Six months ago, when Susan Fisher learned that her husband, Bennett, had been killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, it was hard for her to imagine the outpouring of kindness and support that would follow.
"I was shocked at how the country wanted to share our grief," said Fisher, a Stamford schoolteacher.
But by Sunday, as she joined scores of fellow Connecticut residents who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, for a memorial observance at the Union Baptist Church, Fisher had come to recognize her role in the national healing process.
"There are those of us who are kind of a touchstone [for the country's grief]," Fisher said after the service.
The interfaith service celebrated the lives of the victims, and the transformation of the nation, in prayer and song. Friends and families of more than 130 state residents who died in the attacks filled the sanctuary, which seats 900. For the name of each victim, a chime rang out. For the nation, there were lessons.
"In the space of six months, our national character has been on display," Gov. John G. Rowland told the worshipers. "To those we remember today, our responsibility is to be just a little bit better as people."
In the lower-level church hall, families filled a display board with memories of their lost spouses, parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends.
A framed certificate of high academic achievement at Northeastern University was the legacy of Candace Lee Williams, who was from Danbury. The family of Michael C. Rothberg of Old Greenwich offered laminated photos.
But other memories were simply hand-printed in marker. The family of Rob Higley of New Fairfield left a photograph of his infant daughter, Robyn Elizabeth Higley, born Nov. 3, 2001. Someone named Jill wrote a chatty, handwritten letter with news about the kids and the family to a victim identified only as Diane: "Just wanted to let you know we're paying tribute to you today."
A funeral program celebrating the life of Bradley James Fetchet, of New Canaan, who was 24 when he was killed, was posted alongside a Native American poem, printed on a sheet of tie-dyed computer paper.
The memory board will be displayed at the state Capitol, in Hartford.
Kieran C. Lyons, an accountant from Darien, brought a collage of photographs of his youngest brother, Michael, a firefighter from Squad 41 in the Bronx, N.Y. For about two weeks after the twin towers collapse, Lyons and his family hoped that Michael had found refuge in the rubble and would be found alive.
"If there was a chance of a group finding a void, they were capable of that," Lyons said of his brother's elite squad of firefighters trained to rescue people from beneath collapsed buildings.
Lyons carried a uniform patch from the squad in his breast pocket. Members of Kieran Lyons' 8-year-old son Tom's hockey team now wear a similar squad patch on their uniforms in tribute to Tom's uncle Michael.
Kieran Lyons said the memorial service was uplifting. It included prayers and songs by Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy, as well as songs performed by a professional Broadway performer and Union Baptist's children's choir.
Rowland read a letter written to him by Susan Fisher's daughter, Louisa. In the letter, and in comments she made after the service, Louisa, 26, said public displays of mourning and personal acts of kindness had helped her family cope with the misery.
Her father, Bennett L. Fisher, 58, had worked in the World Trade Center for 32 years. His company, Fiduciary Trust Co., was among the first tenants of what was then the world's tallest building. Bennett Fisher loved his job and the building, Susan Fisher said.
Susan Fisher said she had been touched by support from her family and friends and letters and e-mails from total strangers. Although she works, the loss of her husband's salary was a great hardship. But while everyone has heard about the huge and now controversial victims' funds, she said she has been helped the most by small, local, unsung contributions.
One she remembers vividly was her garbage collection service, which gave her several months of pickup without a bill.