NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - For 18 years, this somber day always had a particular look and feel to it.
This year, we knew it had to be different, and it definitely was, but for family that gathered at the memorial, it was no less heartfelt and meaningful.
The images and sounds that mark this day always stir the soul, but this September 11, the upheaval caused by the coronavirus meant reconsidering of how the date was to be commemorated.
Dignitaries and politicians gathered on the memorial plaza. This year, bumping elbows replaced handshakes and hugs. Families gathered as well, collectively grieving for loved ones lost, not quite socially distanced, but staying respectfully separated. And the most prominent mark of this day: Everyone in a mask.
But it was the reading of the names that marked the most striking departure this year. The decision made by Alice Greenwald and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum was out of an abundance of caution to not have live reading of the names , but instead to use a recording.
Family members looking for comfort turned to the plaza memorial, where names are etched on the wall. Pain remains etched on their faces.
If it's true that time heals all wounds, it seems 19 years is not enough, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported.
"Just for the ones who didn't make it, the ones who didn't have a chance," said Denise Abraham-Sexius, a survivor who attends the ceremony every year.
She watched and listened from outside the gate.
"We have to try and protect ourselves somehow. So whichever way they decide to do it to protect each other, I'm hoping it's the right way," she said.
People brought pictures of their loved ones, and the grief they've carried through the years.
"I still feel like it was yesterday, even though 19 years have gone by," said Seaford resident Gina Pinos, who lost her fiancé. "It's a surreal day where half of me is still back then, and half of me is here, present today."
"Every time we come, it's like a different experience. You see things you didn't see before. You feel things you didn't feel before," said Lynn Green, who lives in Boston.
Pat and John O'Rourke went to the memorial with their granddaughter, in hopes of giving her a living history lesson.
"I want them to know what her grandfather did and all the months he spend down here, 'cause he was on the job," said Pat.
So many on the job didn't make it home that day. An agonizing death toll, but the spirit of heroes still inspires after 19 years.
"While it was the worst day in our history, it was a proud day to witness that level of bravery," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
New York rebuilt and rebounded from the terror attacks, proving the city always comes back. Holding a ceremony in the midst of a pandemic proves it never forgets.
You can get the latest news, sports and weather on our brand new CBS New York app. Download here.
for more features.