How Do You Explain a Tragedy Like 9/11 to Young Children?

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tragedyMy kids are curious. They have questions about everything. Often, I can answer their questions, rely on Google, or just fake it. But every now and then, they genuinely stump me.

We’ve talked about death, and they have even encountered the loss of pets and, recently, my husband’s 92-year-old grandmother. To them, death is confusing and spurs many questions. Mostly, however, they associate it with old age.

If they were to ask me about my family who died on 9/11, I would be at a tremendous loss (on many levels).

How do you possibly explain a tragedy like 9/11 to young children?

When it happened in 2001, I was 20 years old. For people around the world of all ages and backgrounds, it was truly inexplicable. It is simply impossible to imagine such evil and such hatred. Yet, we continue to see acts of terrorism all over the world.

The devastation hit even closer to home for my family. We lost my first cousin, Kenny, and my uncle (Kenny’s father), Arthur.

Kenny was 34 years old and had just become a father to a baby girl in May 2001. Arthur was 57 years old, a father to four children (including Kenny), and a grandfather to two baby girls. Arthur was preparing for a retirement he had been dreaming of for many years.

The events of 9/11 and the impact on my family (and so many others) are something I would want to shield my children from forever if I could. But I know that’s not realistic.

For my cousins who lost their father and brother; my aunt who lost her husband and son; my cousin who lost her husband and father-in-law; my father who lost his brother and nephew: there was and is no escaping the tragedy.

The anniversary brings up many painful memories. After two decades, my cousin, who was an infant at the time, is now the very same age I was when tragedy struck.

It will never get easier to comprehend what happened on 9/11. And it will never get easier to explain it to our children because it’s simply too horrific, too scary, too devastating.

Our family has grown, and the next generation will hear beautiful memories of two remarkable men.

I can’t give my kids an answer as to why 9/11 happened and if it could happen again. But I can tell them about my uncle Arthur and my dad playing the accordion at Thanksgiving dinners. I can reminisce about how they had the exact same boisterous laugh. I can share the story of my dad going to Atlantic City with Arthur and his other brother Philip just three weeks before 9/11 and staying in the honeymoon suite (thanks to an upgrade). During their trip, my dad woke up in the middle of the night in an empty room because Arthur was on a winning streak.

I can show them photos of my cousin Kenny, a clown school graduate who could juggle and ride a unicycle. I can tell them how his face lit up when I asked him about his career in finance and how he and I would dominate a game of Boggle with all the cousins over the holidays.

Some questions will never have answers. And while we hold on to the pain of these losses, we also hold on to the beautiful memories.

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