The dead do tell tales.
And the loved ones of those killed or presumed dead in last month's attack on the World Trade Center are coming across some surprising stories--a few pleasant, others poignant--as they empty apartments and sift through the paperwork that remains of lives cut short.
Parents are finding diaries that talk of secret loves or hidden worries. Family and friends may soon gain access to one man's closely guarded novel. A Queens widow learned her husband hoarded mayonnaise and tuna in a basement closet.
The surprises are emerging from bills, receipts, notes, journals, drawers and closets of those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist strike, with no chance to tuck in the folds of their lives.
Their next of kin are excavating personal details and private thoughts with all the care of recovery workers sifting for remains at the World Trade Center site.
"We could be paleontologists, if there's such a thing for your own child," said Geraldine Davie, whose daughter Amy O'Doherty worked at a bond trading firm high in the north tower. "We're looking into her life and culture, how she lived.
"At first, I thought it was this terrible invasion of her privacy," said Davie, who cleaned out her daughter's apartment and has started reading her journals. "I thought I was stepping over a line. I don't want to see any of this, I don't want to know. I just want to keep what I had, because she was 23 and I'm sure she kept secrets from me."
It is common for survivors to stumble across hidden dimensions or secrets of a loved one who dies, experts say. From stories told at funerals to surprise documents, mourners are forced to face and reconcile new information with their memories of the deceased, they say.
"It will, in the beginning, create a little bit of pain. But in time it will fill in an accurate memory picture of the person who lived, which is enormously important," said John W. James, co-author of the "Grief Recovery Handbook" and founder of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks.
For Maureen Sullivan, Derek Sword's hidden treasure serves as a bittersweet reminder of her fiance, a 29-year-old equity salesman for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods who worked in the World Trade Center's south tower.
The couple got engaged Aug. 25. The week before the tragedy, the Scottish citizen casually mentioned that there was "more to come" than the three-diamond platinum engagement ring he bought for his future bride.
"He was always dropping hints like that so I let it slide," said Sullivan, 30, a pharmacist.
The words came back to Sullivan six days after the attack, while she was at the home she shared with Sword, looking at her engagement ring box with a girlfriend. On a hunch, they called the jeweler, who confirmed that Sword had purchased something else--a diamond pendant necklace.
"I was afraid that he kept it at work," Sullivan said. "My friend said, 'Maybe I'll poke around his closet and see if it is in there.' " Sure enough, it was tucked away at the back of Sword's sock drawer.
"I haven't taken it off since," she said.
Those who loved Eric Steen may solve a mystery: the subject of a 300-page novel the 32-year-old refused to discuss. He wrote it during his off hours as a bond trader for Euro Brokers, located in the south tower.
"None of us are really 100% sure of what it's about," said longtime friend Kerry Maloney, adding that the work is being held in a safe place until family members feel up to reading it. "All I know is that it's fiction."
While cleaning out her daughter's Manhattan apartment, Noreen Supinski came across a box filled with correspondence.
Thank-you cards. Birthday cards. Inspirational cards. Letters. Notes. They all were addressed to Colleen Supinski and bore cumulative witness to the popularity of the 27-year-old associate trader for Sandler O'Neill & Partners, also located in the south tower.
"It was incredible to me," said her mother. "I didn't realize how large her circle of friends was that she had a positive impact on."
In Queens, Joanne Hrycak had a different kind of epiphany about Marty, her husband of 32 years. It was no revelation he was a pack rat, but she didn't fathom how much of a pack rat until death forced her to pick through his papers, books, files and collections.
"I can tell you that my husband must have saved every single piece of paper since the day we met," said Hrycak, 53, a medical secretary. "I found some estimates for some dental work I had in 1990.
"I said, 'My God! I don't even have these teeth anymore!' "
Among the belongings amassed by the 52-year-old New York Department of Taxation and Finance investigator, who was in the south tower when the planes hit: Mario Lanza records; Stetson cologne (five bottles); Conan comic books; and about 2,000 books, ranging from religion to science fiction to Russian history.
Those things Hrycak knew about. What she discovered in the last week was that her husband, a tuna fish junkie, kept a stash in the basement--four jars of mayonnaise, eight cans of tuna, eight tubes of toothpaste and five toothbrushes.
"Why, I can't tell you. Was he waiting for nuclear war? I don't know," Hrycak said. "All kidding aside, I'm going to treasure the stuff. . . . Well, certainly not the Stetson, that's for sure."
The father of broker Brent Woodall faces legal complications because his 31-year-old son, who was married a year, apparently failed to change the beneficiary designation on his investment accounts and life insurance through Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, where he traded bank stock.
As it stands now, Woodall's father, John of La Jolla, inherits the money, not his widow, Tracy, who family members say is 10 weeks' pregnant.
"That surprised me a bit but I'd also say that at age 31, trying to plan your estate or insurance isn't the first thing on your mind," Woodall said. The family, he added, is grappling with how to legally transfer the money to his daughter-in-law.
Exploring photos and diaries has turned up more intimate surprises, survivors have found.
For example, Fitzroy St. Rose's parents never knew how much he worried over his mother's hypertension until they found his diary in his drawer, said stepfather Dennis Joseph.
Nor did they know that St. Rose, who worked at General Telecommunications in the north tower, had a budding romance.
"He would have to get flowers for somebody, that came up a few times," Joseph said. "He never wrote down the name."
Davie, a 61-year-old teacher from New Rochelle, said she too has been discovering a new side of her younger daughter Amy O'Doherty, a bubbly, brash broker's assistant at Cantor Fitzgerald Securities, which lost about 700 employees in the attack.
She found a $320 speeding ticket O'Doherty didn't mention. She fished through college photographs showing boys shirtless or young people smoking pot. She gasped at the $2,300 American Express bill and a $932 checking overdraft.
But most instructive have been the journals her daughter kept from her teenage years through July 16, the last entry. Davie said she can only bring herself to read a few pages at a time.
Part of the pain, she added, is learning all about O'Doherty's inner conflicts and self-doubts, a "depth of character that I had right in front of me that I failed, really, to see."
The most surprising thing, however, was learning through the journals and conversations with other grieving Cantor Fitzgerald families that O'Doherty dated the man sitting next to her at the office. "I never expected that. Never," Davie said. "The way she portrayed him to me was that he was just a friend."
Now Davie knows why O'Doherty spent so many weekends in Hoboken: Her boyfriend lived there. Now she knows why O'Doherty didn't show up for Easter, opting instead to celebrate with her boyfriend's family. Davie said she feels peace knowing this secret, knowing that her daughter enjoyed a wonderful relationship before she and her boyfriend died.
Still, the surprises keep coming, like letters from the dead in a Norman Mailer novel. Last week, Davie opened her mail to find O'Doherty's last cellular phone bill, listing the frantic calls she made during the last five minutes of her life.
A stunning reminder of an unspeakable loss, the bill nonetheless answered a nagging question: O'Doherty managed to call her mother's school, where she reached the school secretary. But why didn't she call her big sister in Washington, with whom she was so close?
The bill showed she did, three times. But there was no answer.
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Times staff writer Charles Ornstein contributed to this report.