Diocesan News

A Husband’s Ode to His Wife: Poetic Memories of a Cherished Life Taken by 9/11

Jim and Sue Hart spent close to 50 years of marriage together before she died on Sept. 3, 2020, of cancer stemming from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Jim shared his poetry dedicated to his wife’s memory. (Photo: Jim Hart)

BENSONHURST — In 2011, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a proclamation declaring April 14 of that year to be “Susan Hart Day” in New York City. The accolade honored her, the managing director of facilities for the city, on the day of her retirement.

It capped two decades of service overseeing office furnishings and functions for city departments in the administrations of Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.

The proclamation noted she was the “point person” for facilities on Sept. 11, 2001, making her “one of City Hall’s true heroes.” But to her husband, every day is Susan Hart Day. 

Jim and Sue Hart were married nearly 50 years until her death Sept. 3, 2020, of cancer stemming from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center nearly 20 years earlier. 

Jim Hart, 74, is a lifelong member of St. Athanasius Parish in Bensonhurst. He is also a former rock-band musician, writer of crime novels, and a poet. 

His “The Ramblings of a One- Eyed Garbage Man” is a book of verse drawn from his career with the city’s Department of Sanitation. He retired from there as a chief correspondence officer who has been blind in his right eye most of his life (hence the title).

While poetry has not supplanted the grief from losing his wife, it has helped him cope with the loss. “Loving Sue” and “Missing Sue” were both published in October 2022 and are available on Amazon. 

“Writing the books was a bit cathartic,” he said during an interview in his home office. “But when I finished them and they were published, I went into a deeper depression and had to be treated for that.” 

But the books also honor his wife with words that could only be voiced, or penned, by a partner in life, and in love. 

They met when both were in their early 20s. They had three dates, and then he proposed marriage. The couple married a few years later. They raised a son, Chris, and daughter, Ali — both educated at St. Athanasius Catholic Academy. Chris attended high school at Xaverian, and Ali went to Fontbonne Hall; both graduated from Fordham University. 

Now adults, they both work in finance. Their dad recalled how they frequently brought home friends for holiday dinners, many of them students from around the world. 

“Our Thanksgiving table looked like a meeting of the U.N.,” he quipped. 

But it was his wife, Hart said, who made sure all guests were welcomed, well fed, and loved. 

“Sue was a person who truly was loved by everybody,” he said. “And by that I mean her smile made you smile, and her laugh made you laugh.” 

According to Bloomberg’s proclamation, she worked “tirelessly,” and “with a beautiful smile for which she is famous. Our team will not be the same without her.” 

Hart said his wife worked her way up to be managing director of facilities. During a major renovation of City Hall, she worked with everyone from construction workers to the artists who restored famous paintings on the walls.

The recent poetry of Jim Hart exercises grief from losing his wife, Sue, to 9/11-related cancer in 2020. His home in Bensonhurst is filled with family photos of their nearly 50 years together. (Photo: Bill Miller)

Crisis management bolstered her skillset following the Sept. 11 attacks. And, Hart worried about her. 

As a sanitation official, he had access to “the pile” during the first week after the attacks. He went as a volunteer, hoping to help find survivors, but there were none. Instead, he helped recover body parts. Everything was caked in concrete dust. Plumes of flame occasionally belched from the rubble. “I knew there was still danger,” he said. 

He implored his wife to stay away from Lower Manhattan, but, out of a sense of duty, Sue stayed on the job as the city clawed its way back from the disaster. Toxins lingered long after the attacks, resulting in many more deaths, according to health officials. 

Hart believes his wife was among them. She was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in the summer of 2020. She died on Sept. 3 of that year. 

“Because there is no history of cancer in her family, the doctors very easily determined that it was caused by all those years of exposure near ground zero,” Hart said. “You wish,” he added, choking back tears, “she had listened and not gone back to work.” 

Hart still belongs to St. Athanasius, and he prays often, but he admits that the joy he felt attending Mass has dimmed somewhat. Still, he said, his faith helps; so does writing poetry. Each blank page offers two possibilities. 

“It’s either the greatest thing in the world,” he said, “because you’ve written something that is really good. Or it’s the worst thing in the world, because it remains blank. I can say with ‘Missing Sue’ and ‘Loving Sue’ there were no blank pages. The ideas flowed as fast as I fell in love with her.”