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TERRORIST ATTACKS REMIND MOTHER OF OWN LOSS

After all the tears Patricia Brunner shed last week, after all the painful reminders of her daughter Colleen's death at the hands of terrorists 13 years ago, the nonstop coverage of last week's attacks has left her with one overwhelming thought.

"Now America knows what we have been going through for 13 years," Brunner said Thursday in her Town of Boston home.

Like last week's victims, Colleen Brunner, 20, died in a terrorist attack on Americans. She, too, died on an airplane -- Pan Am Flight 103, blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. And her family waited for an agonizing 15 days until her body was positively identified.

For 13 years, Patricia Brunner has been where thousands of Americans soon will be traveling, in a never-ending longing for a loved one taken away too soon. A daughter who never got to say good-bye. A daughter she never got to hold again.

"I hope these people don't go through what we have gone through: the loss, the grieving, the mourning that will never go away," she said, staring at the television images.

Deep down, Brunner probably realizes that a new round of victims' families will go through those same emotions.

It didn't take long Tuesday morning for Brunner to travel back in her mind, to a scene she only can imagine, thousands of feet above the rolling Scottish hillside.

The instant she watched the second aircraft rip into the World Trade Center, she thought, "Oh, my God. These poor people. That's how Colleen died."

Her heart aches for every family that will go through what she has endured. It pains her to think of all the brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers -- and mothers -- wondering what happened to their loved ones in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.

Of all the images flickering in front of her on the TV screen, another grieving mother's story has lodged itself closest to her heart. It's the story of the mother whose son called on his cell phone from his doomed aircraft to say a final goodbye.

"I'm just so happy for that mom," Brunner said, in a losing battle with her tears. "Mothers love to hear their children say, 'I love you.' And she was able to respond, 'I love you, too.' That's what life is all about: love. Even though it's so sad, it's a beautiful thing that they were able to say, 'Goodbye, I love you.' "

Following the death of Colleen, a Hamburg High School graduate and a junior at Oswego State College who had been studying in London, Brunner never got to hold her daughter's body.

"It's just being human to hold and say goodbye to your loved ones," she said. "I held my mother and held my father and said goodbye to them, but because of terrorists, I could not hold my daughter and say goodbye."

Brunner knows that her daughter, whose aircraft exploded, was spared the agony that passengers on the hijacked planes must have felt, knowing -- for up to an hour -- that they might be doomed.

"I can't imagine what the terrorists put those poor people through," she said. "I am glad that Colleen didn't have to go through that. But they still all died at the hands of terrorists. Death is death."

Besides all the sadness, there's an added frustration for the families of the Flight 103 victims. Active politically, they've shouted warnings about future terrorist attacks, possibly on American soil. And now, sadly, their warnings have come true.

"For years, we have said, 'Wait, some day this is going to happen in the United States.' We went through living hell with our government for years. No matter how strongly you say there are terrorists in this country, I don't think they did enough about it, or this wouldn't have happened."

Brunner doesn't believe terrorism can be prevented totally. But she believes this nation can secure its airports and borders enough to make it a lot safer than it is now.

"God, I hope our government does something this time," she said. "If they don't listen now, they never will."

Brunner has her own formula for surviving such a loss: Pray a lot. Find out who you are. And find a way to be strong, for yourself, and as a mother, for loved ones who will lean on you.

She finds strength in fulfilling a pledge she made to her daughter during a memorial service in Lockerbie.

Each year, without fail, Brunner returns to Lockerbie, to walk through the gorgeous Scottish countryside, to walk up to the hill, Mount Hoolie, where her daughter died just two weeks before her 21st birthday. To visit the chestnut tree planted in her memory on the farm where one of her suitcases was found.

Once a war zone littered with 270 bodies, it has become her comfort zone, a serene countryside now dominated by rolling hills and grazing sheep.

"I walk Lockerbie," she said. "I see my friends, and I go to where Colleen's body was found. I can go to the top of that hill and see the beauty surrounding it.

"That's my peace."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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