NEEDHAM, Mass. — Since Sept. 11, 2001, Susan Retik has been inspired by a passage from a book on grief.
"It said, 'You can't always choose the roles you play in life, but you can choose the way in which you play them.' We didn't choose to be 9/11 widows, but with that title comes a voice," says Susan.
A voice with a mission that has taken her — and another 9/11 widow — to Afghanistan, where women a world away share the same pain.
Susan and Dave Retik were college sweethearts with two children and another on the way. They were living the American dream, Susan says, until Dave's plane was flown into the World Trade Center.
The outpouring of help was immediate and overwhelming.
"I just felt like we have so much here in the United States and have received so much support, how can we turn our backs on those in need in other parts of the world?" says Susan.
Patti Quigley felt the same way. Her husband, Patrick, was also killed that day.
"I like being here to see where Patrick was murdered," says Patti as she visits ground zero in lower Manhattan.
So the two women started raising money with bicycle rides from ground zero to their homes near Boston — to help other widows like them in Afghanistan, who lost husbands in the U.S.-led bombings.
"The women in Afghanistan, when she is widowed, their status is automatically lowered a couple of notches," says Susan. "It is an extremely difficult, extremely difficult life."
Their foundation is called Beyond the 11th and is being chronicled in a documentary film.
But sending money wasn't enough. So in June 2006, Susan and Patti went to Afghanistan to meet the widows they're helping.
Women like Sahera.
"Our people are all poor," she told them, "and there are so many widows among us."
"It's a palpable thing that a mother is a mother and a woman is a woman no matter what country you live in, and what circumstances you have grown up in," says Susan in the documentary.
Five years ago, Susan admits she wouldn't have been able to find Afghanistan on a map. Now, the connection she made there helps her make sense of the world.
And this December, Susan will shed the label of widow. She's getting remarried.
"I wasn't meant to live the rest of my life without the love of a man," she says. "Not only for me, but for my children. I want them to have a father."
And she will continue to empower others to move "beyond the 11th."
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