9/11 widow's lessons in griefs from Rwanda

The suffering of war and terror doesn't end for those who survive, and have to carry their grief through life. Sometimes their greatest resource is one other, as revealed in this story of some unlikely survivors who found each other, in our series "9/11 - America Remembers:

"It was a gash in the side of humanity," Andrea Garbarini said. "It was a horrible event for all the world and the world changed that day."

It certainly changed for Garbarini, who lost her husband, Charley, the father of two little boys.

Lt. Charles Garbarini was a New York firefighter who died at ground zero.

"If he walked into a room, you knew he was there," Garbarini said. "He had a business card and he would put on it, 'Charles Garbarini. You light 'em, we fight 'em.'"

They were together for 20 years.

Ten years after 9/11, Garbarini said, "Life has filled in around it, but there's certainly moments when you're back there."

Garbarini leaned on a small group of fire department widows - "it's the family you never wanted" - determined to endure their losses without becoming defined as "victims."

"If it wasn't for those women I don't know what I would have done," she said.

But it wasn't until last winter ... and a trip to Rwanda ... where she encountered some lessons about grief and resilience that helped her, finally, to fully heal.

In 1994, genocide took the lives of a million people and left a quarter of a million widows. Many were raped and are now living with HIV.

"I felt that I would like to connect with some of the widows there and ask them how they managed to go through their grief," Garbarini said.

She brought a video camera and asked them to share their stories. What she heard surprised her:

"I have already forgiven those who killed my husband, because they killed him and it's over and he can't come back," one woman said.

"What they went through was so horrific - these people lost children, they lost their husbands - it was beyond my comprehension, but they were still standing," Garbarini said.

The women showed her a ritual reenactment of the day their families were slaughtered.

One woman would find another woman, and then another woman in the fields, and they would carry each other back to places that are safe.

"The Rwanda women taught me you can pull yourself out of the rubble and you can move forward," Garbarini said.

The women even told Garbarini that she helped them, too.

"I'd like to thank her for sharing her stories with us," one woman said. "This is very helpful; now I realize I'm not alone."

Garbarini produced a documentary called "From the Ground Up," about the challenge and life-sustaining reward of fashioning something good from tragedy.

"I wanted something positive to come out of this," she said. "I wanted something positive to come out of 9/11,"

With her power of perspective, she learned a lesson about survival ... forgiveness ... and moving on, that she is now teaching to others.

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  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.