Ysuff Salie knows better than most how they feel.
He has been where the families of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Sean Collier are right now. He knows what it’s like to lose someone you adore in a heinous, historic moment. He has felt the worst-imaginable personal pain amid immense public grief, known an anguish few see even as the whole world watches.
His daughter Rahma, 28, and pregnant with her first child, died in the September 11 attacks. She was a passenger on Flight 11, bound for a wedding in California with her husband Micky.
“You went into aimlessly looking at things and walking around and not really knowing what to do” afterward, he recalled last week. “We were numb, for many months, many years.”
As the family tried to absorb their loss, the aftermath of the attacks that killed Rahma played out all around them. The footage of the burning towers played in an endless loop. The repercussions unfurled over months.
Her brother Afkham couldn’t avoid the news, “but I definitely wasn’t looking for it,” he said. “I wasn’t associating it with my sister. She was gone, she was gone . . . There was nothing I could do to change anything.”
Monday’s bombings happened just a couple of blocks from L’Aroma, the cafe the Salie family owns on Newbury Street. Ysuff’s shaken staff called him at home: They had seen people bleeding, and they were afraid. He told them to close up. Then he turned on the TV, and that lost feeling returned.
“I was really in a daze,” he said. “Even today I am in a daze. Nothing seems to register with me.”
But he knew he had to reopen quickly. He thought of the people who would be walking around the area, feeling aimless themselves, and of the police and volunteers down on Boylston — men and women like those who had responded on 9/11, who might need a break and something to drink. An employee put up signs telling volunteers and first responders the coffee was on the house.
“It was repaying people for the kindness they showed us,” Ysuff said.
So many were kind to her family in the days and months after Rahma’s death. Friends and relatives made it a mission to distract them. Strangers offered help and condolences. The loss was not theirs alone.
“I’m sorry,” I said, as Ysuff spoke of Rahma’s sweetness.
“I know,” he said quietly. “Everyone is.”
Afkham feels blessed to have had Rahma in his life, sorry for everybody who didn’t get to meet her, grateful for the condolences. Losing his sister the way he did means his family’s “100 percent personal” loss will never be fully that.
“I am a little exhausted when the anniversary comes around,” Afkham said. “It’s a hard day for me, and I prefer it to be a quieter day.”
There has been much talk over the last week about how Monday’s bombings won’t change us. But some among us will be changed, and forever. After we recover from the initial shock, after we know all we can about how and why these men did what they did, after we begin to get on with our lives, they will be left with their losses.
For most of us, this horrific week will become an emblem of a city’s grit and resilience. For them, it will be emblematic of nothing bigger — nothing smaller — than empty places at their dinner tables.
On warm days, Ysuff Salie walks less than two blocks from his cafe on Newbury Street to the 9/11 memorial in the Boston Garden. He finds a bench by the horseshoe-shaped sculpture, which will surely soon have a companion somewhere nearby to fix the memory of this awful week. He finds himself with thoughts we all share, or will.
“I sit and wonder, ‘What is all this?’ It’s just not the normal thing, right?”