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Sept. 11 losses linger

By Tom Davis

Over and over, they're told to "get over it."

But when 3,000 people die in a terrorist attack, how canyou?

Especially when somebody youknow is among the dead.

"It's amazing how often you hear it, especially frompeople who have no clue. We lost our only child," said Paul Wachtler of Ramsey, who's son,Gregory, died in the World Trade Centerattacks on 9/11.

For Wachtler, it's good to havesomeone to talk to who understands, or doesn't forget what happened, or isn'tjudgmental.

Yes, it's been four years. But help is still needed, Wachtler said.

Staff members at the World Trade Center Family Center provide that help.

The Long Island-based service is one of the largestorganizations that deals with the post-traumaticeffects of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. A staff of 14psychologists and social workers provides bereavement education and counselingsupport services.

Since it began just weeks after the attacks, thefree-of-charge service has helped more than 1,500 people from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and elsewhere whowere touched by the tragedy. And it will continue to do so "as long as theneed exists," said Thomas Demaria, apsychologist who heads the program.

Given the unpredictable nature of mental illness, Demaria doesn't know how long that will be. One of thepotential side effects of Sept. 11 is post-traumatic stress disorder, he noted.The symptoms of PTSD can take years to surface.

"When you're injured, you may get over the injury, butyou're still carrying some of the effects of it. It can change the way you viewthe world," said Demaria, assistant vicepresident in charge of behavioral health at South Nassau Communities Hospital.

The hospital, based in Rockville Centre in Long Island, already had a trauma-based program in place. But theinflux of people seeking assistance after the attacks forced the facility toexpand its services.

"What was lacking was a coherent, comprehensiveresponse to the intermediate and lingering effects," said Minna Barrett, a psychologist who does work with thecenter.

The center, which relies on funding from governmental andnon-profit relief agencies, helps all people who were affected by Sept. 11. Butthere is much emphasis on the children who lost a parent, as well as singleparents and members of their extended families.

Programs and activities are designed to support children'sand adults' resilience and coping skills and to strengthen family bonds, Demaria said.

Participants, for instance, tell their stories in directconversation. Or they do it through "art therapy," translatingfeelings into images.

The following are among the center's programs:

·The Bereaved Program, which providessupportive groups, workshops, special events and individual therapy for adultsand children who lost a family member.

·The Client Support Network, which isfunded by the Red Cross, assists those rescued from the World Trade Center. It providesinformation on available resources, individual case management services,referral and coordination of services and assistance in filling out applicationforms.

Each program doesn't always have a set agenda. Demaria said programs are tailored to meet the needs ofeach person or group.

"We had a bunch of fragmented families, so we plannedan event - a circus - where the families sat next to each other," he said."At the end of the event, they had a shared common happy experience."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., a supporter of the center,said she's particularly impressed by the way young people have gotten involved"in making the center such a special place."

"When I visited the center on the fourth anniversary ofthe 9/11 attacks, we dedicated a new prayer wall designed by a 13-year-old girlwho lost her father at the World Trade Center," McCarthy said. "It isimportant that young people are able to express themselves while rememberingloved ones lost."

Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.

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