Author Bonnie McEneaney shares hope from beyond, as well as love lessons for all women and couples.
On September 11, 2001, Bonnie McEneaney was away from her desk when her husband, Eamon McEneaney, tried calling from his office in the World Trade Center. "I missed Eamon's call," she says. "He spoke to my assistant just basically to tell me and the kids that he loved us and he was trying to get out."
On September 2, 2001, Eamon revealed to Bonnie that he'd experienced a premonition suggesting New York City would be attacked by terrorists, and that it would happen soon. Bonnie wondered why such a dark thought would surface at a family Labor Day picnic, and she began to worry that her husband was suffering depression. Then, the night of September 9, 2001, Eamon turned to Bonnie while they were watching a TV program about D-Day, and told her, "I want you to know that I can handle my death now." Bonnie calls that "the last real exchange we had" before the morning of September 11, when Eamon experienced a vertigo attack in the shower. He somehow composed himself enough to get dressed and make his daily commute to New York City's Financial District.
But it wasn't until Sept. 12 that Bonnie realized her husband had possessed a special connection with the supernatural. She and her four children, along with Eamon's family, spent all of Sept. 11 calling hospitals and emergency centers to see whether there was any chance Eamon had checked in there. "I was very frustrated, we'd been looking all day trying to [find him], and I went out my front door. I live in a very country-like setting and I just yelled out, 'Please tell us where you are!' It was a still, still day—the type of day when there's no air moving." Just then a wind came from nowhere to rustle through the trees and past her skirt. Bonnie took a minute to observe it sweep across her yard and cease before she re-entered her home to make an announcement to her family: that breeze somehow confirmed that Eamon was gone.
This was the first of a series of signs that propelled Bonnie to begin writing her book, Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11. As part of her research, Bonnie started to investigate whether other women who'd lost their husbands in 9/11 were receiving symbols like she was. "I was raised Christian and I believe in God, of course, but I had never experienced anything like that," Bonnie says. "When I started asking other wives, 'Did you have something happen?' it was unbelievable how many said yes." Mothers, siblings and children also reported that they'd had a visitation in which they experienced their deceased loved one's presence through a voice, for example, or the smell of their pipe smoke. Each witness felt for sure that the signs that came to them were indications that their loved one was still alive, but that their physical being had been transformed into a spiritual existence.
While at first she'd tried to analyze the occurrences skeptically, Bonnie now fully believes that her husband had found ways to stay in touch with her. "Isn't it better to feel that there is more?" Bonnie says. "Everybody was comforted by these experiences. You gain nothing by ignoring them and trying to deal with such horrific circumstances without anything else to lean on. To believe in something gives you a significant sense of support when you meet your darkest corner."
In 2006, just when Bonnie believed her husband's soul was resting for good and that it was time to work full-time on her book, he appeared again. "I was out to dinner with a lot of friends," she recounts. "That day I had really starting to second-guess my decision to quit my job and work on this book—I didn't even have a publisher; I didn't have anything except a series of stories [from families of 9/11] and I was getting more stories every day. We had just been talking about signs from September 11 and we started to share coin stories too. Coins are huge [when someone dies]. They were turning up under refrigerators, under people's telephones and behind picture frames. So we were sitting at a round table with candles and finally the waiter brings the menus. I open my menu, and I see the person on the left of me, then the person on my right, look down. There was a penny in the middle of my menu, and the gentleman on the right said, 'What does it say?' It was a 1944 penny, and we'd just been talking about my last conversation with my husband: D-Day. It happened on June 6, 1944. You don't find a 1944 penny just opening your drawer, you know?"
Indeed Eamon was still finding ways to stay in touch with his wife, and her awareness of his pure, kind nature grew more evident than ever before. Like most married couples, Bonnie says that after 19 years and four kids together, she and Eamon had reached a point in their marriage where they'd grown so comfortable that it was easy to forget how valuable the other's presence was. But a decade after her husband's passing, Bonnie says she feels more connected to him than ever. "After a person is gone, you suddenly start to realize things about them that you never realized before." Bonnie learned from Eamon's friends and colleagues that he'd ushered people in his office out of the World Trade Center in the 1993 bombing and that he'd regularly taken a homeless man to lunch. She also feels that the very trial of losing Eamon in the physical sense brought their spirits closer together, and she says she's learned that a successful love is very much like living as an individual: it's facing what seems impossible that makes you stronger together.
Meanwhile, there's a lot we can all learn from a woman whose bond with her husband actually grew after he passed during the most tragic event most Americans have ever lived through. For women in long-term relationships, Bonnie McEneaney's advice is to appreciate their partners every day. "Make sure you don't take your situation for granted," she says. For marriages that have hit something more serious than a temporary rut, she urges couples to consider every possible alternative to splitting. "Identify why and work hard to resolve that issue. Only if you can't resolve it should you identify what steps you have to take. I think we quit too quickly."
Bonnie knew Eamon in college as a friend before they began dating in 1982 (they married four years later), and she has a lesson about love for single women too. "Have confidence in yourself, and be patient," she says. "When you meet someone new, don't be overly critical right off the bat because it takes a little bit of time for that person to let their guard down enough for you to get to know them. You may or may not really know what you want in a person. Patience is important."
Today, McEneaney says her children—now ages 16 to 22—have served as her greatest source of strength over the last 10 years. How did she mother her children through their dad's death? "No matter how bad you feel, you've got to be strong for them," she says. "It's certainly okay to show emotion because you want your children to know how much you loved the person you lost, but remember: your kids are depending on you now. You're it."
In moments when Bonnie needed a little extra support in parenting, extended family came through. "My kids are very fortunate because my husband comes from a big Irish family. When my husband couldn't be at their soccer games or to see them in their first play because he was no longer with us, his brothers and sisters were always there. That's love and the bond of family."
How does the attention on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 affect a woman who lost her husband on that day? Bonnie reveals she's already had the privilege to visit the 9/11 Memorial twice (it opens on September 11). "People should always remember what happened and these innocent lives that were taken so needlessly," Bonnie says. "The 9/11 Memorial will be the perfect setting for people to reflect for generations to come."
And while she prefers not to comment on her current romantic status, Bonnie McEneaney says the whole point of her story is this: "Love is the strongest force in the universe, and just because a person dies doesn't mean they're gone forever. They may be gone in the physical sense, but love keeps you connected. Love is strong enough to transcend any divide—even the boundary between love and death."