9/11 victim's wife visits memorial for the 1st time

September 11, 2011 8:29:01 PM PDT
Jill Gartenberg-Pila is about to do something she's never done before: Visit Ground Zero for a September 11 anniversary.

"I feel it's a big celebration of what we've all experienced together, and it's nice to be part of that," says Jill. "I never felt like that before."

Celebration for Jill, in this case, means to celebrate the life of the man she loved - the man she still mourns.

Jill's husband, Jim Gartenberg, was in Tower 1.

Now, to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks and of Jim's death, Jill will be there along with her family: Daughter Nicole, now 12, and just a toddler back when we first met her; and daughter Jamie, named after her father and born 6 months after the attacks. We met her back then too. And two other children, Arielle and Ross, now Jill's children after she married their widower father seven years ago.

They're a little like "The Brady Bunch."

"It's like the Bradyberg Bunch 'cause we're Jewish," says Jill with a big laugh.

Jill mourned, of course, but she had no time to stop living. Not with all those kids to raise.

"I really have to move on," she says. "I knew Jimmy would be proud of me, living our life happily - with our daughters." She says the daughter he never met was "a gift he left for me."

We at Eyewitness News also knew Jim, if only too briefly.

We spoke to Jim on the air - at 9:33 on the morning of September 11.

The 35-year-old commercial real estate broker was at his office on the 86th floor. He was trapped. But he was calm.

He called in to Eyewitness News to assure the families of people in the building, wanting them to know that the condition-as far as he knew-had not escalated.

"I think he helped a lot of families and guided them," says Jill of Jim's reassuring tone on our air. "People felt there was still hope. Jim made people feel there was still hope-we're going to be ok."

But Jim was not so calm, not so self-assured, in a message he left on Jill's voicemail.

At 8:48a.m., Jim's shakey voice came through the recorder. "Jill, there's a fire on my floor. I love you. Tell everyone I love you. I don't know if I'm going to be ok here. I love you so much."

It was the only time that morning that Jim-known for his calmness-sounded frightened.

Now this Brady Bunch of a family will be at Ground Zero to support one another and to honor Jim.

Jim's daughter Nicole at least has some memories, through pictures, of her and her father together-at the beach, at Disney World, in each other's lives.

This past semester she wrote about her dad for a class project, saying how important he was to her. "I think he would be proud," says Nicole.

And now Nicole will be center stage. She's been asked to read some of the names of those killed-including her father's. It will be her first trip to Ground Zero.

"It's a special thing to do," says Nicole. "I'm honored that I was asked to do it."