
Paula T. Edgar, Esq. is founder and principal of PGE LLC, a consulting firm specializing in professional development, coaching, social media strategy, and diversity and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter @Paulaedgar and at www.paulaedgar.com