Feb. 17, 2004 -- When Chicago residents Sarah Smith and Aaron Moore got engaged July 3, they knew they wanted to marry in the fall of 2004 in her hometown of Indianapolis. "The best weather for the Midwest is in September," she said.
Though they did not want to choose Labor Day weekend, they were open to considering other September Saturdays. But then they realized there was another unfavorable date.
"My sister-in-law said, 'Well, no offense, I don't want to overstep my bounds in your wedding planning, but do you really want to get married on Sept. 11?' " Smith recalled. "My immediate reaction was, 'Oh, my gosh — I didn't even think of that.' "
It is a date that continues to resonate like no other, at all times. But this year, the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks will fall on a Saturday during one of the most popular months for weddings, which often are booked more than a year in advance.
Many couples are avoiding the date either out of respect for those lost or because they don't wish to associate such bad memories with their marriage. And many wedding professionals have been dealing with both emotional and financial issues they normally do not face.
A Difficult Day to Celebrate
The wedding industry is worth about $80 billion, according to the Association for Wedding Professionals International. Each year in the United States, there are 2.4 million weddings, or just less than 1 percent of the population getting married. The most coveted wedding months are June, September and October, but some industry professionals have been finding Sept. 11 to be a tough sell, even with added incentives.
Barb Jones, a wedding coordinator in Riverview, Fla., said discounts were not enough to entice couples. "We tried to offer $200 off the package price," she said, "but no luck, because everyone remembers the horror."
"I am booked every [other] Saturday in September and October. No one wanted to even look at that date as a possibility," said Meredith Sellers, a bridal consultant in the Washington, D.C., area. She added, "Having a wedding date of Sept. 11 doesn't leave feelings of love and happiness."
Similarly, Laura Gordon, an event consultant in Rockaway, N.J., said that out of the 40 brides she has spoken to about September weddings, none want the 11th. Her vendors have experienced the same trend.
"Perhaps it's merely a matter of time healing people's wounds," Gordon said. "The next time Sept. 11 falls on a Saturday, which I guess will be in about seven years or so, more people will be ready to celebrate a wedding. Until then, as professionals in the wedding industry, all we can do is wait because people are still in mourning."
That is how Smith and Moore felt, as well. They opted for Sept. 18 for their nuptials. "The memories of Sept. 11 are still so fresh in everyone's minds," she explained, adding, "Everyone's reaction was the same — a gasp and, 'Oh, no, you just can't get married on that date just yet.' There's a certain mood that you're looking for on your wedding day, and the remembrance of Sept. 11 is more somber than we were looking to provide."
Americans’ Grief Continues
There certainly are other unpopular times to get married — major holidays, Halloween, Friday the 13th. Wedding book author and expert Sharon Naylor said couples can be very superstitious, avoiding the dates of parents' divorces and similar trauma. But nothing can quite compare to the magnitude of Sept. 11's negativity.
"I don't think enough time has gone by," she said. "I think maybe when we start getting into five years and 10 years … but we're living with a daily reminder of it with the [terror] alerts."
Grief experts don't know if it's possible to measure when Americans as a whole will be ready to move on. "As traumatic an event as Sept. 11 was, mourning never really ends," said Alan Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo.
"As time goes on, it will erupt, perhaps less frequently or in different ways. It'll be a trigger event for many people, just as if you used the historical example of Dec. 7."
In addition to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Robert R. Butterworth, a Los Angeles psychologist who specializes in trauma, likened the date to the anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. He said it is tough to gauge when the acuteness of Sept. 11 will wane.
"Who can say how long? One would probably guess 10 years, but who remembers Oklahoma City?" he said of the April 19, 1995, bombing.
"Nine-eleven has turned into the proverbial Friday the 13th as far as our psyche is concerned, and who wants to start something positive on a bad-luck day?" he added. "It's not just superstitious, it's fresh enough in our memory. Terrorism still continues. You're not supposed to be happy on that day — at least you're not supposed to show extreme delight."
Wolfelt added that people are still in a state of psychic numbing, such an extended form of shock "that for many people, we've only begun in some ways to mourn."
At the same time, he said, those who are ready to create new meaning for Sept. 11 should be respected for their feelings. "It should be forever etched in our hearts, and we have to honor that and try not to shame people who do go on and plan happy events."
Reclaiming the Date
Indeed, many people believe now is the time to move forward and not give in to fear. Citing varied motivations, some couples will marry on Sept. 11 with the blessings and support of family and friends.
Robin Davies of Newton, N.J., and her fiancé, Michael Storms of Parsippany, N.J., actually sought a Sept. 11 wedding date because the anniversary has special significance for them. The couple was vacationing in Maui when the terrorist attacks occurred. Fearing "it's the end of the world," Davies was prompted to declare her love for Storms, and their relationship solidified from there.
This past Sept. 11, they returned to Maui, where Storms proposed. "When we figured out Sept. 11 fell on a Saturday, we were very happy," Davies said. "People think we're weird."
There have been mixed reactions to their wedding date decision. People who know them well understand the meaning it has for the couple. "Other people, you look at their face and they're in shock," she said, adding, "I understand anyone who would feel a little offended. I'm not one to judge how people feel that day."
They plan to acknowledge the anniversary by having her bridesmaids wear blue dresses and carry red flowers to go with her white dress.
The couple's wedding will be at the Madison Hotel in Morristown, N.J., where catering sales manager Tim MacHale said he never expected to sell the date. The venue offered a discount of about $25 off per person, and another couple, Dana Musto of Alburtis, Pa., and Dave Kee of Quakertown, Pa., booked the other room in the facility.
Musto said their families were fine with the date, though they have received some negative reactions. They may include a candle as part of an honorary grandparents table at their reception "to keep the 9/11 victims in mind."
"Life needs to go on," she said. "Let's celebrate our love and not be miserable about the past."