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Video: 9/11 widow: 'We're proof of it, that joy can find you'

TODAY books
updated 8/30/2011 3:50:52 PM ET 2011-08-30T19:50:52

Jennifer Gardner Trulson had the ideal life: An apartment in New York City, a house in the Hamptons, two beautiful kids, a happy marriage to love of her life but then tragedy struck on the morning of September 11. In "Where You Left Me,” Trulson tells her story of grief, resilience, hope and second chances. Read an excerpt.

Gallery Books

The days and weeks following Doug’s death moved at an unbearably slow pace. It wasn’t easy for me to make sense of my new status. I am Jennifer Gardner, Doug Gardner’s wife. I was Doug Gardner’s wife. I’m still his wife, but he’s dead. I’m single, but I’m married. I’m married, but I have no husband. Doug was my husband, but he’s gone. I’m a widow. What is that? Widow ... widow ... widow ... that word pervaded my thoughts like an insidious virus. Widow-maker, widow’s walk, widow’s peak, black widow, The Merry Widow. The dictionary defines widow as “to separate, to divide.” That’s true. I was, unquestionably, irrevocably separated and divided from the beautiful life we’d had before. From now on, my life would be demarcated with a Before and After; every memory tagged with one of those distinct labels. Could I really be a widow so soon? For me, widow was just the last box on a medical form at the doctor’s office: Single, Married, Separated, Divorced, Widowed. Widowed is always listed last because who the hell is widowed? I never really noticed that word, but now it was as if it were flashing in neon wherever I turned.

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Who is a widow? An ancient Italian woman from the Godfather movies dressed in black under a veil? World War II wives in shirtwaist dresses receiving horrible news via telegram? The kaffeeklatsch of Jewish ladies in Boca playing canasta? How can this term possibly apply to me? I was a thirty-five-year-old lawyer raising two small children on the Upper West Side. I’m happily married, for God’s sake. I was definitely not going to get through this.

9/11 coloring book draws controversy

At least I wasn’t alone in Widowville. Turning on the television, I could see that, post-9/11, widows weren’t such a rare commodity anymore. No longer were we hidden away, only venturing out in the company of girlfriends. We weren’t required to raise our children dutifully while maintaining a quiet distance from the world. Instead, widows were on every talk show and news update, petitioning Congress and City Hall to preserve, redesign, or sanctify Ground Zero. Apparently, we were a hot trend, the new black. We had cachet — at least as far as the media and politicians were concerned. Paraded around State of the Union addresses, honored at charity functions, and remembered at Super Bowl games, the 9/11 widows became every politician’s or social climber’s favorite accessory.

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I didn’t have the strength to join the fight for better security measures or a proper memorial at Ground Zero. Thankfully, other brave families did. I knew myself. I’d have pursued the cause single-mindedly and would never have been able to extricate my soul from a bottomless pit of fury and despair. I feared I’d lose myself in the process and diminish Doug if I focused on how he died instead of remembering how he lived. I could neither live at his grave nor attempt to achieve mythical “closure” and move on; how I lived without Doug would never be a black-or-white proposition. I needed not to choose and simply try to muddle through the gray.

Although I avoided most of the media frenzy, I did receive my share of sideshow curiosity from the sympathetic but ever inquisitive young mothers swirling about the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. I’ve been pointed out at my children’s school and whispered about at the gym or on the street: “That’s her over there. That one, she lost her husband on 9/11. I like her shoes.” No one meant any malice by it, of course. I was just a marked woman, the girl sporting the Scarlet W on her chest.

I was visible, useful social currency to be exchanged over manicures or lunch at Saks. I was the embodiment of everyone else’s fears. There but for the grace of God go I.

Excerpted from "Where You Left Me" © 2011 by Jennifer Gardner Trulson. Reprinted with permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: Sept. 11: Attack on America

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  1. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists caught the U.S. by surprise when they hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them as weapons in a bold series of attacks aimed at American landmarks, including New York City's World Trade Center.

    At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 speared into the 110-story north tower. At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175, shown here, crashed into the 84th floor of the south tower. Both towers collapsed.

