By Sara Kugler
NEW YORK – Angel ornaments remind Rebecca Asaro of her father, a firefighter who rushed into the World Trade Center and never came out.
The 10-year-old has been fascinated with the fragile, winged decorations this Christmas, the first she and her four brothers are spending without Carl Asaro. They are among thousands of youngsters who face the holidays after losing a parent on Sept. 11.
Angels are everywhere at the Asaro house in Middletown – standing as frosted glass candlesticks, hanging with golden halos on the Christmas tree, watching with clasped hands from the mantel.
The book “Everyday Angels,” a gift from Asaro’s midtown Manhattan firehouse, sits on the piano among photographs and tributes. “I think it means people die every day and become angels,” Rebecca said softly.
On Christmas mornings past, Asaro would awaken his wife with breakfast. This year, the tradition will fall to Rebecca and her brothers, Marc, 7, Matthew, 12, and the 13-year-old twins, Phillip and Carl Jr.
Later, the family plans to visit Asaro’s grave. His remains haven’t been found. Instead, the family buried his guitar case in a casket. Asaro’s favorite Grateful Dead songs will be played instead of Christmas music.
The number of children who lost a parent in the terrorist attacks is not known, but the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald alone estimates its more than 650 victims left 1,300 children. At the Fire Department, which lost 343 people, more than 600 children were left without a parent by one account.
At the Hickey household in Bethpage, there are days when 16-year-old Jackie cries to herself about the death of her father, firefighter Brian Hickey.
“I could think of the rain falling on the air conditioner that he put in my room, and that would get me upset,” she said. “Just the fact that he’s not here, that just gets me, that you wake up every day and your father’s not there.”
Some days, Donna Hickey turns to her daughter for help.
“It’s weird seeing my mom cry,” said Jackie, one of four children. “I think she tries to hide it more in front of my younger brother. She’s starting to cry with me a lot more now. I find myself stronger when she cries.”
Christmas was Brian Hickey’s favorite holiday. He filled every corner of the house with decorations, his wife said. This year, the family kept it simple, with a tree, some garland – and all six stockings.
Kevin Cosgrove’s stocking stayed in the box this year. His wife Wendy left it there when family and friends came to help her and their three children decorate their West Islip home. Cosgrove, 46, was claims vice president for Aon Corp.
“I thought about putting it up, but I think the children need to know substantially that he’s not here,” Wendy Cosgrove said. “I think we’re just dealing more with the happy things and the memories, not so much dealing with the fact that he’s missing.”
Christmas morning is going to be the most difficult part of the holiday.
“It’s just going to be the four of us, and I’m sure I’m going to be inconsolable,” Cosgrove said.
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