By Ken Abramczyk Observer
At 8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, Bev Titus was jolted up out of bed with what her husband John described as “a burst of energy” that would soon transform to the worst nightmare a father or mother could experience.
Bev Titus got out of bed, made coffee and turned on the television to see a plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center, then drove to her husband John’s office at Schoolcraft College. “She felt like she was being called as a witness to history,” John said of her sudden jolt that morning.
Both watched the horrific events unfold on television. That morning, 19 terrorists from the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets. Two planes were intentionally flown into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. The towers collapsed within two hours. A third plane was flown intentionally into the Pentagon, while a fourth crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to take control of the jet.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day, victims of the worst terrorist attack in American history.
John and Bev Titus learned later that their daughter Alicia, 27, a flight attendant, was on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the south tower.
John Titus returned Monday to Schoolcraft to discuss with students his profound loss and overwhelming grief. Titus, who retired in 2009 as a mental health counselor and faculty member at Schoolcraft, wrote a book about his loss and journey of grief titled Losing Alicia: A Father’s Journey after 9/11, published last year. Titus wrote about his struggle over the murder of his daughter, and his agonizing grief after one of the most horrific tragedies in American history.
Titus described his emotions and the withdrawal he felt the day before the appearance and the tears he shed that morning, remembering he was returning to the origin and beginning of his journey of grief.
“It’s great to be back here, but it’s hard,” Titus said.
A wave of panic, sadness
On September 11, 2001, denial “protected” the couple at first, Titus said, but the phone kept ringing that day at their home. When United Airlines called to inform them that Alicia was on the plane, “we felt a wave of panic and sadness. When the panic hit, it was like a tsunami. Our cries of anguish threatened to take our breaths away.
“Life, as we knew it, would never be the same.”
Phone calls came from family and friends offering support and from the media asking for interviews. The rest of the day was a blur. “We were in the midst of chaos,” Titus said.
He prayed for strength; he received understanding and love from family and friends.
The following days were struggles for the Titus family. “It was difficult to go to the stores, to hear the conversations of trivial things, conversations about 9/11, and people who would argue about it, or even watching people laughing and enjoying life,” he said.
“We wanted to run away from it all, but we had to learn to cope, for our family, our children and our grandchildren.”
The couple has another daughter and two sons.
Eleven years have passed, but it seems like a “lifetime ago,” Titus said. He remembers Alicia and her beautiful face, and he lifts a photo to show the audience a smiling young beautiful woman. “I reminisce of the wonderful memories we shared, the warmth of her hugs; it only seems like yesterday,” he said.
The Titus family now lives in Ohio. Urbana University has dedicated a park to Alicia’s memory using steel from the World Trade Center for a memorial for her and the 3,000 others who died that day.
Someone asked him at the park dedication about when he got over the loss of his daughter.
“You don’t get over the loss of a child; you just learn to live with it,” Titus said, remembering his response.
Realization of blessings
Titus told the audience that “grief is a journey that has no endpoint.” He often wondered whether he would experience joy again, as depression haunted him and Bev. “Grief strips you down to your very soul. Your ego is shattered.” Stress and strain were constant.
“Grief requires an unwavering courage to face each day,” he said.
Then Titus spoke of his blessings, his supporters. “I feel very blessed to have so many loving people in my life. I thank God for all the love and understanding, and much of it came from here,” Titus said of Schoolcraft’s faculty and staff.
Titus slowly began to realize that he could use that same love and compassion to help others and he began to feel a greater compassion for people suffering throughout the world. Since Alicia’s death, Titus has become a strong advocate for peace and social justice, writing articles, doing documentaries and giving talks all over the United States, Canada and Italy on these and related issues.
Titus said true peace is found in peace with God and not in a cease-fire in a war or a strong defense in preparation of war. “Waging war seems so outdated, so primitive, so desperate,” Titus said.
He also quoted Martin Luther King Jr. War doesn’t diminish violence, it creates it, King once said. “Darkness cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” Titus said, quoting King.
Shortly after 9/11, Titus said he was asked by a local television reporter about what he thought of the war in Iraq. “If it means more innocent people like Alicia will die, then I am opposed,” he said. That comment was edited out of the broadcasted story, Titus said.
Titus said Bush’s invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein only added to the grief and complicated it for the 9/11 families. Titus said there were “blatant failings by the government and by intelligence agencies,” which he said occurred during and prior to the Bush administration. There were also “hidden agendas” to fight a war in the Middle East, Titus said.
Titus believes that the 9/11 Commission was stacked with members who would stop short of criticizing the Bush administration.
While Titus questions the U.S. government, he adds that he is able to enjoy life.
He said he likes to think that he is wiser, and that he is listening to a different rhythm of life. “I am deeply grateful for each day,” he said. “I can feel goodness in my heart and in my soul.”
Titus said that God has helped him deal with the pain and loss through seeds of hope: “God is within each of us. God is there within.”
He read from Alicia and what she had written about happiness, and how a young girl’s hope for a knight in shining armor evolved to a king and his kingdom, to a kingdom only, with a realization that she only needed “an infinite amount of love to give and receive freely” and a purpose, goal or a destination.
She also wrote about sorrow and happiness. “Those who have known the greatest happiness have opened themselves to the most gut-wrenching sorrow. It’s a gamble, you have to play to win. Or maybe those who have endured suffering have a greater respect for joy, can appreciate it wherever they find it, the smell of a rose, the sight of a baby, an old couple holding hands.
“And those who’ve lived their lives in a heart-numbing cocoon of sanity, safety and contentment don’t have the capacity for pure joy. Or, maybe this is what I tell myself in order to pick myself up, dust off, and hop on again.”
Titus concluded with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which he and his wife found on Alicia’s bedstand when they went to her apartment in San Francisco after her death.
Part of the prayer reads: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”