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Film Captures Loss, Challenges that September 11 Families Face

Movie poster courtesy of

National Association of Social Workers member Mary Fetchet says the critically acclaimed film “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is powerful and thought-provoking and handles the emotional aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in a sensitive way.

Still Fetchet warns the film could upset people who have a personal connection to that tragic day. Those people should avoid watching the film if they believe it could hamper their healing process, she said.

Fetchet, MSW, LCSW, speaks from experience. Her son Brad, 24, died at Two World Trade Center on September 11. Fetchet went on to co-found VOICES of September 11th, an organization that among other things provides a wide range of support services and commemorative events for September 11 families, rescue workers and survivors.

“It’s a wonderful movie,” said Fetchet, who attended a film screening in early January. “It captures accurately the loss and the challenges our families face.”

“In the September 11 community oftentimes there is an adverse reaction to viewing images of the buildings burning and  re-creations of the day, like those included in the film,” she continued. “It’s always critical to forewarn September 11 families, rescue workers and survivors that the content of the film may cause them to relive the shock and the horror of the day.  Providing them with information in advance helps them make an educated decision whether they or their children should see the movie.”

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” follows the story of Oskar Schell (actor Thomas Horn), an intelligent, mature but socially challenged nine-year-old boy in New York City. His father Thomas (actor Tom Hanks), a successful jeweler, had died the previous year when he went to a meeting at the doomed World Trade Center.

Thomas Horn (left) and Tom Hanks star as Oskar Schell and his father Thomas in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Photo courtesy of

Oskar finds a key belonging to his father hidden in a vase in a closet. By finding the lock the key belongs to Oskar hopes to learn something important and keep his father a part of his life.

Fetchet attended an early screening of the film and spoke with director Steven Daldry about the potential impact on family members.  She then wrote to VOICES membership prior to the opening of the film and the airing of the television commercials.

Dozens of family members wrote to express their dismay that they were inadvertently and repeatedly exposed to movie trailers and commercials promoting the movie  during the football playoff games of the New York Giants.

“The New York metropolitan area suffered a devastating loss of life on 9/11 and thousands of families, rescue workers and survivors are still deeply affected by viewing images of the burning buildings and reminders of their personal loss, ” she said.

Recently she blogged about her reaction to the film on the VOICES of September 11 web site (to read the blog posting click here).

Fetchet earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and has worked as a clinical social worker for 18 years. Before September 11 she became interested in working with communities affected by traumatic events after attending a conference that featured a woman who had lost a daughter in the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995.

That woman talked about how the bombing of the Murray building had not only affected her but the larger Oklahoma City community, which reported higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse.

So after her son died in 2001 Fetchet decided to use her social work skills to create an organization that would provide support services to all those impacted by the events of 9/11.

VOICES of September 11 now has more 14,000 members in the United States and 95 other countries that lost citizens.  VOICES offices are located in New Jersey and Connecticut, and they have a visiting office in Washington, D.C. to assist Pentagon families and survivors.

Mary Fetchet

VOICES of September 11 is now working with families to create the 9/11 Living Memorial Project, an online collection of photos that commemorates the nearly 3,000 lives lost and documents the stories of those who survived at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA.

So far, VOICES staff has met with more than 1,600 family members and collected more than 60,000 images, Fetchet said.  The extensive archive of photographs will continue to expand and become a core component of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, she said.

Although a decade has passed since the terrorist attacks occurred, Fetchet said it is still vitally important that the relatives and friends of victims and the over 500,000 people who survived continue to have access to information and support services.

That is why her work with VOICES of September 11 is so fulfilling. Fetchet speaks at conferences across the United States and abroad about VOICES innovative approach to providing long-term services for victims’ families and survivors that promotes resiliency.

She is also a strong victims advocate on 9/11 issues and continues to promote public policy reform to make the country safer by supporting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

“We are dedicated to supporting families through the lifelong healing process and commemorating the lives they so tragically lost.  Focusing on their lives, not their deaths, promotes resiliency and gives them the strength to face the challenges ahead, ” Fetchet said.

You can visit the VOICES of September 11th web site by clicking here. To learn more about how social workers help clients handle emotional stress visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Mind and Spirit web site by clicking here.



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