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9/11 Stories: Loving A Grieving Husband

This article is more than 11 years old.

WBUR is remembering Sept. 11 through the stories of men and women from around Massachusetts whose lives were touched that day — those who lost loved ones, those who responded and those whose lives were affected in more unexpected ways.

In 2002, Stephanie Galvani met Jeff Gonski, the man she wanted to marry. But only several months earlier, he had lost his fiancee in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Galvani shares her story of her relationship with Jeff - and learning to live alongside the memory of another woman.

Click to hear Stephanie tell her story, or read it below.

Stephanie Galvani, with husband Jeff Gonksi and son Tom (Courtesy)
Stephanie Galvani, with husband Jeff Gonksi and their son Tom (Courtesy)

When I met Jeff, I think he was in a place where he was beginning to move forward, beginning to come to terms with this absence in his life — that Amy was gone.

From all the pictures I’ve ever seen with Amy, she’s always got a huge smile on her face. The stories that Jeff tells of Amy were just that she was just a really wonderful and kind person.

The story of how he proposed to her is a really sweet story. He told her that they were going to go to Montreal for a weekend and so she needed to have her passport. And I guess they got to Logan Airport and he said, "Surprise, we’re flying to Ireland!"

They had been to Ireland a few years before together and he knew that there was this one spot that she really liked and he had a bottle of champagne ready to go and they pulled over on the side of the road and he, you know, pulled out the ring and the bottle of champagne and said, "Will you marry me?" in this, you know, beautiful green setting.

So Jeff proposed to me entirely differently from the way he proposed to Amy. It was a windy day, it was very windy, and it was cloudy and kind of drab and we went for a walk over at Millennium Park in West Roxbury. And if you’ve ever been there, it’s a former trash site, trash dump. And they’ve turned it into this beautiful field. So we’re going for a walk on top of the trash dump and Jeff proposes to me.

"For me, maybe the most difficult part of having lost Amy is I don’t know what he suffers. ... it makes it harder for me to respond or for me to be open."

Stephanie Galvani

And I was very happy with that. He suited his proposals to the personality of the girl, quite well.

This is what’s so funny, it’s like, she’s not the ex-girlfriend, she’s not a former girlfriend, she’s not a former fiancee, she’s other. She was an important part of his life that ended suddenly. And I’m not ever going to be Amy nor would she have ever become me. So it’s like she’s in a completely different category. Yeah, and I’m not going to try to measure up.

When someone passes away and you never knew them but you know that you live next to them or in their shadow or however you want to say that, that is tough. I think what has kind of helped me — this sounds awful — but that they had dated for a while and then they broke up and then they came back together. She was Jewish and he’s Catholic, they just could not resolve that aspect of their relationship. And so I know that there were fights. And that helps me sometimes to know that they must have disagreed. That she was human, and I’m human too.

My husband has seen me give birth. He never saw that with Amy, right? He held my leg while I pushed our son into the world, right? That's that’s the kind of yucky, ugly stuff you have with your spouse that he never had to put up with with Amy, so there’s that — you didn’t have to argue about the mortgage or, you know, "Why didn’t you take the trash out?" and that kind of thing.

For me, maybe the most difficult part of having lost Amy is I don’t know what he suffers. I have no sense of the depth, I have no sense of the triggers — you know, if he hears a song on the radio and that was a song that he enjoyed listening to with Amy. What makes that really hard, I think, is that it makes it harder for me to respond or for me to be open.

I always thought grieving was maybe a forward motion, or not a forward motion but a straight line. And that’s been so not true with Jeff. Every anniversary of 9/11 I see him withdraw, I see him pull in, I see him struggle. He doesn’t sleep well at night.

I think you can probably sense, it’s not settled, it’s not set, it’s a constant — particularly around this time of year — it’s a constant reconfiguring of, well what’s our relationship like, and what’s your relationship with Amy, even though it’s been 10 years since you lost her, and where are we together as a couple, and where are we as individuals?

I wonder if there ever will be a day where it doesn’t feel like you have to think about it, that you have to work on it. I wonder if there will come a day when it’s settled.

This program aired on September 8, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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