Floyd’s wife of 27 years, Rhonda Sue Rasmussen, an Army budget analyst, died when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon close to her first-floor cubicle. Floyd, working two floors away, evacuated the building unharmed.
Medical examiners could find no identifiable trace of Rhonda. She had vanished in the conflagration.
Years later, Floyd still found it hard to discuss Rhonda, with whom he had four children. But this summer he agreed to share his story with the readers of The Washington Post. The article about the Rasmussens ran Sunday in a special section of the paper devoted to nine lives changed by 9/11.
His was a love story that didn’t follow the usual script. When Rhonda died, Floyd descended into depression. He’d already been sick, with heart disease, and Rhonda had vowed to take care of him to the end of his days. As Mormons, they viewed themselves as sealed for eternity. Floyd in his desperation eventually began searching online for someone to fill the void created by Rhonda’s death.
He found that person, Brenda Barnum, a red-headed Mormon who might be mistaken for Rhonda at a distance. They married, but it was no fairy tale: Brenda realized that Floyd wanted her to be like Rhonda. They had to work through that and build a relationship in which Floyd fully accepted Brenda as Brenda.
They succeeded, with help from counseling. Both felt their relationship had improved. Brenda said she was happier now.
Said Floyd, “You take two rough objects and rub them together, they both end up smooth.”
Brenda became the curator of Rhonda’s letters and photographs. She hoped to donate a kidney to Floyd before he turned 70 next summer. They had to undergo tests before that could happen.
The couple spoke with unusual candor about their struggles. At the end of a series of interviews, Floyd described the key elements of his story, as he saw it: “The loss. Love regained. And its growth.”
Floyd needed dialysis three times a week. The alarm clock would ring at 4:45 a.m. and by 5:08 he and Brenda would be out the door, headed to Portland, Ore., to the Veterans Affairs hospital and the dialysis ward. Brenda would nap in a chair while a large machine filtered Floyd’s blood for six hours. At noon they’d head home.
If he didn’t have dialysis, the toxins would build up. Even with the treatment, Floyd had good days and bad days, clear-headed moments and fuzzy moments. He figured he had only a few years to live.
When the article appeared, old friends contacted Floyd. He arranged to see some of those friends when he and Brenda, invited by the Pentagon to participate in the Sept. 11 ceremonies, made the trip from their home in Vancouver, Wash., outside Portland, to Northern Virginia last Friday.