Most of us associate the month of September with the tragedy that occurred on 9/11/01. We don’t think of Grandparent’s day which traditionally arrives on the first Sunday after Labor Day.  Seldom do we consider these two events side-by-side in relationship with each other. For my friend Paula Clifford Scott, September 11, 2011, was especially cruel and poignant because, not only was it Grandparent’s Day, by chance, but it marked the 10th anniversary of the death of her only daughter and granddaughter.

On 9/11/01, Juliana Valentine McCourt, age four, and her mother, Ruth Clifford McCourt, departed from Boston on American Airlines flight 11 headed for a vacation in California. Ruth’s best friend, Paige Farrelly Hackel (Godmother to Juliana) was on the second plane, United flight 175. The dream trip for mother, daughter and Godmother included the Deepak Chopra Center for Well-being and Disneyland.  Before departing for the airport, Juliana explained to Grandma Paula how she had decided which of her favorite stuffed animals would accompany her on the plane. “Bunny Rabbit can stay with you, Gramma,” she said, “he’ll take care of you while I’m gone.”

Eight children between the ages of two and eleven died in the three planes lost on 9/11.  How do grandparents survive with just the memory of the tiny hands and fresh faces of their grandchildren and the knowledge that they themselves are still here, alive?  Knowing that the unspoken order of life and death – who should depart this earth before the other – has been so tragically turned upside down.  Deep sadness, rage, disbelief, guilt, even becoming physically debilitated by the psychological distress of grief are all possible in the aftermath.

Grief counselors sometimes suggest that the bereaved express feelings by writing down whatever comes to mind. After pouring emotions onto the page, the words can be kept, shared, torn up, burned or buried.

The Thread Faery Book inspired by Paula

Paula went one step further. In memory of her small granddaughter who was delighted by flowers, spider-webs and tales of invisible fairy kingdoms, she inspired a children’s book entitled, The Thread Faery.  When Paula and Ruth moved to the US from Ireland in 1973, they brought their love for the Irish storytelling traditions. Her good friend and writer Amy Crockett, along with illustrator Elaine G Mills, brought The Thread Faery to fruition with poetry and paintings. The story brings to life an Irish fairy child who weaves golden threads of loving connection between the lives of those who perished in 9/11 and those they left behind.

depiction of burning towers in "The Thread Faery"

Paula says that she survived the death of her daughter and granddaughter through faith and resilience. She seeks out comforting coincidences, like the fact that I have the same initials, RC, as her daughter. She also turned her personal tragedy into a gift of comfort for others by sharing the imaginary world of Juliana with all children.

Paula didn’t stop with the creation of the book. She keeps herself growing by creating a commemorative garden dedicated to Juliana’s memory, filled with the pinks, blues and yellows that her daughter and granddaughter loved. Today, little girls in frothy tutus dance among the pink rose bushes listening to the story of the Thread Faery read by Paula with her Irish lilt. Through this magical book and garden, Paula has created a place to celebrate beauty and preciousness. It does not forgive a deplorable act, but it brightens and sustains the light given off by one brief life.  Paula says she is grateful for the love of her daughter and the great gift of her granddaughter. She embodies the words of Lionel Hampton who said,” Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”

Bunny Rabbit is still resting on Gramma Paula’s bed.

If you would like more information about Paula, the memorial garden, or The Thread Faery  book, please send a message to me via [email protected] or or

Juliana and Ruth McCourt