June 13, 2005 — -- When her husband died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, relatives, friends and strangers opened their hearts and their wallets to Kathy Trant, donating millions of dollars to Trant and her three children.
The money was meant to compensate for the income Dan Trant would have used to support his family for years to come. But to Trant it represented blood money, money that couldn't make up for what she had lost.
Fewer than four years after the attacks, she has blown through most of the money, and is coming out with her story now to warn others against the trappings of chronic spending, a major problem among Americans.
"It's blood money that I don't want," Trant said. "I want my husband back."
After her husband's funeral, Kathy Trant spiraled into deeper and deeper circles of depression. She turned to alcohol and antidepressants to numb the pain, and her weight fluctuated between 90 and 170 pounds.
But as she managed to get one set of problems under control, another problem emerged. Trant started spending out of control.
At the time of his death, Dan Trant, 40, was quickly moving up the ladder as a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, making $130,000 in addition to tens of thousands in bonuses in his final year. Based on his estimated future earnings, the Federal Victim Compensation Fund awarded Kathy Trant $4.2 million, of which she received half. She got another $3 million from friends and family.
"I didn't know how to give back because so many people gave to me when I lost my husband," Trant said.
Trant began lavishing gifts on friends and family. She gave her former housekeeper $15,000 to buy a home in El Salvador, she spent $70,000 to take six friends to the Super Bowl and another $30,000 for a trip for 20 to the Bahamas.
She said Dan would have wanted to help others, and he would have liked to improve their home as well. So Trant spent $1.5 million to nearly triple the size of her suburban New York home. She spent $350,000 on the back yard, installing a full basketball court also equipped for volleyball, tennis and Rollerblading, a heated pool and a hot tub.
Trant designed a shrine of her husband's mementos, and put it on display in her new red-white-and-blue den. She added sports memorabilia to her walls, including a Boston Celtics ball autographed by players. Dan was drafted last by the Celtics in 1984, and though he never played for them, he played professionally in Ireland.
Trant also blew millions on frivolous items for herself. Her walk-in closet houses a $500,000 shoe collection, gowns by Versace and Capelli that go for $5,000 each and Fendi and Judith Leiber handbags, also $5,000 per bag.
Experts says overspending is not uncommon among the families of 9/11 victims, nor is it limited to one group of people. A Stanford University study estimates that 8 percent of Americans, or 23.6 million people, suffer from compulsive shopping disorder.
"The issue of survival guilt is a big one," said April Lane Benson, psychologist and author of the book "I Shop Therefore I Am." "People who lost someone on 9/11 feel a total lack of control for a long period of time. That's why they say, 'I might as well blow everything I have. I could be the next one to go.'"
Benson said it is important for shopaholics to recognize the triggers that start the spending sprees, such as certain moods or specific times of the year.
"For [Trant] it might be, 'If I keep shopping, I won't have to feel deeply the loss of my husband,'" Benson said.
Trant is down to her last $500,000. A stay-at-home mom for the last 20 years, she and a friend are opening a hair-removal and cosmetic tattoo shop in East Norwich, Conn.
While Trant worries about her future, she insists it's not about the money. She is concerned now with helping other chronic shoppers, and hopes her children will learn from her mistakes when they receive $800,000 earmarked for them when they turn 18.
"It's a problem people laugh at," Trant said. "When you have alcoholism or drug addiction, it's all a different story."