Mother's Day is time of reflection for Sept. 11 widows with new

Sunday, May 12, 2002

NEW YORK -- Katy Soulas' husband won't be around on Mother's Day to take his family to church, go to a barbecue and spend time with the kids. So she plans to take her six children to the shore to put messages in bottles for daddy, thanking him for "making mommy the mommy she is today."

Soulas is one of at least 124 women across the country who was widowed by the Sept. 11 attacks and who has since given birth to a child who will never meet his father.

For her, Mother's Day has become a time of reflection.

"The kids are thankful for me -- and I want to be thankful for Tim, for making me a mother," Soulas said. Tim Soulas, who worked for the bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald, was on the 105th floor of one of the World Trade Center's twin towers when two hijacked airliners were slammed into the buildings. More than 2,800 people died in the attack.

"This 9-11 stuff is almost like a scarlet letter. It marks kids for life and we all have to live with it," said Soulas, of Bernard Township, N.J., whose children range in age from several months to 12 years. "I somehow want my kids to come away from this with a new sense of compassion. I want to find good in evil."

Help for moms

She and most of the other new Sept. 11 mothers have been helped by the Arlington, Va.-based Infant Care Project, started by the nonprofit Independent Women's Forum. The program gives each mother $2,000 to pay for in-home care for the first month of the baby's life.

"Most people think about the loss of a husband in terms of loss of income," project director Judy Hill said. "It also means the loss of an essential pair of helping hands that a husband typically provides when a newborn comes home."

Hill said the program has enrolled 90 of the 124 mothers it has found, and she suspects there are more. She hopes to have a gathering of all the mothers -- and a few widower dads -- this fall.

In Brooklyn, Barbara Swat-Atwood cares for 2-month-old Robert while her daughter Margaret, 2, and son Gerald, 3, vie for attention.

"Mother's Day? These days every day is Mother's Day. I have these wonderful smiles from each of my children. They make each day worthwhile," said Atwood, whose firefighter husband, Gerald Atwood, died in the attacks.

There are difficult moments, though, such as when Gerald asks about his father. Atwood finally learned to tell her son: "Daddy is in the stars and the sky and the moon."

"Even in the dark?" he asks.

"Especially in the dark," she answers.

She says she looks at her children differently since her husband was killed.

"Obviously, loss can happen to anybody at any time, anywhere, and that's scary. You see how very, very fragile life is," she said.

Atwood lost her own father to a heart attack when she was 7 and knows how hard it is to grow up without a parent. She said she almost didn't marry her husband after he told her he wanted to be a firefighter.

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