updated 5/4/2011 8:47:48 AM ET 2011-05-04T12:47:48

President Obama called it a "good day for America" this morning at a White House ceremony. The president, of course, was referring to the death of Osama bin Laden, the towering bearded father of terrorism who eluded U.S. forces for the past decade until he was killed in a shootout in suburban city just 30 miles from the capital of Pakistan.

But what about the rest of us? Is it a good day or will it soon be forgotten in our daily struggles? And will bin Laden's death really matter in the fight against terrorism?

On the second question, experts seem divided. Some say that al-Qaeda will struggle without bin Laden, even though they agree that he was more of a symbolic than a strategic leader. Others say the group will continue to conduct operations against targets in the West and in the Muslim world.

"This was the man who founded the organization and led it for 20 years," said Daniel Byman, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It certainly matters."

Byman said that bin Laden was a unifying figure for al-Qaeda and brought together various factions. The group had had a succession plan in place for several years, and the group's new leader -- most likely Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri -- "lacks bin Laden's stature and charisma."

During the past few years, Al-Qaeda became more decentralized and operated from individual cells of supporters in various countries. That will make its complete destruction more difficult, according to Kenneth James Ryan, a criminologist and terrorism expert at California State University, Fresno.

"We can expect the cells will continue to operate," Ryan said. In recent years, the U.S. government has frozen the financial assets of al-Qaeda, an effort that may be more fruitful than killing bin Laden.

"To launch terrorist attacks far away from the financial core of operation is very expensive," Ryan said. "I would anticipate that al-Qaeda may have had bunch of problems for last several years."

Both experts believe the group will try to undertake revenge attacks in response to bin Laden's death. On Monday, authorities in Washington and New York beefed up security, while the U.S. State Department put out a warning to Americans traveling abroad.

While the future is uncertain, it's clear that for now, Americans are reacting with a sense of elation and relief that justice was served. Thousands of young people gathered in front of the White House to celebrate the news late Sunday night, waving flags and singing "God Bless America."

For 9/11 widow Bonnie McEneaney of New Canaan, Conn., the news of bin Laden's death has been mixed.

"When something like this happens, you're taken right back into the time," said McEneaney, who lost her husband Eamon in the World Trade Center attacks.

"There are no feelings of justice or revenge," said McEneaney, who authored the 2010 book "Messages: Signs, Visits and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11."

"I'm grateful to our government and military that they were able to do this. But it's also very sad that this had to happen in the first place. There's no such thing as closure when losing a loved one."

McEneaney said that the news is also opening emotional wounds that have taken a long time to heal.

Another 9/11 widow, Kristen Breitweiser, told CNN that the death of bin Laden would change the world.

"My 12-year-old daughter will wake tomorrow to a safer world, hopefully a more peaceful world. And that brings me a rare sense of relief," she said in a statement.

The long-term emotional and psychological impacts of 9/11 are still felt by many Americans, according to Judith Richman, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but not as much as before.

Richman has been studying the stresses felt by ordinary Americans in their daily lives. In the past two years, terrorism has dropped in importance for most all groups, except for Muslim-Americans.

"The economy is far more salient to people now than terrorism," Richman said. "For people struggling without jobs or the under-employed who are in jobs that barely pay living wages, this is almost a relief, a distraction."

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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