Friday, September 14, 2012

Jill Bellinson, Red Cross Mental Health Volunteer, Reflects on 9/11


September 11, 2012

Red Cross (RC): How many 9/11 memorial ceremonies have you attended as a mental-health volunteer?

Jill: I joined the Red Cross on 9/11 as a mental health volunteer, so today is my anniversary, too. In 2001, we got a short briefing and I started my shift with an experienced, long-time mental-health leader from the National Red Cross. I worked at Ground Zero for the first month and at the Family Assistance Center at the Piers after that.

RC: What does 9/11 mean to you?

Jill: It’s a marker of my work with Red Cross. That day the world changed, including mine, in so many ways. I’ve worked with so many hundreds of people affected by 9/11 over the years. I worked for Project Liberty, New York's crisis counseling program created in the aftermath of 9/11, for a year or two afterward.

RC: What was today like?

Jill: This year, there was a smaller Red Cross presence—just four of us in the reader’s tent, which is a large tent where those who read the names of those lost wait their turns. There are about 200 readers. Some have guests, chaperones, and aides with them. We are there to lend emotional support.

Many readers are all nervous about speaking. Sometimes that overwhelms what they feel about the rest of the day. They read the names of about 16 people whom they don’t know. The last name they read is their person, and they’re told they may say something about them—what they were like or how they always had dinner together or some phrase their loved one always said.

Some are members of a large extended family, and other family members have read in past years; this time was their time. They want to do this right. After they read the names, they’re often drained. They meet their other family members at that point.

Another touching thing someone told me: One woman who lost two family members, and is still very teary and grieving quite a bit, said she has a little package of Red Cross tissues that we gave her at the first commemoration that she keeps with the mementos of the family members she lost. That was important to her.

A lot of people said they were grateful for us being there. That always makes me feel good—I appreciate that Red Cross allows me to make some small difference in someone’s life.

Jill Bellinson, Manhattan, N.Y.

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