At 9 a.m. Monday, after learning of Osama bin Laden’s death, Christine Fisher took a small American flag and went alone to the grave of her husband, Gerald, in Rockville’s Parklawn cemetery.
She knelt on the shady hillside, rubbed her hand over the bronze plate on his tombstone that bears the dates, March 28, 1944 — September 11, 2001, and pushed the flag’s white plastic staff into the ground.
About the same time, 20 miles away, Tim Dudgeon sat on a bench at the Pentagon Memorial, crying as he ran his fingers over the name of his late fiancee, Sandy Taylor, engraved on one of the benches.
And the evening before in California, Stephanie Ross DeSimone explained bin Laden to the 9-year-old daughter who never knew her father and said a silent prayer to her late husband, Patrick Dunn: “We got him. You can rest in peace now.”
Across the country, such rituals were repeated Sunday and Monday, as those whose lives were unhinged on 911 revisited anguished times and tried to keep faith with loved ones lost that day.
Gerald P. Fisher, 57, a business consultant from Potomac; Sandra Taylor, 50, of Alexandria, a civilian employee of the Army; and Navy Cmdr. Patrick Dunn, 39, of Springfield, all perished in the Pentagon when a hijacked airliner crashed into the building.
They were among 184 people killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and about 2,800 others who perished when two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York and another plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
And their relatives Monday described the tempest of emotions when they learned that after an almost 10-year manhunt, the mastermind of the attack had himself been killed in a U.S. commando raid on his hideout in Pakistan.
Fisher heard the news on television Monday morning.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I was relieved. I was surprised — and elated. My first reaction was that we did something special, to say the least. . . . It actually brought me to tears. . . . We thought it would never happen, that he was gone, that he was dead already, and no one was ever going to find him.”
She said she realized she wanted to be near her husband, whose nickname was Jeep. She got the flag from a friend and went to the cemetery.
“I felt it was the place to be,” she said. “The closest I could be to where he is, is there.”
Dudgeon, meanwhile, was doing much the same at the Pentagon Memorial.
“It’s such a happy day,” he said, crying as he spoke. “It is one of those things, a good day but a tough day.”
Dudgeon, 63, a marketing professional from Arlington, learned of bin Laden’s death Monday morning. He, too, was at first elated.
But then he said his mind started to whirl. Memories came rushing back of his fiancee, a tall, outgoing, blonde woman with, as he put it, “great legs.”
The wedding they never had; the gold engagement ring with three diamonds he bought her, which was recovered later in the rubble.
“I was trying to stay elated, and then memories started coming home,” he said. “How much I loved her. Just everything about her. She was a wonderful woman.”
He comes to sit on her bench in the serene stone memorial, where the quiet is punctuated from time to time by blaring trucks and the roar of traffic on Interstate 395. And although he is not a “professional mourner,” he said, “today, I think it’s necessary I be here.”
In Southern California, DeSimone, 41, said she had the delicate task of explaining to her daughter, Alexandria, the death of the man who killed the little girl’s father.
DeSimone, who remarried in 2003 and relocated from Springfield, was pregnant with “Allie” when her then-husband, Patrick Dunn, was killed.
She, Allie and husband, Paul, a Navy captain, watched the television reports together Sunday evening.
For DeSimone, the news was “fabulous in the sense that there is an end to this man that has caused so much destruction,” she said. “But at the same time, there is never closure for us. It helps a little bit. But there will always be that empty space in my heart.”
For Allie, “she now has a face to the person who killed her father,” DeSimone said.
“We just told her that the reason the country is celebrating is because this man is a very mean man, and he’s killed a lot of people, including Daddy in heaven,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve to live. There are just some people in this world who don’t deserve to live, and he’s one of them.”
Back in Washington, Robin Wiener, whose younger brother Jeff Wiener, 33, died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, was watching television at home when the news broke.
She traded calls with her parents and sister-in-law and turned the TV off after an hour.
She went to sleep, numb. She woke up, numb. “The sense of loss is deep,” said Weiner, 47, president of a trade association. “It’s not relief, because what is it relief of? He’s not coming back. To be honest, I have two young children, and I travel all the time for work . . . You sort of wonder again about the cycle of violence, living in Washington.”
She likens bin Laden’s death to the close of a single chapter, in a longer story that still is not finished.
Ovetta Wiggins, Christy Goodman, Dan Zak and Steve Vogel contributed to this article.