Salisbury Family Copes With Loss A Decade After Sept. 11
The Sugra family talks about loss and healing after Bill Sugra died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Bill and El Sugra will not be attending any memorials on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Instead, the Salisbury Township couple will spend it together, quietly, at the shore where they can be alone in their grief, away from all sound and fury but their own.
In the 10 years since their 30-year-old son, Bill, died at the World Trade Center, they have shed many tears publicly and privately, grieved with friends and strangers alike, granted interviews to any media that asked. They wanted their son to be remembered, that he meant something.
But today, this grieving mother and father will retreat from the glare of the media and public memorials, to reserve this hallowed day for each other, for their son, private mourning in nurturing silence.
The days leading up to the anniversary were beginning to take their toll on the couple. Bill Sugra, a big bear of a man, and El, petite, sat wearily but willingly in their tidy living room speaking to members of the media one after the other. How are they feeling? What was Bill like? What would he be doing now if he had lived?
The couple sits close to each on the sofa and hold hands, surrounded by family photographs of their children, Bill and Tracy. A clock ticks in the background.
They have learned to live with the sadness, the ache of losing a child. After September 11, El says she stopped dreaming, or at least she no longer remembers her dreams. She sleeps with her son’s green pillow at night, the one they retrieved with his belongings from his South Street Seaport apartment.
“Any tragedy that anybody goes through, it’s either going to bring you closer together or…,” El’s voice trails off.
“Everyone does experience grief and grieves differently. Sometimes I couldn’t console Bill. Bill couldn’t console me. Tracy couldn’t console us. We were trying to console her. It’s awful what you go through and you don’t realize you’re going through it. You think you’re just muddling through it. You think, ‘Oh, I’m doing pretty darn good here.’ And when you look back it’s unbelievable how we ever got through and are still getting through it. It truly does affect you,” she says.
Having a family member die in the September 11 terrorist attacks put the Sugras in a unique club, one they didn’t want to be part of, but one where they share an unspoken connection.
In the first couple years after the tragedy, the Sugras would take the bus into New York for the memorials. “It’s amazing when you’d be in the hotel, maybe having a drink or something, and you would know that everybody there has lost somebody and all you would say was, “Who?” And then that would be it,” El says.
“What could I say to help them? What could they say to help me? We were all just lumped together and feeling this intense pain and tragedy. Like in shock probably, like how could something like this happen in the United States?
Tracy Sell says having a family member die on September 11 presents unique challenges. “It’s a very public thing. I guess it’s a good thing. People will never forget, Sometimes you want to move on, but you never really move on. If it’s a car accident it’s over and done,” she says.
Because September 11 is a national event, she has to relive it every year. “You see the images, you’re watching them die over and over again. It’s like that day again and that makes it painful,” Sell says.
Conversely, she says, “I think the link with the event makes people more supportive because they feel the sadness, too, even though they didn’t lose someone directly. Maybe sharing that sadness makes it a little bit easier that there are other people feeling the same thing.”
In the decade since Bill Sugra’s death, his family has managed to find joy, happiness and purpose. Tracy is married now and Bill and El dote on their two grandchildren, Reagan, 2, and Tripp, 6 months. “How can you be sad when you’re around them,” Bill Sugra says.
And because of the grandchildren, they now celebrate holidays on the proper date instead of Thanksgiving weeks later because it didn’t feel right without Bill.
Their friends and the community at St. Thomas More Church helped get them through tough times. They’ve established the Bill Sugra Memorial Fund, which has given more than $250,000 to nonprofit organizations that help the needy over the last decade
“Billy wouldn’t want us to be sad,” El says. “He’d want us to move on and do what we need to do.”
They say there will be plenty of time in the weeks ahead when the spotlight fades off the anniversary date, when Bill and El, their daughter and her family, will make the trip into New York to visit the memorial at Ground Zero to pay tribute to Bill Sugra.