Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bin Laden death brings ‘some closure’

Hailey woman reflects on 9/11, killing of al-Qaida leader

Express Staff Writer

Mary Ellen Donovan poses with her two sons, Colton Cherry Donovan, center, and Brett Cherry. Photo by Willy Cook

Mary Ellen Donovan was enjoying a quiet Sunday night at home with her family in Hailey when she heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. It wasn't quiet for long.

"I was yelling at the television," Donovan said. "I was simply bawling my eyes out with relief."

It was a reaction hard won and years in the making. On Sept. 11, 2001, Donovan lost her husband, Steve Cherry, in the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center. Cherry left his family in Connecticut early that morning, commuting to his job as an equity trader at the firm Cantor Fitzgerald, located on the 104th floor of the North Tower.

The night before, the parents of Colton, 11 months, and Brett, 6, enjoyed one of those fleetingly rare evenings for parents of young children. After tucking the boys into bed, Donovan prepared her husband's favorite meal, threw open the French doors to a warm, rainy night and enjoyed a bottle of wine and good food, uninterrupted. Donovan remembers talking about the dream house they were building and planned to move into two months later. They were also planning a trip to Napa Valley, Calif., the next month to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

"That night, life was as good as it gets," she said.

Cherry must have agreed, because once he arrived at his desk the next morning, he called his wife to thank her. About 20 minutes later, the first hijacked airplane hit floors below him, setting into motion the events of a tragic day that enraged a nation and identified bin Laden as its foremost enemy.

While Donovan was furious with bin Laden, anger was not her overriding emotion.

"People don't believe me, but there was not one day after Sept. 11 that I was angry with God," Donovan said. "Even with all the years that have passed, I have not been traumatized by anger. If you let it take over, you're doomed."

But Sunday night, Donovan was angry.

"I got slammed again with all those emotions. The anger came pouring out," she said.

Memories of all the days when she forced herself to get up and go on without her husband were rubbed raw.

Her sons had a slightly different reaction.

"When I went and told the kids, Colton (now 10) responded with a 'yippee,'" Donovan said.

Brett, nearly 16, gave a thoughtful response that Donovan said would have made his father proud.

"He said, 'That's great, but maybe we shouldn't be so happy that someone is dead.'"

"Steve was such an incredible father," Donovan said. "He was teaching those boys to be good and strong and respectful. I felt like he gave me a high five when Brett said that."

Donovan and the children left the East Coast behind and have not looked back. Every New York neighborhood held a memory of a life that no longer existed.

"I took Brett to visit his dad at the office two weeks before the attack," she said. "He loved it. We took the two elevators up to the top of the tower, visited Steve and then went out for a fantastic dinner. That's the memory I choose to hold."

She never visited Ground Zero after the attack and does not plan to.

A circuitous route brought Donovan and her boys to the Wood River Valley nearly four years ago: a journey wrought with joy and pain and change.

"I feel like Steve's last thoughts must have been, 'God, take care of my girl,' because I feel taken care of," Donovan said. "We are in a safe place here. I survived it. I have a wonderful, wonderful husband (Michael Donovan) and sons who are happy and doing well."

And while Donovan initially responded to the killing of bin Laden with a mix of anger and joy and a strong taste for vengeance, the passing hours provided clarity.

"What I felt by day's end Monday was not anger anymore," Donovan said. "I felt blessed and I felt very proud. There is finally some closure."

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