9/11: Remembering and still grieving

By Vivian Blevins
Contributing columnist

Did you lose someone you love to COVID? Have you been thinking about the grief pf those whose family members and friends died in the wildfires of Maui? Do you know someone who has lost a son or daughter to disease or in a war zone, in a school shooting, in a natural disaster, or in a violent incident brought about by hatred, anger, racism?

As we prepare for the anniversary of 9/11/2001, now known as Patriots Day, John and Bev Titus of Champaign County, Ohio, are remembering their daughter Alicia on that day and every day.

Bev Titus says, “Alicia’s story is a story that no parent wants to tell and one that no parent should have to tell. Here we are 22 years later still telling our story, and the journey continues. Many might ask ‘Why?’ when it is so painful, and my answer is ‘To be Alicia’s voice.’”

Alicia Titus was a flight attendant aboard United Airlines 175 which terrorists crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 after first murdering the pilot and co-pilot.

John Titus relates the circumstances that led to Alicia’s birth on June 11, 1973. “Bev was a student at Graham High School, and I was a student at Urbana College when we got pregnant with Alicia. I was a rebellious soul, in search of a belief system. My dad had served in the U.S. Army and was at Normandy and suffered from what we now call PTSD. And I was opposed to the Vietnam War.

“Responsibility of raising a child is sobering. I got a full-time job, third shift, at Chicago Vitreous and continued in college full time.”

He continues, “Alicia’s birth was a case of instant maturing. I saw life in a different way through the eyes of our daughter. She was a blessing, always loving, peaceful, inspiring, God sent. She saved us. Astute, bright, Alician loved music and we danced together. She loved her sheepdog Cleo and used the dog for a pillow.”

Bev writes, “When Alicia was four years old, we were on a family vacation in San Francisco. As we were crossing a street, there was a homeless person with a cup, begging for money for food. Alicia asked, ‘What’s wrong with that man?’

“My response was, ‘He’s hungry and is asking for money.’ Alicia had one dollar to spend on vacation, and she asked if she could give it to the homeless man. And she did. In that moment, she taught me about unconditional love and compassion.”

John says, “Alicia graduated as valedictorian of her class at Graham High School where she was popular and involved in a host of extracurricular activities, including playing the lead role in ‘Sweet Charity.’” “Alicia never let fear stand in the way of living life to the fullest,” Bev indicates. “She backpacked across Spain and Morocco for three weeks and ski dived, skied, snow boarded, bungie jumped.” After high school graduation, Alicia graduated with honors from Miami University in international business and marketing. She worked in her field for a time, but decided she wanted to travel, earn a doctorate, and teach journalism at the college level.

John notes, “To earn money for the doctorate, she moved to Florida and lived with my sister, a United Airlines flight attendant, and her husband, a United Airlines pilot. She was at the top of her class in flight school and had worked for United Airlines for nine months at the time of the crash.”

Of 9/11/2001 John says, “That day was a beautiful day with an azure blue sky. At the time I was a director of student services at Schoolcraft College in Lovinia, Michigan. We were having a staff meeting, and a secretary interrupted the meeting and turned on a television. We saw a plane crash into the South Tower.

“I had an intuitive feeling that something was wrong. Then a staff member said, ‘There is no way Alicia could have been on that plane.’ I promptly called United Airlines, and they would give me no information.”

Bev’s indicates that on the morning of 9/11, “I was awakened by this energy, this voice telling me to get up. I remember saying, ‘No, I want to lie here a little longer.’ I thought, How strange that I am talking when no one is here. As I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, that same energy literally pulled me up and out of bed, and I said, ‘Okay, okay I’m getting up.’”

She reports that she got up, turned on the television – rare for her – made coffee, and sat down just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. She indicates it was like “watching a horrible movie.” After making a variety of phone calls, Bev writes, “I would not allow myself to even consider the idea that Alicia was on one of those planes that crashed into the towers. That stuff happens to other people, not me.”

So she got ready and as she drove to work, she thought that she needed to smile at everyone at Schoolcraft College where she taught, insuring them that “everything was going to be all right.” She knows now that she was in denial. At the college, she taught a class and then went to her husband’s office where the looks on the faces of those in that office told her the truth: Alicia was on United Flight 175 , the second plane, the plane that had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

She fell to her knees and began to wail. Later, when United Airlines called to confirm Alicia’s death. Bev writes that she was “speechless, in shock, my worst nightmare, the one you never want to acknowledge had just come true: my child was dead, murdered while the whole world watched. My life as I knew it was over. My whole family wanted those responsible to be brought to justice in an international court of law.”

As a mother, Alicia had three other children and says, “I was stuck in my own grief and was unable to help my children with their grief processes and had to provide resources outside of myself to help them find their own way. After several years of counseling, reading and studying approaches to healing, I am doing better at showing up for my children.”

Following the crash, John says that one day he went to a pine forest where he had a vision of Alicia in the back of United Airlines 175. The terrorists had forced passengers and attendants to go to the back of the plane after they murdered the pilot, the co-pilot, and one of the flight attendants. In his vision, John saw Alicia who had “an angelic look on her face and was holding a small child, completely at peace when she made the transition.”

The process of the couple since 9/11 has been complicated, With certification as a counselor, John knows that 70% of couples who lose a child end up divorced, that each one processes the loss in different ways, and that it is hard to be there for the spouse when both are grieving. He indicates that counseling is a different matter when you are involved. He notes that in American society, there is “no good way to process grief.”

His journaling led, after 10 years, to the publication of “Losing Alicia: A Father’s Journey after 9/11. It also involved meditating, crying, and going back to work to immerse himself in something else. Today, he knows that “All men are created equal, but there are many inequalities in our system that keep people down, that being born white is a privilege, that some buy their way out of accountability.” In conclusion, Bev and John Titus both acknowledge that Alicia’s legacy involves their working together with others to, as Bev describes it, “create safe places to have the necessary conversations that allow our hearts and minds to be open to the possibility of peaceful tomorrows.”

Their work involves the following:

• Joining September 11: Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow;

• Organizing the Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund (speaking engagements at American universities and conferences abroad, sponsoring the peace quilt (on display at the Dayton Peace Museum);

• Creating Urbana, Ohio, as a city of peace;

• Purchasing books for the Champaign County Library with a focus on kindness and peace;

• Organizing the last week of January for “The Great Kindness Challenge.”

At times, they didn’t want to go on with life, but they had children and family, and they learned that the more they did for others in trying to make things better, the more healing came.

The only remains of Alicia that came out of the ashes were a drivers license and a library card. Her name is on a family marker at a cemetery in Rushsylvania.

When John and Bev went to pack up Alicia’s things, they discovered on her bedstand an earmarked copy of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace./Where there is hatred, let me sow love;/Where there is injury, pardon;/ Where there is doubt; faith,/ Where there is despair; hope,/Where there is darkness; light… .”

Note: John and Bev Titus will share their story at the Miami Valley Veterans Museum in Troy on County Road 25A at 9 a.m. on Sept. 6, 2023. Vietnam War veteran Steve Skinner’s trio will present a short program of music, and Mike Ullery will play “Taps.” Veterans and friends of veterans are invited to attend. Coffee and pastries will be served beginning at 8:30. Email [email protected] with questions.

Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].