June 15, 2010 -- For most of us, September 11th is a national and emotional scar, but for some relatives left behind, it has also been a step into a spiritual world they never could have imagined.
Bonnie McEneaney, the wife of a 9/11 victim, has compiled the true stories of the spiritual experiences and premonitions of loved ones lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Read an excerpt below.
Watch the stories on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET
In February of 2002, just a few days before my birthday, I was at a small meeting in a neighboring town with several others who had lost loved ones on 9/11. A knock on the door interrupted us. It was my pastor and a police officer I knew; they were there to tell me that some of Eamon's remains had been located. I had come to accept the reality that Eamon's body would probably never be recovered. Hearing the news, I was thrown somewhat into a state of shock. When the pastor and I left the meeting together, he instinctively got into the driver's seat. We spoke very little as he drove. Vaguely I noticed a cemetery sign ahead of us. That's when I realized that the pastor had taken this route intentionally.
"Let's drive through," he said before reminding me, "You have to start thinking about this. You'll need to decide what to do with the remains. This is a lovely cemetery -- very peaceful."
Driving in the car with my pastor, I felt as if I were living in a surreal world. It was very similar to how I felt in the days after the World Trade Center crumbled -- that sense of going through the motions without really connecting to the experience. Entering the cemetery with the understanding that I might want to bury Eamon there didn't feel real. "Eamon is dead," I thought. "They have found his body." I had the sensation that we were floating. The day itself was rainy and gray with the kind of chill that goes right through your clothing. "They found Eamon," I repeated to myself. So many months had passed. How could that be? Losing Eamon still seemed totally unbelievable to me. He went to work one day and just disappeared -- poof! Just like that! Never to be seen again. I assumed that was how my children were processing everything. Daddy went to work and never came back. He simply evaporated.
As the pastor and I slowly drove through the cemetery entrance, I saw something large in the air zoom right down in front of my car. The pastor had to brake quickly to keep from hitting it. I stared in disbelief. It was a great blue heron. The bird organized his wings for a few seconds and then just stood there -- proudly holding up his head with that bluish gray crown of feathers. The color reminded me of the early morning fog that meandered through the vineyards of NorthernCalifornia. He was majestic. "Oh my God," I thought. I knew that blue herons spanned a wide geographic area from Canada to Florida, but they prefer a warmer climate. To see one in our Connecticut town in the bitter, biting cold of February was not normal -- especially in a cemetery.
The great blue heron was the one bird that had significance in my life. When my parents lived in Florida, a great blue heron patrolled the water's edge in front of their home. In the morning, as my father was having breakfast, he would always look out the window to check on the bird's whereabouts. Inevitably, it would show up, its majestic silhouette outlined against the morning sun. There was such a connection between my father and the heron that one Christmas Eamon and I bought him a stunning replica of a heron from Steuben Glass.
After my father died, whenever Eamon or I saw a blue heron, we were reminded of my father and the time we'd spent together. For me, the bird was particularly meaningful because it was a point of connection between Eamon and my father. When I saw it in the cemetery, I felt it was a spiritual sign that this was the correct place to lay Eamon to rest, and it gave me a measure of peace at a very nonpeaceful time. The blue heron helped me choose a cemetery for Eamon, but I still needed to decide exactly where he should be buried. The only other time I saw the bird was several weeks later when I returned to the cemetery to select a burial plot. My friend Lori came with me; she and her husband had known Eamon for over twenty years. I felt comfortable having her help me select the best possible grave site, but we were having trouble picking one out. The chief administrator of the cemetery was driving us, and he kept stopping at location after location. We would get out of the car and stand on the available site to see how we felt about it. Nothing felt right. How could it? I was having a difficult time believing what I was doing. It felt like a nightmare. How could I possibly be searching for the right place to bury my husband?
Did all of this really happen?
Finally, our guide had another thought. "I've been taking you to all the newer locations that are available," he said. "Let me show you one of the older areas."
He drove us down the hill and to the right of where we had been looking. "There," he pointed, "what about that area? See, over there."
Lori and I got out of the car once more and walked up a slight incline to the place he was recommending. We stood there, breathing in the cold air. I shut my eyes and felt a new warmth flow through my body as the sun broke through the clouds. When I looked up, there it was. The great blue heron! Lori, whom I had already told about the earlier sighting, now saw it, too. It was right in front of me again, next to where the car was parked. The bird had come out of nowhere. It seemed impossible that we had neither heard nor seen him land, given the breadth of his wingspan.
"Lori, where did he come from?" I asked.
"I have no idea," she replied. She was just as amazed as I was.
We both knew that this was where Eamon would be buried. It was the perfect place. I felt a sense of peace. In all my many trips to visit Eamon's grave, I never again saw the great blue heron.