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Consoler in Chief
It was on the night of Sept. 23 that Giuliani figured out how important the funerals were to him. That afternoon 20,000 gathered for a prayer service at Yankee Stadium, the first major public event after the attack and another huge security challenge for his police force. Giuliani found the service enormously draining. He had barely slept since the 11th he needs only three or four hours a night but wasn't getting even that and it was catching up with him. He spoke briefly, but mostly he sat near second base, looking into the sea of grieving faces the families of the dead and missing cops and fire fighters who filled the infield, sobbing and clutching photographs of their lost loved ones. He had met many of them at the Family Center or during gatherings over the past 12 days, so "in some cases I could put them together with a name," he recalls. "In some cases I couldn't but remembered the faces. And listening to the beautiful music and the religious leaders, and Bette Midler singing the hero song [Wind Beneath My Wings], I just lost it."
When it was over, he was supposed to take a helicopter to a funeral service in Far Rockaway, out at the end of Queens. But he was a wreck, so Nathan and others urged him to take the night off. Instead, he decided to ride his SUV to Rockaway, catnap in the backseat, "and if I'm still too tired, I'll head home." As the SUV entered Rockaway after a 45-minute ride, the mayor was still exhausted. "I was sort of waking up," he says. "I said to myself, 'I shouldn't have come. I don't have the energy to do this.'" But he pulled himself out of the SUV anyway. "Suddenly it felt like I was in heaven," he says. "There were all these people in the field, hundreds of people, and they're all holding candles. Many of them I knew because I've spent a lot of time in Rockaway. And I was looking at them they're such beautiful people, such strong, strong people and I realized that Rockaway had been hit hard lots of police officers, fire fighters and workers in the financial community, from executives to secretaries and stock boys. When I gave my talk, I said, 'I was very tired when I got here, but I have a great deal of energy now because of you.' I realized that one of the ways I could get through this is by going to services. They make me feel useful. They're heartbreaking but inspirational. I see the families and think, If they can do it, you can do it."
The next morning he was back in Rockaway, at the very same church, for the first of five more funerals that day. He attended eight more services there and then on the morning of Nov. 12 he was there again, when American Flight 587 crashed into the neighborhood, killing 265 people. Wherever he went, Giuliani took to leading each congregation in a whooping, foot-stomping ovation for its fallen hero. And his eulogies though largely unrecorded because he does not tell the press which services he plans to attend became an ever evolving meditation on the nature of honor, courage, sacrifice and loss.
"I would like to say just a word to the children," the mayor tells the congregation at St. William the Abbot Catholic Church, an hour outside the city, in Seaford, N.Y., the kind of modest, comfortable Long Island suburb that was home to so many of the cops and fire fighters who died on Sept. 11. Giuliani has come to Seaford to praise Sgt. Timothy Roy, 36, a fun-loving, playfully boastful cop who was off duty on Sept. 11 but heard that a plane had struck the Trade Center, raced to the site and was last seen helping people escape from the south tower, the first to collapse. This morning Giuliani has reshuffled his schedule moving his tour of ground zero with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon so he can be here. Like Rudy, Timmy Roy came from a family of cops and fire fighters, and Giuliani wants to honor that. But now he has a message for Roy's three children, a message he sends to the children of dead heroes at every service he attends.
"Nobody can take your father from you," he says. "He is part of you. He helped make you. He and your mom are an integral part of who you are. All the wonderful things that everybody...for the rest of your life tells you about your dad, about how brave he was, what a decent man he was, how strong he was, how sensitive he was to the needs of people all those things are inside you. They're all part of you. People will say the same things about you 10, 15, 20, 25 years from now." The whole place is weeping, riding the mayor's words as he brings the message home. "I can just see it in your family. This is a great family. He's with you nobody can take him away from you. You have something lots of children don't have. You have the absolute, certain knowledge that your dad was a great man."