Gail Sezna polishes the bench at her son’s memorial at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church cemetery in Greenville.
photograph by Pat Crowe II
One wall in the cozy den of Gail Sezna’s home in Rockland is crowded with images of her boys—Deeg, Teddy and Willy.
“I have a million photos,” she says with a quiet chuckle. “I just thinned them out this year.”
Hanging on the wall is a large framed shot of the three boys together, another of Willy swinging a golf club. A charcoal sketch, made by a friend, shows Teddy as a smiling teen. And there is a painted portrait of Deeg—Davis G. Sezna. Tucked behind it is a ball cap from Mountain Branch Golf Club and an American flag that flew over the Capitol, a gift from Congressman Mike Castle. Above all hangs a decorative plaque that reads “live, laugh, love.”
“You never think things are going to happen. Then they happen,” Sezna says. “You’re never going to figure out why.”
In the summer of 2000, Teddy was killed in a well-publicized accident while boating with his father on the Chesapeake, shortly before starting his junior year at Tatnall School. Just over a year later, Deeg, a 22-year-old financial management trainee at the investment banking firm of Sandler O’Neill, was lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Soon after, Sezna and her husband divorced. In a span of less than two years, she lost most of her family. Family, she says, “was my life.”
So how does one cope with such monumental loss? For some measure of closure, she and her then-husband held a burial ceremony soon after the tragedy, though they’ve never received any of Deeg’s remains or effects. The following May, she accepted Deeg’s degree during a commencement ceremony at Vanderbilt University. A memorial scholarship has been established in his name. She recorded a StoryCorps piece for NPR.
Sezna also had a lifetime of experience as a registered nurse, which had taught her something about death, and her work, which gave her spells of relief from her own sorrows. She had the support of her five brothers and sisters, as well as their mother, since passed. She had the sympathy of friends who had also lost children. She had a professional counselor. And she had her writing.
What began as an effort to record memories about Teddy became a tale of her survival. Ten years in the writing, “My Boys: A Mother’s Story After Multiple Losses,” was distributed through the centering.org Web site of Grief Digest magazine.
Sezna describes her journey through the grief as putting “one foot in front of the other.” In the book, she writes that after years, she came to realize that she “had a sore where once the wound was gaping,” that she slowly was “settling into a serene tranquility.”
She doesn’t expect anyone to understand what she experienced or how she feels. But the feelings have become easier to manage.
She lives as she believes her sons would have wanted her to. She occasionally takes a bottle of Yuengling, Deeg’s favorite beer, to the cemetery for a drink. She recently hosted dinner where she’d asked guests to speak about a loved one. She commemorates every Sept. 11 with a gathering at her home. They are happy occasions, she says, filled with food and drink and fellowship. “We’re not standing around crying, trust me.”
This year, Sezna, Willy and her ex-husband will host a reception for Deeg’s friends and fraternity brothers at a nearby restaurant after an official 10th anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero.
And she will continue to love Willy, now a 28-year-old with a family of his own.
“I just want to give him all the support he needs.”