Byline: Lauren Beckham Falcone
Stephanie DeChellis still can't look at old pictures. Kim Yanta can finally manage to smilewhen she listens to '90s songs. Rosemarie VanCamp clings to family. And Jeremy Rafuse sometimes goes to the cemetery.
They are the friends of 9/11 victims - the ones who worked, went to college or grew up with the people who died on that terrible day a year ago. They are the peripheral grievers, those who cleaned the dishes after the memorial services, who still call just to see how the families are doing. They are in the shadows, without obvious support groups, condolence cards or visits from clergy. And for this group of mourners, the past year has been one of private sorrow.
"At school, no one gets it," said DeChellis, 27, of Allston, whose roommate, Linda George, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 last year. "They don't know. Here it is (a year later) and they think 'why should I still be sad?' But I'm a teacher, and if I am (sad), I can't just break down. It's so hard."
DeChellis met George at Providence College almost a decade ago, and the two became fast friends.
"She was honestly the best person I ever knew," said DeChellis, who helped plan George's wedding shower, scheduled for the weekend after Sept. 11. "I was at school and I heard the news and I had a pit in my stomach and I just had this horrible feeling she was on that plane."
George, an assistant buyer at TJX Cos. died with six co-workers on Flight 11. She was 26.
Kim Yanta, who also met George in college, was working in New Jersey when she heard that two planes had hit the World Trade Center.
"They evacuated the building I was in and my first thought was for my co-workers, who had a lot of friends and relatives in the buildings," said Yanta, a lawyer. "Then finally Michelle, another one of our college roommates, called and said, 'Kim, I think Linda was on one of those planes.' I told her to call me back but I didn't hear from her all day because the phones were dead. Then, finally, she called. And I just couldn't believe it."
Yanta and DeChellis consider themselves lucky they have each other to lean on.
"You don't know how to get through," DeChellis said. "It's like, one day you realize that you can't pick up the phone and call her anymore. There's not that person there who knows everything - your history, that story about what you wore here, or who drives you crazy at work. It's all gone."
The history between Jeremy Rafuse and David DeMeglio seemed long - the two met at the Monti Middle School in Saugus - but Rafuse counted on much more than a decade of friendship. DeMeglio, 22, was also killed on Flight 11.
"He would have been 23 on August 24," said Rafuse, who lives in Saugus. "He was really, really funny. Dave was always the center of attention, the nicest person to be around."
The hardest times for Rafuse are when he has news to share.
"I recently got engaged, and not being able to share it with him, it kills me," he said. "I can't even picture my wedding and not having him there. We used to always talk about when we were older how we'd have kids and they'd play together while we'd kick back and have beers. I know I'll never have a friend like that, ever."
On the days Rafuse can't bear the loss, he visits his best friend's grave.
"Sometimes, though, there are days I want to be sad, so people just leave me alone," he said.
These unplanned, occasional outbursts of sadness are healthy, said Joseph Tecce, psychology professor at Boston College.
"They allow all the animal instincts and raw emotions to get unleashed in a totally uninhibited way for an essential catharsis," he said. "The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears or the sea, observed the Danish author Isak Dinesen."
After her tears, Rosemarie VanCamp, whose friend and fellow Salvation Army board member, Paige Farley Hackel, died aboard Flight 11, finds bittersweet solace by spending time with Hackel's family.
"I spent two of the past three weekends with them," said VanCamp, a former news anchor who lives in Chelsea. "The feelings are mixed. There's joy at being with them and profound sadness that she's not there. Her picture is there, but it's not the same.
"Her last words on my answering machine were 'I love you' and there is comfort in that, but I yearn for her," she said. "There hasn't been a day that has passed that I haven't thought about Paige."
Still, VanCamp struggles with her loss and said the anniversary of the attacks will be especially difficult.
"I thought I was doing just fine, but for the last three weeks, I find the rage is building inside me again," she said. "I'm sure I'll get past it. Paige would want it that way."
Caption: MISSING SOMEONE: Rosemarie VanCamp is reflected in a flag given to her in the wake of the death of her friend, victim Paige Farley Hackel, who died on Flight 11. VanCamp deals with her sorrow privately, as do many others who lost friends and co-workers on Sept. 11. Staff photo by Patrick Whittemore