Very sad news today in the death of September 11 widow Sandy Dahl, whose husband, Captain Jason Dahl, was the pilot of one of the planes hijacked that terrible day. His plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back against the terrorists. Sandy died in May and the coroner has just ruled that the cause of her death was acute heart failure due to a drug and alcohol overdose.
Often when tragedies strike, we remember those who were killed, but we forget those who were left behind, and the struggle they must endure, and how that too can lead to a tragic early death. Sandy unfortunately seems like she eventually succumbed to heartbreak.
Sandy spent the decade after her husband's death working on a memorial for the victims of who were on her husband's plane. She founded a scholarship fund in her husband's honor to train young pilots. And she made it her life's work to make sure that those who died in that field on 9/11 weren't forgotten.
Last year on 9/11's tenth anniversary, Sandy said that because of her work, the tragedy was never far from her mind, and she believed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She told the Denver Post:
Normally, people have a memorial, and it's behind them then. This is never going away.
While Sandy's work was brave and selfless, one has to wonder if it didn't give her time and space to heal. I don't know if Sandy had issues with drugs and alcohol before her husband's death, but even if so, certainly that horrific incident couldn't have helped her.
As I wrote when the Aurora shooting happened, not all of the people who died that day will be the only ones who die. Many indirect victims of tragedies turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, and their deaths can occur years later.
I don't know what other kind of help Sandy had to get her through her days, but clearly she was still numbing herself with drugs and alcohol. As far as I'm concerned, she is one more 9/11 victim. And we shouldn't cast any blame for her that she couldn't find a better way out. No one knows what a person has to endure except that person.
But I do hope her death will inspire others who have suffered through a tragedy to remember that their loved ones wouldn't want them to continue to suffer. Learning to let go of the pain of the loss of a loved one isn't betrayal, it's a tribute. It's what the loved one would want.
Do you think Sandy died of heartbreak?
Image via Cristian Ghe/Flickr