David Bernard of Boston was on his way to a 9 a.m. business meeting at 7 World Trade Center when the first plane hit the north tower. He was severely injured by the falling debris. He survived in intensive care for exactly three months, but on Dec. 11, 2001, died from the trauma he sustained to his head. He is likely the "last" victim to die in the Sept. 11 attacks.
David's wife Nancy meticulously kept an email journal of the 100 days she spent staying in a New York City hotel and keeping vigil at David's bedside. On day 100, after David had passed away, the Bernards' family and friends received this final email from Nancy:
When I got up this morning it was hard to believe my life had changed so much in the last 100 days. I had been getting up without Dave but I had a destination, I had someplace I had to be and something I had to do. The difference this morning was, I had no place to go and I was unable to see Dave.
My life has been in a strange place for so many months. I have lived in a place with little outside world and one focus only. Now I will have to get back to reality, and then onto acceptance. I still do not think I believe what has happened.
Dave and I had an on-going joke between us. When Dave would travel, as he quite frequently did, he would always call each night. Often after leaving mid-day he would still call and say "so, do you miss me?" My reply would always be "do you want me to lie or do you want the truth?" He would always chuckle and say "Oh, lie to me" and I would tell him how much I missed him.
You see, I kept myself busy and a couple of days without him was always fine, but then he would come home and he knew I really did miss him. We had our routine when he got home, and that was to sit at the kitchen table and talk. I would tell him about the kids, he would tell me the "reg's" were still not out. I would talk about my business, then any other news of family or friends, and probably social plans for the next few weeks or the trip we might plan. We did a lot of sitting at the kitchen table.
I have been taking so many notes in my mind, to remind myself to tell him this or that. It is going to take a long time before I realize he is not coming home. I have lost my best friend and my soul mate.
I never would have thought this would be how our story would end. I always went over in my mind how great it was going to be to tell everyone Dave was out of ICU and then onto rehabilitation. I was already planning what kind of party and fan fare we would have for the day he came home. Dave loved a good party and he loved a great time. Then I would daydream about that final chapter when I would tell everyone how we were back to our normal life, whatever that might be, and off to some wonderful travel adventure.
We had so many plans.
In all honesty, it was not a matter of whether Dave would even be walking. I knew eventually we would be okay even though I knew it would be a long road. We had always managed before and would do so again. I just kept dreaming and hoping. I was waiting to take a picture of our whole family, all together around Dave, so that those who did not know him or his family could put a face on the story. It is nice to put a face to people you have read about for three months.
I just never thought the final chapter of my story would be leaving such an enormous void in so many lifes.
My first reaction when Dave became so critical and eventually died was, "he had made it this far, how come, after remaining with us for three months, could he have died?" I felt it was just so unfair, but then what was fair about Sept. 11? Now I realize I am one of the lucky ones from that day. All those people who lost loved ones in a blink of an eye were not able to say goodbye. So many said good bye that morning never knowing they would never see their loved ones again. How many of those people might have had angry words or not stopped to say how much they loved the person they were leaving?
You see, the reason I was lucky was, I was able for 93 days to tell Dave how much I loved him and how importannt he was to all of us, and I was able to hear him or watch him mouth the same words. Often at night when I was leaving the hospital he would pucker up his lips for his kiss good night. The nurses used to always laugh. My children were able to spend 12 full weekends with their dad.
Think about that, how hard it is sometimes to find the time to get together for just one day because of everyone's busy schedules. And yet my children never missed a weekend. They changed their priorites and changed their lives.
Under ordinary circumstances those weekends would have been busy for all of us, and Dave and I would have been the worst. But when you have to, you can change your plans for what is really important. I guess what I am trying to say is, three months allowed each of us the opportunity to all be together and grow stronger as a family unit and be there for each other.
I know it was more than we ever would have had. It is a wonderful thing to be able to say that there are absolutly no regrets. Also, through email and cards, all of Dave's friends had the opportunity to tell him how they cared and let him know what a great guy and friend he was. One more thing we might want to remember to do more often.
So you see, I am one of the lucky ones, I had 33 wonderful, filled years, we had three loving children and became very proud in-laws -- memories to fill a book, adventures and laughter, great family. When it comes to friends, we had more and the best than anyone could ask for...
I am already finding myself looking for him to tell him some funny story or share a thought. Oh, how I will miss him. Have I said that lately?
I hope everyone who knows of Dave's story realizes life is filled with many surprises. No matter how we plan, what we hope for or dream about, you just never know. Remember to say "I love you." Make sure you take the time to be with those you love and care for. Set your priorities and if I might add an old cliche, "don't sweat the small stuff," for what I once thought was important is not today.
It will be a very long and difficult journey for the Bernard family, but there is comfort in knowing Dave's spirit will always be with us. The pain of our sorrow today is itself a measure of the blessed gift that Dave's life was to us and to the world. Our grief at his death is in proportion to our joy at his life.