Life Beyond My Father Ira’s 9/11 Eulogy

I cannot believe it’s been 20 years since September 11, 2001, that nightmare of a morning when I lost my father, Ira. So much has happened over these past two decades, but as this summer progressed I realized that I’ve had a difficult tug of war leading up to this week. It’s been 20 years. Isn’t that supposed to mean I have to do something or feel something or say something? While I am not a part of any 9/11 groups or communities, I would imagine that a lot of people who have experienced a great loss such as this may be feeling the same way. There are some days I wish I lost my father in a more ordinary, less public way. On 9/11, the whole world pays attention. People come out of the woodwork to pay their condolences to my father and talk about all of the innocent lives that were lost. It’s a day the world mourns, but also a day when I have come to question whether it’s really been possible for me to properly mourn. 

Over the past few weeks, I have experienced a few intense spiritual moments as signs that my father is all around me. This is not a new experience for me around 9/11, but this year it has been more profound than in prior years. Just two weeks ago I went to the Eagles concert at Madison Square Garden — which was phenomenal, by the way. As I took my seat, I was drawn to a man in front of me wearing an unusual red-and-white jersey with writing I wasn’t quite able to make out. I couldn’t stop staring at this guy, his jersey, and his animated way of moving around. Why was I being drawn to this stranger? I had to find out. When he inched over and I saw that the back of the jersey read “REMEMBER,” it smacked me in the face. 

I tapped him on the shoulder, and as he turned around I caught a glimpse of the 9/11 memorial patch on his sleeve. I knew at that moment that I was meant to meet this man. Then he turned and I got a full view of the front, which read “FDNY” and memorialized all the brothers he lost on that tragic day. When he began explaining what “FDNY” stood for, I interrupted him and said, “I know the FDNY well. I lost my father on September 11th in the towers.  He was found the last days of October 2001 huddled with firefighters in a stairwell.” The man, whose name is PJ, abruptly climbed over the back of his seat and was now standing face-to-face with me. He took off the jersey and wrapped it around me. He said that he had been waiting 20 years for this moment and that it was meant to be. He said he never went anywhere without his jersey, and that night, as we hugged and cried and even sobbed together, we both found peace. It was the best three hours of 9/11 love that I have had in a long time, accompanied by my new friend and brother and serenaded by the Eagles at Madison Square Garden.

While they may not compare to the above story, there have been signs of my father everywhere this year. Whenever I’ve wanted or needed him over the past 20 years, one of the ways he avails himself to me is in the form of a beautiful butterfly. Even in the middle of Manhattan, where there’s nothing but concrete, it’s fun to see a butterfly appear out of nowhere and float right in front of my eyes just when I really need my dad. Those moments bring me so much comfort and strength. For the past few months, I’ve spent way too much time on Zoom (like most of us), and every time I see myself on the screen I can’t help but think I’m looking at my father. The resemblance to the man I remember from 20 years ago makes my heart flutter. He was only 55 years old when he was taken from us, just nine years older than I am right now. That’s my last memory of what he felt like and looked like as a man. 

As my body and mind began to prepare for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, yet another sign presented itself to me. I was cleaning out my computer files and came across the eulogy I gave at my father’s memorial service in October of 2001. At that point, like so many other families, we didn’t yet have a body to bury. We turned our energy towards the recovery of our lives and the path forward. This is an excerpt from what I read to several thousand attendees that day:

“To Ira, my best friend, my father, my hero: I will miss you. I wish that I could hold you one more time and let you know just how much I love you. You are the most wonderful man I have ever met and you truly showed a son what unconditional love means. I want you and everyone in this room to know that each day from this day forth I am living my life for the both of us. I am going to fulfill all of your dreams and passions. I am going to work harder, I am going to give blood more often, I am going to use the Ira Zaslow Foundation to demonstrate to the world how amazing of a man you are and were. And most importantly, I will never let anyone, including myself, forget you and your passions. 

And finally, to all of us in this room: We will all be with him at some point in time, but until that day comes, please remember that they say, “Better late than never. In other words, don’t put off what you want to do today, for now I realize tomorrow may never come.” WE MUST LIVE OUR LIFE TO ITS FULLEST. WE MUST WAKE UP EACH MORNING AND NOT REGRET MISSING OUT ON AN OPPORTUNITY. OTHERWISE, LIFE MAY JUST PASS YOU BY. MY FATHER DIED, BUT HE LIVED EVERY DAY TO ITS FULLEST AND WE NEED TO DO THE SAME.”

Now here we are, 20 years later. In reading through this eulogy, what really got me wasn’t the sadness or the pain of that challenging time. It was the insightfulness that the loss of my father brought me. It was the fire, the passion, the energy, and the commitment it brought me and pushed me to raise the bar higher for myself and everyone around me. I AM BLESSED. I have two amazing children, and they’ve inspired me in ways I could never expect. I have a beautiful personal and professional life where I get to wake up every day happy to be alive. I get to live the life my father expected me to live, and his love shines down as he watches me every day. 

The eulogy excerpts I shared above included some messages that are just as important today, if not more so. Did you catch them? If not, I’ll help you:

  1. Don’t put off what you want to do today, because tomorrow might never come.

  2. How to approach Life 101: HANDS ON WITH ALL OF YOUR HEART AND ALL OF YOUR SOUL.

  3. Remember that work is important, but family, friends, and life are even more important, so PLAY HARDER!

  4. Live life for you and others who could not; and 

  5. Fulfill all of your dreams and passions

Where I am today is interesting. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to find that eulogy. I realize now that what I wrote 20 years ago was exactly what I needed to project forward as a path for myself. My father has been the guiding light to the man I am today, to the father I am today, to the friend I am today, and to the colleague I am today. We all experience loss in our lives. What we do with that loss and how we use it to propel ourselves forward is far more important than how we handle it in the moment. I have many hopes from sharing this part of my life with you, but the biggest one is to encourage you to remember why today is called the present. If you can open your eyes and step away from your loss or your pain, there is one very important thing to remember: What you have lost or who you have lost all want the same thing for you — TO LIVE! Life is intended to live, and today is the present. You get to restart each day when you UNWRAP IT. Just open your eyes and your heart wide enough and LIVE.


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