After several attempts to compose a tribute to Matthew Diaz I realized I would never be able to write honestly about a man I never knew. The last thing I wanted was to trivialize his memory by pretending to know anything about him. What I can do is share with you stories written about Matthew and his family. I can also share with you words composed by some of his family and friends.
I will say to the family of Matthew Diaz: Matthew seemed like such a good man, a loving husband and father. I’m sure he had many, many friends who will always remember him. The manner in which you have risen in the wake of Matthew and Karen’s death is inspirational. No one will ever know of your loss in the same way you know. I am sorry I cannot do justice to the memory of Matthew or Karen- this is something only you that knew them and loved them can do. I hope that my sharing of these stories and memories will shed light on the lives of Matthew and Karen and that those who read them will come to catch a glimpse of these two bright lives that were tragically cut short.
We who know little of personal loss from that day still desperately search for meaning and encouragement too. One of the ways we find this is by learning from you, the family and friends of those who died on 9/11. Thank you for allowing us to share in your loss and grief. We celebrate the lives of those 2,996 who died. Know they and you, the families, will always be remembered.
Thank you, Ms. Kneff for speaking with me about your son in-law, Matthew and daughter, Karen. Again, I apologize I cannot compose more fitting words than these.
God bless you, God bless us all.
From THE NEW YORK TIMES
Matthew Diaz was a man with a conflict on his hands.
A carpenter specializing in laying floor tile and carpets, he had a friendly wager that he could put in more hours than his foreman during 2001. But his desire to get an early start on each workday was impeded by his late-night routine: he liked to stay up until midnight or later, playing video games with his two sons.
"He couldn't stop talking about his kids," said William Gonzalez, Mr. Diaz's friend and foreman at New York City District Council of Carpenters Local 2287. On Sept. 11, Mr. Diaz, 33, was laying tile in the elevators of the Cantor Fitzgerald offices [at the WTC].
Long before, he and his sons, Michael 7, and Christopher, 4, had a lot to deal with. His wife, Karen Diaz, received a diagnosis of late-stage breast cancer a year earlier. Mr. Diaz had been caring for her, and preparing their sons for carrying on without one of their parents, but not without him.
The older son still goes to the front door some days, hoping his father will come home — to build more Star Wars figurines, skateboard or ride bikes with him, go to his soccer practice, listen to the stereo. "He was just a family man," said Florence Kneff, his mother-in-law. "He worked, and he came home."
New York -- When Karen Diaz learned she was in the advanced stages of breast cancer a year ago, the Brooklyn mom began the agonizing process of preparing her two young sons for life without her.
"Mommy's sick," she told Michael, 7, and Christopher, 4, again and again. "I might not be here, but Daddy will always be here to take care of you."
Her husband, Matthew, also reassured his boys: "We're a family," he would say. "We'll always be a family."
Then, early on September 11, Matthew Diaz, 33, a union carpenter, was asked for a favor by his foreman: Could he finish laying some tile in the 105th-floor offices of Cantor Fitzgerald?
Diaz was killed in the terrible minutes after the World Trade Center was attacked.
"My mommy was supposed to die first, not Daddy," Michael keeps telling his grandmother, Florence Kneff, 59.
One night recently, Kneff overheard Christopher whispering to a picture of his father, as the boy lay in bed.
"Do you have a bed in heaven, Daddy? Is the food good?" Christopher asked. "Please, can you come home?"
As they face their first Christmas without their father -- and possibly their last Christmas with their mother -- Michael and Christopher have been adopted by a group that also has seen more than its share of loss: the firefighters of Ladder Co. 147 and Engine Co. 281 in Flatbush.
Two dozen firefighters from the Cortelyou Road firehouse plan to surprise the brothers with an early visit from Santa, who will land on their roof, courtesy of a tower ladder.
The firefighters are carrying out the yuletide blessing in memory of Capt. Timmy Stackpole -- a legendary former Ladder 147 firefighter who was among the 343 FDNY members killed Sept. 11.
"These kids' father might not have been a fireman, but he's still not going to be home on Christmas," said Ladder 147 Firefighter Bobby Fraumeni, a 20-year FDNY veteran. "That guy's family deserves the same as everyone else's family."
"It will be really nice to take the focus off our losses," said Ladder 132 Firefighter Vinny O'Grady, another close friend of Stackpole's. "There were so many people hurt by this. It's going to be a tough holiday for everyone in New York City."
Kneff, who retired and gave up her apartment in the Rockaways to help care for her daughter and grandsons, said she's grateful that the firefighters have joined her extended family. She hopes the early visit from Santa will give the boys a moment of joy amid their heartbreak, and a happy memory to look back on in the tough times ahead.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you Matt. You were a true friend that I miss dearly. Your friend.”
“I went to school with Matt. We went to Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, Florida. Matt was sure one funny guy. I remember how we would get the class all laughing, (just doing silly high school things, like fart noises in the middle of class). One thing for sure, if Matt was your friend he stuck behind you no matter what. I never thought I would know anyone that was in the WTC that day. If his children read this [know] your dad was a very good man. He had his moments, but he could always get us to laugh. Just remember to continue on in life no matter how hard it gets, because that is what your father would have done. He had heart & soul. Never give up. Bless you all. Never forget.”
"I am Matthew's second cousin. His father, Anthony was my first cousin. I saw [Matthew’s boys] pretty often-they were really so cute and sweet. Really good boys. I loved them then and love them now. Matthew has three brothers, Anthony, Michael and Christopher. Matthew was always concerned [with] and loved his sons, talking about giving them all the toys they wanted as well as buying a house. He was and will always be remembered as [being] big hearted, loving, warm, and as a adorable kid as well as a man, with a happy disposition with a big smile. God bless and keep you forever.”
