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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

9/11 widow shares story

Published: September 22, 2006
Section: News

Susan Retik, who lost her husband on Sept. 11th 2001, spoke Wednesday night at the Womens Studies Research Center in an event entitled Cycling Forward to Afghanistan, A Sept 11 Widow Speaks.

Retik began by telling the audience that she and her husband David had been together for twelve years, married for six, with two small children and another on the way, when he was killed on Sept. 11th. He was a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 11. She spoke briefly about the pain she felt, saying my life changed that day, as did the world. However, the outpouring of support from her community made her realize that despite being scared and overwhelmed she was never alone.

This feeling, in addition to watching a special on the Oprah Winfrey show about Afghani women, inspired her to turn her pain and suffering into hope for others. She and friend Patti Quigley, also pregnant while widowed on 9/11, founded an organization called Beyond the 11th in order to help widowed women in Afghanistan.

There are between 30,000 and 50,000 widows in Afghanistan, and the consequences of being widowed are much greater there than in the United States. When a man dies, his property goes not to his wife, but to his closest male relative, often leaving their widows homeless. Also, they are not allowed to be seen in public without a male companion, so those who have homes are confined to them.

The first fundraising event for Beyond the 11th was a bike ride which spanned the 275 mile distance between Ground Zero and Boston. Retik and Quigley biked the whole way, beginning on Sept. 9, 2004, and were joined for the last leg by 200 other cyclists, representing the 202 New England area victims of 9/11. They were able to raise $150,000 that year, and have now completed the bike ride three times. They chose three organizations, the largest of which is Care International, to donate the money to.

Retik and Quigley recently traveled to Afghanistan for five days to meet the women their aid directly affects. Retik reports that it was a truly amazing experience and that she was especially struck by the young girls. While the aim of Beyond the 11th is to help widows, Retik acknowledges that its really the next generation in Afghanistan thats going to change things. Theres still hope for them.

Film maker Beth Murphy made documentary of their saga, including their fundraising efforts.

The trip to Afghanistan, made the situation that much more real for Retik. She says, now that I have met these women, I cant just turn my back on them. [My trip to Afghanistan] made me that much more committedthese women are not just names on a piece of paper, theyre real people.
Retik and Quigley are often asked why they are helping people over there, to which they respond, we feel we are connected with [these women].Terrorists also killed their husbands. She stresses a woman is a woman is a woman and a mother is a mother is a mother.

In addition to helping the Afghani women, Retik believes this program has helped her to move beyond the events of Sept. 11. She says that people feel better when they feel they have power and are doing things for others. No one wants to be a victim.

This event was part of a larger series called 9/11: Brandeis Reflections Five Years Later.