    Hijacked planes also crashed into the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, which led to the U.S. declaring a war on terror that continues to this day. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center towers after being hit by two planes. The stunning aerial assaults on the huge commercial complex where more than 40,000 people worked on an ordinary day were part of a coordinated attack aimed at the nation's financial heart. They destroyed one of America's most dramatic symbols of power and financial strength and left New York -- and the rest of the country -- reeling. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Smoke billows from the Southwest E-ring of the Pentagon building Sept.11, 2001, in Arlington, Va., after it was hit by hijacked American Airlines Flight 77.

    "I'm asking myself if it can happen in America," a stunned Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said as he and other lawmakers evacuated the Capitol. "Obviously it can." (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. President Bush is interrupted at 9:07 a.m. during a school visit in Sarasota, Fla., by Andrew Card, his chief of staff, and told that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. Bush leaves the school session and sets off on a secretive hopscotch flight aboard Air Force One, stopping at an Air Force base in Louisiana and NORAD headquarters in Nebraska before returning to the White House in late afternoon. "Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror," Bush tells the nation during a late-night television address. (Paul J. Richards / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. People in front of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral react with horror as they look down Fifth Ave toward the burning World Trade Center. (Marty Lederhandler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A person jumps from the north tower of the World Trade Center as another clings to the outside, left center, where American Airlines Flight 11 ripped into the building, touching off an inferno that brought the tower down less than two hours later. "About five minutes before the tower fell, you could see people jumping from the upper floors. I watched six either fall or jump..." said Steve Johnson, then an msnbc.com producer who was standing about six blocks from the tower. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Two women hold each other as they watch the twin towers burn. (Ernesto Mora / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smoke and debris fill the air as the south tower collapses at 9:59 a.m. "Clearly, not even the police and FBI who had flooded the area were worried about collapse," said George Hackett of Newsweek. "They wouldn't have been anywhere near to the buildings as they were. If the first building hadn't essentially fallen straight down, its crash could have killed hundreds standing, like me, a few blocks away." (Amy Sancetta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Smoke and debris fill the streets as pedestrians run for cover after the collapse of the south tower. What started as a bright sunny day turned to darkness. "Suddenly the top of [the tower] just shattered into tens of thousands of pieces," said Steve Johnson, then a producer with msnbc.com. "You could see the whole thing just disappeared. Then the smoke came up. The cops started yelling, 'Get back! Run! Get Away!' I ran inside a hotel, and it went black outside because of the dust." (Suzanne Plunkett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A woman covered in dust takes refuge in an office building after the top of one of the towers collapsed. The woman was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area. (Stan Honda / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rescue workers move the body of the Rev. Mychal Judge, 68, away from the base of the north tower. Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain, died in the line of duty when struck by debris from the south tower while administering last rites to a firefighter. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. People flee across the Brooklyn Bridge to escape the carnage in lower Manhattan. (Daniel Shanken / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. FBI investgators comb the crater left by the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, carrying 45 people, in Shanksville, Pa. The plane was flying from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it was hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists as part of the Sept. 11 attacks. Some passengers tried to overpower the hijackers and regain control of the aircraft, but It crashed into a field near Shanksville. All on board, including the four hijackers, were killed. (Gene J. Puskar / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A woman reacts to an explosion at the World Trade Center towers while observing from the Brooklyn Promenade. (Kathy Willens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A man standing in the rubble calls out asking if anyone needs help, after the collapse of the first World Trade Center tower. Firefighters and other rescuers worked around the clock, searching for survivors in what looked like a war zone. (Doug Kanter / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Delayed Southwest Airlines flights are seen on a television monitor after the attacks, at the Oakland International Airport in California. All flights in the country regulated by the FAA were cancelled, stranding travelers nationwide. (Ben Margot / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. People walk in the street in the area where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A firefighter takes a break from searching in the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Matthew McDermott / Corbis Sygma) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Firefighters raise a U.S. flag at the devastated World Trade Center. (Thomas E. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. New Yorkers stand motionless and silent aboard the first Staten Island ferry to approach Manhattan after the World Trade Center attack. (Tom Stoddart / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (20) Sept. 11: Attack on America
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    Slideshow (13) Aftermath of Sept. 11 attacks

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