A 200-foot-long plywood wall at Pier 94 stands as an impromptu symbol ofgrief. It is covered with photocopied sheets, each one displaying a photograph depicting a highlight of a person's life: a graduation portrait or a wedding picture or a vacation snapshot. Thousands of pictures, every one of them portraying a person who died in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
"Something this huge is incredibly difficult to process," says Margaret Pepe, an officer of disaster mental health at the Red Cross. The psychological toll is enormous: 1,600 mental-health workers contacted more than 57,000 people in the first three weeks after the attack. And the magnitude of the disaster challenges our understanding of grief. "Grief moves through shock and denial and anger," says Pepe. "But here in New York, the sheer scope of it is slowing the process down. It is taking a lot longer to go through shock and denial than we see in other types of disasters." In fact, reports showed a dramatic rise in drug and alcohol abuse in the months following the attack.
Although the victims' families can't shake off shock and numbness, the rescue workers--firemen, National Guardsmen and volunteers from across the country--have quickly moved on to anger. For them every day at work is like a funeral, having to return to the horrific scene and see comrade after comrade pulled from the rubble. "Here, the rescue workers have been working nonstop every day at the site with constant exposure to the trauma of finding body parts. What we have known about acute stress--studies about functioning under stress--we have to put that knowledge aside. It just doesn't apply here."