Ten Marathon Mondays ago twin bombs blew up the streets and the hearts of Boston. Ten years since the happy cheers and applause curdled into gut-wrenching screams piercing the smoky haze of flying debris. Ten years since the explosions killed three people and more than a dozen lost limbs. The Boston Marathon bombing still stands as one of the nation’s deadliest domestic terror attacks. Now a decade later we mark the day when horror and history melded before and after.
A milestone anniversary demands we pause to make meaning of the time between then and now. Back then we shared the initial days of shock, the fear of an escaped terrorist and tears that flowed freely. We drew comfort in communal gatherings, drew strength from our shared experience, and in our fierce public declaration of taking back our power: Boston Strong.
Michele Blackburn, a survivor of the bombing, was injured while standing near the finish line. She lost most of her left calf and endured extensive long-term rehabilitation. She didn’t lose her leg but as she told the Boston Globe recently, she carried survivor’s guilt. Now, after ten years, she is running the race saying “That’s weight that I don’t want to carry around anymore.” At the Boylston Street finish line where Blackburn was injured, now there are four twisted spires of bronzed metal reaching skyward. They stand sentry in a moving memorial to those who lost their lives in an instant. A remembrance and a reminder of our pledge never to forget.
But some can’t forget — emotionally and mentally, time stopped for them. Many don’t show any signs of physical injury but carry invisible scars: the trauma they still live with. Listening to their stories of being haunted by the memories in 2013 prompted Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley to introduce the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act which President Biden signed into law. It will extend federal aid to victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In announcing the proposed bill, Pressley urged support for these often-overlooked marathon bombing victims, saying the next pandemic will be widespread and untreated trauma.
I’ve been looking back on my observations on the Marathon bombing anniversaries. On the first, I noted the ongoing grief that still felt fresh. On the third anniversary, I wondered if we had gone through the documented stages of grief — denial/anxiety/bargaining/anger/despair/hope — so that the Marathon had moved out of the shadow of the bombing. And now I wonder if time will ever dull the sharp edges of the anniversaries to come.
Grief expert Elizabeth Kubler Ross says simply, “the reality is that you will grieve forever.” In her co-authored book, “On Grief and Grieving” she adds, “You will be whole again … but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” The next ten years start now.