‘The principal came over the loudspeaker. ‘What’s going on?’ I panicked as we left. ‘They can’t find your Grandma Myrna.’: Woman remembers grandma lost on 9/11, ‘I still miss her laugh’

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“While sitting in my 4th-grade classroom, the principal came over the loudspeaker asking the teachers to bring all students to the church. As we were walking, I was so confused as to why we were going there. We didn’t have plans to go to church that day. Everyone was trying to be as quiet as possible, but I did overhear two teachers talking about two planes hitting two buildings in NYC. Hearing this made my head spin. I couldn’t think of anything besides my mom at that point. I don’t know how I forgot about my Grandma Myrna since she worked only blocks away from my mom.

Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka

One by one, my classmates started leaving school. This made me not only more confused, but also I started to get really scared. Why was everyone leaving? Was I going to leave early? What does it mean if I leave or if I don’t leave? Is my mom hurt?

All these questions just kept playing over and over in my head as the day ticked by.

At the end of the day, my mom’s mother picked me up, and I really started to panic since she never got me from school. Class let out and I ran to her and asked what was going on. She told me mom was okay, but they couldn’t find my Grandma Myrna. As we walked home with my childhood friend, I could tell she was struggling to tell us what had happened. She finally came out and told us two planes had hit the World Trade Center. So, I said, ‘Grandma must be okay because she works in the Twin Towers.’ I had never heard it called the World Trade Center before. I only knew it as the Twin Towers.

At this point, my mind was racing. It was such a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand, the person I was worried about this whole time was okay. On the other hand, another loved one was missing. Little did I know how much my life was about to change.

My family always called my Grandma Myrna the bag lady. Every morning for the last 11 years she had been working at the World Trade Center, she would shop at Century 21. On her lunch break, she would go to Strawberry to shop some more. She ALWAYS had the most out-of-this-world clothing, including a FUBU pantsuit, a shiny metallic gold raincoat, and her head-to-toe leopard print outfits. She was constantly turning heads. My sister and I always wanted to dress like her, so when she would come to our house, she would play dress-up with us. We would laugh and have such a great time together! She always had a smile on her face and could light up every room she walked into. I try to live up to the legacy she left behind by having a smile on my face every day and doing my best to bring joy to the people around me.

Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka
Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka
Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka

A few days after the attack, my parents brought my sister and me to my aunt and uncle’s house in upstate New York, where we stayed for a week. I really wanted to get back to my mom and dad. I felt so out of control of my life and the situation. I NEEDED to know what was going on! The longer I was there, the more I questioned if my grandmother would ever come back.

In order to keep us distracted from everything that was going on, my aunt tried to keep us as busy as she could. We would play in the backyard, go shopping, and help with cooking meals. It helped a bit, but I still felt down.

When my mom came to get us, we had a long talk about everything that was happening. I asked her if she thought Grandma was gone.  All I remember is the way she looked at me. As if she knew the answer but couldn’t find the words to tell me. I broke down crying because I couldn’t understand how any human could do this to other human beings. That was the moment it all hit me. I hugged my mom and just cried harder.

Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka

After leaving upstate NY, we started going to meetings with NY politicians and other families who had lost or missing loved ones. Everyone was talking and crying about their family and friends who were still missing. The thing I noticed right away was there weren’t many children at all. I thought to myself, ‘How could this be?’ I couldn’t be the only child going through this.

This is when I started to feel the urge to get my story out there. I wanted to reach out and show other kids they weren’t alone. I expressed these feelings to my parents, and they supported me wholeheartedly. They started to reach out to different media and news outlets. Sometimes, I would be interviewed with my family, and sometimes, it was just me. Sometimes, it was for a newspaper or magazine article, and other times, it was televised. I was so happy to talk about my Grandma and reach out to other people, so I never felt scared.

In the summer of 2002, my parents got a letter in the mail about a week-long sleep-away camp for children who have been affected by the awful day the prior year. My mom asked me if I wanted to go and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I was a little scared because I had never been away from my family for that long, but I was SO excited to connect with other 9/11 kids.

The week was awesome! I got to make new friends who understood what I was feeling. At night, my cabinmates and I would hang out in our bunks talking about who we lost and showing the pictures of our loved ones we brought with us. I had such an awesome time that first year, I continued to go until its unfortunate end in 2018. I made life-long friends with kids.  I mean, after all, we have gone through the same life-changing, historical event.

For many years after 9/11, my family would celebrate my grandmother’s every birthday, November 11, by singing happy birthday, having cake, and sending balloons up to heaven. We would talk about the memories we had of her. We would also talk about what we missed about her. I still really miss her laugh. It was my idea to start going to ground zero every year. I felt I needed to see where my grandmother’s resting place was. It was what helped me grieve, and luckily, my family supported what I needed.

Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka
Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka
Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka

Every big moment in my life since that tragic day, I’ve always wished she was there with me. My sweet 16, when I started driving, when I graduated high school, when I moved to California. I know someday, I will get engaged, get married, and start my own family. I know I will be wanting her on those days too. I just have to remind myself, she’s always with me, even though I can’t see her. I just hope I’m making her proud in everything I do.”

Courtesy of Brianna Yaskulka

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brianna Yaskulka. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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