7: Paula — “The center of our universe is gone.”
Paula Edgar has spent the past 20 years conflicted about her grief — does she take part in our country’s collective grieving on September 11th? Or does she simply mourn her beloved mother Joan in private, who she thinks of fondly whenever she hears a Broadway tune?
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Paula Edgar 00:12
My mother was a phenomenon, someone who was really passionate about how she showed up in the world. It’s something that I’ve very much internalized. Literally, her wardrobe was one to be desired. And she looked kind and was kind always had a big smile on her face. She was everybody’s go to person in terms of advice, and support. And she was everything. One of my first memories of my mother, like, literally, like I can remember is my mother, like lotioning my legs, like I can remember how soft her hands were. And being comforted by her touch. I spoke to my mother every single day. And I would just check in, you should tell me family gossip, and things that were going on. And you know, I really love our connection. She commuted an hour and a half each day from South Jersey, to New York City, to work. And during that time, she would read romance novels, she was a frequent person who went to the library and would come back with stacks of books, and read them all during the week.
And it was not one of the things that I love about her too. She was definitely somebody like the who was a voracious reader, like you couldn’t put a book down without her wanting to pick it up. I actually saw my parents in August of 2001. And one of the things that I cherish so much about that trip was last time I saw my mother is that she said, don’t pack anything, just come with an empty suitcase. And I was like, okay. We went to Lord and Taylor that she opened up the Lord and Taylor’s parents, she was like, oh, we’re about to, like, take this place over. And she’s like, don’t tell your father. But she said, I just want to do something for just us. Again, we didn’t know that we weren’t going to have an opportunity like that again. But the whole time, I remember that we just like giggled and laughed and cut up and we had the opportunity to I felt like it was to say goodbye, even though we didn’t know it was goodbye.
Paula Edgar 02:48
So on September 11 2001, I was living in California. And it was, I guess, six o’clock in the morning on the west coast. Maybe a little earlier than that, and my boyfriend at the time he was awake. And he shook me awake and said, the World Trade Center just go hit by a plane. And I was like what like, like, very groggy. And I did not know what to do other than to call my mother. And so I frantically kept calling her number as if she was gonna pick up the phone. I mean, literally, over and over again. And, you know, the lines were not connecting. So it couldn’t even get to any number I was trying to call lots of numbers, and it couldn’t get through to anybody. I was just like, I can’t believe this is happening because I’m a New Yorker and looking at this icon that had been hit, and just being in shock, and then being like, okay, my mother’s there. And then I finally got through to my father. And my father was crying. I said, I talked to her. She’s fine. She’s upset. She saw the other building get hit. They were told to stay where they were. And so as a leader, she was trying to help keep people calm and to rally folks to stay where they were, but she’s too scared. And sort of knowing that she saw what happened to the other building like I did, like what, like we all did.
Paula Edgar 04:29
It’s sort of a blurb from me about when the second tower was hit. And when they fell, other than I was like, no, I kept calling my mother’s number. I have been like, I’m sure someone’s gonna answer. And then I stopped. And I sort of went into, I guess what you would call shock, just numbness. All that that I saw was the repeated footage. So what I did, you might be very shocked by this. As I got in the shower, I put on my clothes and I went to work. And I get four. And I’m like, well, the world trade center and I said my mother was in it. I’m here because I need to do something. I can’t, I can’t sit at home. It’s probably mid-day. And I remember just sitting at my desk, everybody will come in off and be like, have you heard from your mom is that you know, do you know anything yet people were very much in a space of caring for me, which is really what I needed. And I did that for two weeks.
The hard part was me being not home, was you know, me being away from my family. My father was obviously distraught. My little sister was 16. My aunts, they were in Florida, they went, they drove to New York, New Jersey, to look for my mother. You know, we had friends and family, going to hospitals, making fliers, just with the hope and anticipation that my mother was okay. Just didn’t know who she was or couldn’t, you know, there was so much chaos during that time. That I would say the hardest part for me was the not being able to do anything. I didn’t tell my father I was flying home because I didn’t want him to worry, because I was flying. I remember specifically the pilot, when we were flying into the city, he said, for those of you who are from New York, welcome home. And I burst into tears. I was like, done from that in that situation. And then I went home, my father was actually in the hospital, which I didn’t know when I got home, he’d been having anxiety attacks. So I went to the hospital and I should have been, and, you know, you think about like the hugs that you’ve gotten from people that hug of like, mommy’s gone. I’m like, that. I remember how we held on to each other. I’m just really like; our world is totally changed.
Paula Edgar 07:23
Like, this person who is the center of our universe is gone. One of the ways that I navigated this was to go into action mode. But I didn’t. I didn’t like free like I didn’t, I wasn’t like, like, I didn’t cry. But there were times that the middle of the night, I would scream out for my mother. Right? I gotta be like my like, my like, literally mommy, like I need you. There’s still times when I’m like, I need you mommy. Like when I’m hurt. Or having a bad day. I say it out loud. Like, we’re like, I need you. I think I felt sort of like I was in another world. If that makes sense, where, you know, I have to make sure my sister’s okay, check all the paperwork, talk to the people call the credit card companies. And, you know, check on my father’s see how he’s doing and you know, those things. And then it was okay, I’m leaving. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m drinking everything. And then I’m sleeping, and I’m coming back and I’m gonna focus again. But I’ll just be frank, I drank way too much.
Paula Edgar 08:46
I did like I tried to numb the feeling I crave is probably the word that best describes it, to just want to sleep, to just want to not have to deal with all of the noise. You know, there’s some 911 I’m like, just leave me alone. Blanket over my head and asleep. And then it’s September 12th, and we’re good, right? I still I’m still giving my mother like I’m still, I grieve along with everybody else. But there’s a challenge in the fact that it’s not just my grief or our family’s grief. So my father and I were talking about this the other day. He was saying it’s been 20 years, but it feels like yesterday. The anniversaries for me are challenging because of my anticipation of what other people are going to do as opposed to what I’m so I know there are people who I don’t hear from all year long, or hear from on September 11. And I try not to be resentful of it because I know it comes Good place. But it’s also like you know that this My mother died on September 11 doesn’t define our relationship or me.
Paula Edgar 10:19
I share my mother’s legacy every day by who I am and what I do. She taught me to be a good person. She taught me to be someone who is a leader, someone who cares, I’m empathetic, someone who’s a go to person. And that’s who I am. For example, my mother used to say, you can either be the wind or the leaf. I pretty much use that or say that in most of my presentations, where I say like, are you going to let the world happen to you? Or you’re going to be strategic and let yourself happen to the world like that is what my mother instilled in me. Like, if you want it, you can go get it. You are the wind. I’m Paula Edgar and thanks for listening to GOOD GRIEF. This episode of GOOD GRIEF is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Joan Donna Griffith.
GOOD GRIEF is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Hannah Boomershine, Giulia Hjort and Xorje Olivares. executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Music and Sound Design are by Hannis Brown. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. If you want more GOOD GRIEF, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts. This season of GOOD GRIEF is dedicated to those we’ve lost in the past year.