Widow who first met her husband at World Trade Center still hurts 13 years after his death on 9/11

Nancy Dillon New York Daily News

As Denise Matuza planned her annual pilgrimage to Ground Zero to hear her husband’s name echo over the memorial pool, she felt the pressure building.

“Leading up, I just feel so much. The memories flood in. The last phone call, the sirens . . . and our lives before that day,” the 47-year-old widow of Carr Futures telecom analyst Walter Matuza said Wednesday.

For Matuza, the somber ceremony — which she’s attended each year without fail — is more than a visit to the sacred site where the father of her three sons perished at 39.

It also marks the exact spot where the Staten Island couple first met and fell in love as co-workers at Dean Witter in the late 1980s.

“It’s heavy and sad to be there. But it’s also oddly relaxing,” she told the Daily News. “I sit and remember eating lunch in the middle of the concourse with Walter. They used to have bands playing every Friday. We’d go outside, sit in the sun, enjoy the music. It would be a nice break. That was the beginning of our romance.”

She said her late husband first spotted her in a records room of their Trade Center offices in 1988 and knew right away they were destined to be together.

“He told my supervisor I was going to be his future wife,” she recalled with a laugh. “Then he asked me out to lunch and later took me out to dinner. From then on we were inseparable.”

When the planes slammed into the towers on 9/11, Walter called his wife, then a stay-at-home mom, from his cell phone to say he was trying to escape. He worked on the 92nd floor of the north tower.

Walter said during their final conversation that he was on the stairs and the floors were “exploding.” When the towers collapsed, Denise furiously called the cell phone and sent messages to his pager, clinging to the hope he got out alive. There was never an answer and he never returned home.

“I was in Manhattan the next day with family members, going out every day with pictures, visiting hospitals, morgues. It was a nightmare,” Matuza recalled.

She struggled to get back on her feet after losing her husband of 11 years and found herself tested again when their eldest son, also named Walter, started losing his eyesight months later in 2002.

“He has Leber’s optic neuropathy. They said it was brought on by the stress of losing his dad,” Matuza said.

Matuza forced herself to keep going. She made it to the first requiem of remembrance a year later and found solace in others who also lost loved ones.

Six years ago, she found love again with Anthony Meola, a Staten Island widower whose wife died in 2005 and who also was raising three sons.

The younger Walter Matuza, 22, now completely blind, is studying business management at Seton Hall University and living “pretty independently” in the dorms, said Matuza.

All three sons — including Jesse, 19, and Nico, 16, who attend Mount St. Mary College and Brooklyn’s Xaverian High School respectively — will join Matuza as she boards a bus to lower Manhattan Thursday with parishioners from St. Clare’s Catholic Church in Staten Island who also lost loved ones.

“The boys always ask to go. It’s very comforting for them,” she said of the memorial ceremony.

“It’s hard, because you always break down, you bring tissues, there’s lots of crying. But that’s only at certain points,” she said.

“You also get to be with other people who know your pain, and that’s comforting. And you remember to never take life for granted. You remember to live every day to the fullest,” she said.

Matuza said she’ll never forget the doting husband who took her to a Jets game the Sunday before he died. The Navy veteran cherished his family above all else.

Even though she’s now engaged to 52-year-old Meola, she spent Wednesday night with her late husband’s family on Long Island and said her fiancé understands the ache of the irreplaceable.

“We definitely figured it out,” she said of Meola and her annual tribute to her late husband. “We’re just there for each other and support each other.”

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