<i>48 Hours:</i> What About The Children?

A New Jersey Town Is In Mourning

Parents made suddenly single by tragedy have no Dr. Spock book to tell them what to do. Today, there are thousands of men and women struggling to handle their own grief while taking care of their children.

Nowhere is that more evident, reports Carol Marin, than in Middletown, N. J., right across the water from what was the World Trade Center.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack that leveled those buildings, there’s a funeral or memorial service in Middlletown nearly every day.

Petrina Picerno buried her husband, Matthew, Thursday. In the beginning, she held out some hope for her children.

“I guess from Thursday morning on,” Picerno said, “ I was telling them, ‘Gee, you know it - it's a couple of days. They haven't found anybody from Daddy's company, Cantor-Fitzgerald.’ And my older son was getting mad that I was giving up hope.

“And then on Sunday, I gave them a little more reality: there's still nobody found. And then Monday pretty much was the day - we were in the car in my garage, and I turned around and I told them, ‘Guys, Daddy's probably not coming home. Daddy is probably dead.’"

A Son's Letter
The following is a letter Anthony Picerno wrote to his father, a victim of the terrorist attack:
Dear Dad:

I hope you’re having a good time up in heaven. You would not believe how many people came to your funeral, it was about a thousand. That’s how many people love you. Don’t worry dad, I’ll still get good marks in school and I’ll continue guitar and who knows with your help I might even become famous. See you later, Dad. Love,


P.S. whenever I feel alone, I’ll always look up and say what’s up Dad

Picerno considers herself lucky. At least she had a body to bury. And her oldest son, Anthony, was able to put his feelings into words, writing a letter to his father just hours after the funeral.

“I hope you’re having a good time up in heaven,” he wrote. “You would not believe how many people came to your funeral, it was about a thousand.”

Susan Buhse’s two children are too young to write letters. Their father Patrick, like Matthew Picerno, worked for Cantor-Fitzgerald at the top of the World Trade Center.

“Wedneday morning, when they woke up,” Buhse said. “I brought the into my bed and I just said that something happened to daddy’s building and he’s lost.

“My daughter just said that we should get in the car and go to work and find him if he’s lost. And I said that we can’t go to daddy’s work.”

In Middletown, which has become a town of young widows and fatherless children, the question “Where’s Daddy?” is the most difficult to answer.

“He will say, ‘When’s Daddy coming home,’ or ‘I want my Daddy… I want my Daddy’ and I will honestly say to him, ‘Daddy’s not coming home; Daddy’s with God and Mommy’s here,’ “ Buhse said.

With her daughter, it’s a bit different.

“I sit down with her,” Buhse said. “I try to get on her level or face to face and explain to her the best that I can. It’s kind of hard to explain to somebody what you don’t really, truly understand and I try to talk to her everytime I see that she needs me. ”

It’s a staggering statistic: 1,500 children out of one company alone have lost at least one parent. Thousands more have lost sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

Mark Merezio is the 18-year-old godson of Matthew Picerno.

“I am terrified for what happened to him,” he said. “Terrified what happened to him at the last moments before…after all the mourning, there is lots of anger. For kids at school who did not know anybody, there was anger. They wanted to enlist to get revenge for whomever is responsible for this.”

Asked to describe his uncle, Merezio said, “I always wanted to be just like him. He was a business guy. He was sharp looking. I wanted to dress in a suit and go to work every day like he did. I’m going to miss him so much. He was my hero.”

Petrina Picerno, meanwhile, tries to keep her husband’s spirit live for her children.

“I just don’t think of being dead and buried as gone,” she said. “I just think that there’s - you know, he’s still with us. And I try to teach my children that, and they know that, too.”

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