“I am Matthew's Aunt, Carmela. There are no words to express the pain that we the family of Matthew and Karen Diaz are feeling in our hearts. Some say as time goes by the pain will diminish. I don't think so. This young man who had worked so hard, loved his family so deeply, and was so proud and thankful to have two beautiful sons and his lovely wife. He wasn't given the gift of years but was certainly given the gifts of love and happiness. I am so thankful that for so many years Matthew was surrounded by the love of Karen’s family and friends. I know that Matthew rests in heaven with Karen, his mother, and father.”
Carmela Diaz Brown
“Matt and Karen were my aunt and uncle, and I miss them every day. I hope that they are in heaven looking down on their boys, because I know that they miss their mother and father very much.”
“My respects to all the Diaz family and my good friend, Chris Diaz, Matthew's older brother. I know this was very hard for you and I hope the best for Matthew's sons coming from someone who also lost their father at a young age."
Florence Kneff, whose son-in-law, Matthew died at the WTC and daughter , Karen died of cancer- with her grandsons Michael, 7 (right) and Christopher, 5. By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Four-year-old Christopher Diaz would sometimes talk to a decoupage of photographs showing his father. It was his way of coping with Sept. 11. His older brother, Michael, who just turned 8, doesn't talk at all — at least not about a world now so radically altered, one without parents.
"Michael is very, very angry," says his grandmother, Florence Kneff. "You say something, he'll say, 'I don't want to talk about it.' And, 'Why do those people hate us?' And, 'Why did they do that?' And, 'Why did my daddy have to go to work that day?' "
One year ago this morning, the boys had a mother and a father — Karen and Matthew Diaz.
The children could barely understand at the time — and Christopher, who was only 3, not at all really — that an aggressive breast cancer was killing their mother. The family lived in a Brooklyn apartment then. Diagnosed a year before, in September 2000, Karen Diaz, 35, had prepared bravely for her absence.
By the summer of 2001, she had written out tips for her husband to follow in raising two boys by himself. She wrote letters to each son, keepsakes for them to absorb when they were older.
"I hope when you get married," she wrote to Michael, "that the girl loves you as much as I do."
And then Karen sat down with the boys to try to explain how she might not be around, and "Daddy was going to be here to take care of you," Kneff recalls.
On Sept. 11, hijackers who crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center made a mockery of those arrangements. Matthew Diaz, 33, was a union carpenter who on that Tuesday was called in to finish floor tile repair work in the north tower offices of the bond-trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. He was never heard from again, his body never recovered.
The event sapped Karen of whatever strength she had left, her family says.
"She didn't have a will to live any more," says Kneff, her mother. "She wanted to know why. It wasn't fair. Why are these boys going to be with no mother and no father?"
Karen's younger sister, Stacey Monaco, 31, says: "She felt like she was in a dream. She felt like she would wake up and everything would be better again."
The family retrenched and tried to absorb this latest blow. From Sept. 11 onward, Kneff, who is divorced and will turn 60 next month, left her home in the Rockaways and her job as a customer service representative at a bank so she could move in with Karen to help with the boys. She was named legal guardian.
The two physicians who treated Karen at the Nassau Hematology Oncology practice on Long Island created a college fund for her boys.
All the while, the cancer advanced. By October, Karen's vocal chords were becoming paralyzed. In time, she spoke only in a whisper. She was hospitalized for a week in December. By January, she wanted to be placed in a hospice.
"She went in on a Friday, and by Wednesday she had died," her mother says.
That was Jan. 30.
"A lot has happened since I last wrote," Karen said in a revised journal drafted for the boys before her death. "Daddy is no longer with us. He's in heaven. And Mommy is not getting any better. Grandma is now taking care of us, thank God."
The seismic shift over the past 12 months has left Kneff feeling overwhelmed at times.
"I just hope I have the strength to cope with all this," she says. "It's a big change. It's very different, raising two boys."
Stacey Monaco's husband, Frank, a custodian at Curtis High School on Staten Island, offered to share his house with his mother-in-law and two young nephews. The Monacos have three small children of their own.
Matthew Diaz's union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, volunteered to finish the Monacos' basement into a bedroom and bathroom for Kneff and a playroom for the kids.
Despite all the reordering of their lives, Florence, Stacey and Frank always saw the changes as a given, not a choice.
"You have to do what you have to do, yes, but it's something that we wouldn't have any other way," Kneff says. "I had people calling me asking if they could adopt the boys because they heard the boys had nobody to go to. But I don't know where these people got that idea from."
Both boys returned to school last week. Christopher, the youngest, talks often about his parents being in a better place.
"He'll always say to me, 'Can I talk to Mommy and Daddy in heaven?' I tell him yes," Kneff says. "Sometimes when he gets upset, he'll cry that he wants to be in heaven with Mommy and Daddy. And I'll tell him, 'No, it's not your time.' "
For Michael, who saw his father vanish and his mother fade, reality is less acceptable. When officials closed out the recovery effort at Ground Zero on May 30, Michael asked whether searchers had found his father's remains. He was told that they had not.
"You see," he replied, with some bitterness in his voice, "I told you it was a joke. My daddy's still alive."
Matthew and Karen Diaz Family photo from 1994
A pair of shoes coated with dust and ash lie amid candles and flowers on New York's Union Square Monday, Sept. 17, 2001 at a memorial for victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. The message attached to the shoes is written to Matthew Diaz, saying in part: "I looked for you my union brother, I looked for you my baby brother. I love you Matthew Diaz. Your brother Michael." (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)