Just as the nation is shedding its pain since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 20-year-old Erin Fisher is letting hers go little by little.
A literature major at American University, she feels better when she writes about her grief over the death of her father, John Fisher, a security consultant and father of seven who was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when it collapsed.
A psychology minor, she often engages in introspection, finding solace in the strength she has gained in the nearly four years since that day.
"What I've been learning to do is to keep the memory, even if it's sad, but let the pain subside," she said. "And to take comfort in knowing there were other people out there who have experienced it as well."
Last evening, Fisher shared her story at a reception officially marking the opening of the Washington area office of Tuesday's Children, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps families of Sept. 11, 2001, victims obtain counseling and other services and connects them with each other to take classes, socialize and support each other.
Tuesday's Children, which has opened an office at Metro Center, was founded by Chris Burke, a former Wall Street broker. His younger brother, who worked in the North Tower, died in the attacks, leaving a wife and four children.
Burke said his goal was to provide a support system for families -- especially children -- who lost loved ones in the attacks but were in no shape to take advantage of services available immediately afterward.
"What people don't realize is that by the time these moms were ready to access the services and move on with their lives, the services were gone," he said. "That's why we wanted to step in to make a long-term commitment to them."
More than 1,000 families in New York, Boston and the Washington area have received help from the organization or participated in social events it has organized. Burke said he hopes the new office will allow him to reach out to even more people affected by the Pentagon attack.
The Washington office was established with a $200,000 grant from the Robin Hood Foundation, said Joanna Haeberle, who is heading up the D.C. office. The office, which opened three months ago, is expanding its services to some rescue workers, the injured and evacuees. Already the group has taken on more than 30 families, primarily in Northern Virginia, she said.
"The Washington families haven't had that much attention, so they're surprised that people are down here offering these things," she said.
Although the organization began as a way to provide mentors to children who lost a parent, it expanded to connect families with mental health services and each other. It also started providing career, finance and other courses to help widowed stay-at-home mothers reenter the workforce.
"These families exist under the public glare of 9/11," Burke said. "A lot of these moms found out they could no longer relate to their friends. The kids couldn't so much as walk across the street to buy a Snapple without hearing 9/11 being mentioned."
For Fisher, the social outings and writing classes were most beneficial, helping her process her grief and meet people who shared her feelings of loss and alienation.
"They know exactly what I'm going through," she said. "They can hold me while I cry and not ask me anything about it, because they already know."