They are losing hope of ever having a funeral, a burial, a grave for their children to visit.
"As a human being, you're taught you have the funeral, you have the body, you have a place to go and mourn," the 36-year-old New Yorker said. "I don't have any of that."
The ceremony marking the end of the sorrowful, 8 1/2-month cleanup begins at 10:29 a.m. - the moment when the second tower collapsed on Sept. 11. An empty, flag-draped stretcher symbolizing the remains not recovered or identified will be carried from the spot. Thousands of victims' relatives and rescue workers are expected to attend.
"To not have anything recovered, it's just such an empty feeling," said Jennifer Tarantino, 32, of Bayonne, New Jersey, whose husband died in the attacks. "It's so final. Your husband goes to work one day and that's it, you never see him again."
Kenneth Tarantino, 39, a currency trader with Cantor Fitzgerald, worked on the 107th floor of the north tower. His remains have not been identified.
His widow is not giving up hope.
Maybe the medical examiner's office will call and say it has found his remains. She has already taken 4-year-old Kenneth Jr. and 6-month-old Jason to have swabs taken from their mouths for use in DNA testing.
"Once the city or the medical examiner tells me `That's it, we did our best, we're done,' that's when I'll be able to say, `I hung in there, this is how it's going to be,"' she said.
Beverly Eckert, 50, of Stamford, Connecticut, said that when that stretcher is carried out on Thursday, "for me, that's going to represent my husband, Sean."
Eckert was on the telephone with her husband, Sean Rooney, 50, a vice president for risk management services at Aon Corp., as he tried to make his way to the roof of the south tower.
"I'd prefer right now that there are no remains identified, so I don't have to think about what the particular remains found mean as to the way he died," Eckert said. "I'd prefer, in my mind, to somehow think that there was this total instantaneous disintegration and that his remains haven't been sitting in a refrigerated trailer all this time."
Of the 2,823 people believed killed in the attack, 1,102 have been identified, about 300 through DNA alone. About 19,550 body parts have been recovered, some through the sifting process at a Staten Island landfill.
New York City officials said the sifting will continue and the identification process will go on for months. Those parts that cannot be identified will be retained, in case new technology makes it possible someday.
In the meantime, families have held memorial services and planted trees in lieu of funerals and burials.
Four days after the attack, Eckert held a memorial service in her sister's back yard in Buffalo, New York, where Eckert and Rooney had been married 21 years before.
Tarantino held a candlelight Mass two weeks after the attacks. But she desperately hopes for some remains, so her sons have someplace to go to visit the father only one of them knew. Friends of her husband planted a tree in his memory, along with a plaque, across the street from the Bayonne, New Jersey, ballfields he played on as a child.
"My son leaves flags and flowers there. I think it helps him a little bit," she said.
Campbell similarly wants real, physical evidence of Jill Marie Campbell, 31, for himself and their 18-month-old son, Jacob.
"Someday, I'll have to answer `Where's my mother?' I don't know how to answer that question. There's the reality of what's happened," Campbell said, "but there's still the question of where is she?"
That's a question with which so many of the relatives are struggling, including Sally White, of Needham, Mass.
White's daughter, Susan Blair, died at the World Trade Center and has never been found. "I have had no return of her remains," said White, in an interview with CBS News Station WBZ-TV in Boston, before she traveled to New York for Thursday's solemn Ground Zero ceremony. "Somehow, I think Susan is there, and her spirit is there, and I feel closer to her."
"There are moments of horrendous pain. Most of the time I am still dealing with the fact that she is in fact gone," said White. "I truly know what spirit means now, because her spirit is just entirely within me."