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Susan Retik and Patti Quigley were both widowed on 9/11. Patti was eight months pregnant with her second child when her husband Patrick was killed while traveling on United Flight 175. Susan was seven months pregnant with her third child when her husband David was killed on American Flight 11.

Adrift in grief and shock, Susan and Patti were profoundly moved by the support offered by friends, family, and strangers from around the world. Both women were cared for financially, logistically, and emotionally. This support had an enormous impact on their ability to navigate the strange and unexpected landscape of widowhood — and acclimate to becoming single mothers.

The two women, both residents of Boston-area suburbs, met for the first time several months after September 11th. Their unwitting sisterhood created a strong bond. It was a relief for each woman to have a friend who understood her experience, when no other friend or family member could fully comprehend the bittersweet emotion of giving birth to a baby who would never know her father.

moving forward

As Susan came to terms with her new life and followed media coverage about Afghanistan, she felt a connection to the vast number of Afghan widows. But this kinship was complicated. Susan couldn’t help but observe that widows in Afghanistan had none of the support that she and Patti experienced as “9/11 widows.” Decades of conflict had ravaged Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without husbands — a cultural necessity for Afghans — or basic resources. In many cases, Afghan widows had no means to feed, clothe, or shelter their children. Their situation was desperate.

Susan felt that the generosity she had received brought with it a responsibility. She wanted to use her new voice and platform to do something tangible. If she could change the life of just one Afghan widow, she would encourage dialog and friendship, and perhaps somehow begin to understand her own loss. Susan talked to Patti about her idea and within a matter of weeks the two began working to turn the shared vision into reality. In 2003, Beyond the 11th was officially founded. Soon their efforts in Afghanistan reached well beyond a single widow — ultimately changing the lives of hundreds of women.

In 2006, Susan and Patti travelled to Afghanistan to meet their Afghan counterparts and see firsthand the work of Beyond the 11th. Their journey was documented in the award-winning film Beyond Belief.

“There’s a way in which each of us makes small choices every day. And after a period of time those choices develop into a pattern. Each moral and ethical choice forms our identity. It seems to me that the terrorists who flew planes into the buildings on September 11th, they started making choices a long time ago — choices took them so far off center that flying a plane into a building seemed like the right thing to do. It’s like any one of us. We choose our way into being ourselves. And I think that’s what Patti and Susan do in little choices and in big choices. When given a choice between violence and love — they chose love. When given a choice between retribution and restoration of harmony — they chose restoring harmony. When given a choice between death and life — they’ve chosen life. That’s just who they are. It’s who they’ve come to be. It’s who they’ve chosen to be. And because of that, their children are learning to choose life as well.”

—Jim Fleming, S.J., Patti Quigley’s brother, in Beyond Belief