Alison and Jefferson Crowthers' daughters grow older every day. Honor is 27. Paige is 22.
But the Crowthers' only son, Welles, will forever be 24 — the age their oldest child was when he died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center trying to save other victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"I'm just stuck there with Welles," said Alison, who has spent the past five years immersed in projects that exemplify her son's spirit, encouraging people to help others.
"It's how I spend my time with my son now. I spend time with Honor, we're with them and help with the babies [grandchildren], and I spend time with Paige ... but this is how I'm with Welles as a mother," she said.
Welles Remy Crowther's remains were found on March 19, 2002, among those of firefighters near the makeshift command center on the ground level of the South Tower. Through media reports and victims' stories, the Crowthers learned how their son made countless trips up and down burning staircases to help save people too injured, disoriented or frightened to save themselves.
To the world, he's known as 'the man in the red bandanna' — nicknamed for the scarf he carried in his pocket since boyhood, which he wrapped around his face that morning to shield himself from smoke as he carried out his rescue efforts.
To his family, though, he's known not only as a hero, but as the young man who set an example to the world in sacrificing his life for others.
"We're very proud of what he did ... because we understand that it was really the ultimate thing that a person can do — be that courageous and brave, and look death right in the face and not turn away," Alison said. "We're also very proud ... that his story is getting out there and changing so many hearts, that young people … it changes them when they hear it and it makes them more concerned for their fellow man and determined to do more good in the world.
"That is the real power that's going on here. That's really a beautiful thing for us," she said.
Welles' family channels its love for their lost son, brother and friend into projects that keep his spirit alive.
There's the Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust, a living memorial that funds scholarships for young people and projects that benefit them; a service award at Boston College — Welles' alma mater — and, the annual Red Bandanna 5K run in Boston started by two of Welles' college friends. Welles' college roommate, Tyler Jewell, wore a red bandanna around his neck while competing in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics' snowboarding events.
People even have asked the Crowthers if they can name their newborns "Welles."
On Sept. 17, the fifth annual Concert for Remembrance, 9/11, will be held at Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack, N.Y.
Alison, a violinist, will perform, as will many professional musicians representing groups such as the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Opera. Just before the concert, the Crowthers will dedicate a paschal candle sculpture, "Phoenix Rising" — made of a beam from the World Trade Center.
"I had this very strong feeling from the beginning it should be a phoenix rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center," Alison said of the sculpture, which is engraved with the words: 'As the Phoenix, so Good shall Rise from the Ashes to Triumph over Evil and Prevail on our Path toward the Pure Light of God.'
"The whole concept is that good will rise to triumph over evil … because we're all on this path in one form or one way or another. I think it's a struggle," Alison said.
Welles' story has brought the Crowthers closer to those lives he helped save.
They consider themselves part of Ling Young's family. Young was waiting for help in the South Tower after the second hijacked plane's wingtip sliced through the sky lobby. Welles came to the rescue, but Young suffered severe burns and remains badly scarred.
"We've gone to every single Chinese New Year's celebration, sons' weddings … it's like we're part of their family now," Alison said. "The fact that they are able to carry on their lives because our son was able to save them — it's a beautiful thing to us, that they are able to be there for their babies and their grandbabies. We will never be able to have that with Welles … but he was able to give that to others and that means the world to us."
There are other living reminders of Welles.
On July 24, 2004, his sister Honor gave birth to the Crowthers' first grandchild — a girl: Welles Remy Fagan.
"It wasn't a conscious choice. It was just something I, on 9/11, I knew I was going to do," Honor said. "One of my first thoughts was, 'now I know what my firstborn is going to be named' … It was just a feeling I had, and I'm glad I was able to do it and I do feel I've honored my brother by using his name."
"Honor," it turns out, was an appropriate name for Welles' kid sister. On March 27 of this year, she gave birth to Conlan Thomas Fagan. "Conlan" in Gaelic means "hero."
"It's almost ironic in that Conlan was named almost more for my brother than [her son] Welles was," said Honor, who is inspired to do what she's passionate about — raising her children.
"I actually picked [Conlan] out when we were pregnant with Welles," she said. "When I saw that name, I knew I was going to use it."
Although 2-year-old Welles doesn't know the story of her uncle, she recognizes his picture, saying, "Uncle Welles, Uncle Welles." When she is old enough, Honor said she's going to tell her daughter how Uncle Welles gave so much to help so many.
"I think it's all very important and I think 9/11 is important to everyone as a part of our history," Honor said. "We just have a little closer relationship to this part of history than a lot of people."
Since Welles' death, the Crowthers have shared weddings, births and other happy events with family and close friends whose lives were touched by their son. His absence is painfully felt.
"I'm sort of frozen in time with this. We're so happy for them but that's a real sadness for us, that Welles will never have that," Alison said.
Honor described her wedding — which included Welles' New York City roommate in the bridal party — as "very emotional."
"My dad and I danced, we both cried because we just both realized that as perfect as the day could have been, it wasn't because my brother was missing and he should've been there," she said.
Some things, however, haven't changed.
Welles' high-school ice hockey and college lacrosse jerseys are still in his room, as are his bookshelves and "little boy things" like an alligator head Alison bought for him when he was 8.
The Crowthers said they won't go to Ground Zero on Monday, the fifth anniversary of the attacks, but they will mark the day by spending time with him at the Grace Episcopal Church, where his ashes reside.
"We had this vision all along what our future was going to be — Welles' children, Honor's family and Paige's family ... we do have and will have that with Honor and Paige, but Welles was taken out of that scene," Alison said. "It was like cutting off an arm or leg — that was very hard to come to grips with, that he wouldn't have the opportunity to live his life.
"Our life is very full with our daughters now, but there's always going to be that sense of emptiness we didn't have before 9/11," she said. "Our lives were totally full. Now we walk around with that hole in our hearts."
For more information on the Concert for Remembrance, to be held Sunday, Sept. 17, please call (845) 358-2766.
Donations can be made to:
The Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust
P.O. Box 780
Nyack, N.Y. 10960-0780