Every Sept. 11, San Rafael widower remembers wife, unborn child

Lauren Grandcolas was 38 and three months pregnant. And as Sept. 11 anniversaries pass, husband Jack says thoughts of his unborn child are difficult to set aside.

"Because it wasn't someone I already knew," Grandcolas explained, "It's someone who was going to be. So when I see kids around the age of 15, I can't help but think, what would our child have been like?"

Monday evening, Jack visited the garden memorial to Lauren on 4th Street in downtown San Rafael.

Bouquets were arranged around a plaque, and people stopped throughout the day to pay respect and leave flowers.

The largest arrangement had a card signed, "Love, Mother and Dad," from Lauren's parents, who live in Houston, where she grew up.

"It's been a surreal journey and every year is different," admitted Jack, who was married to Lauren for ten years.

"It rips me today to hear of anyone losing someone to terrorism, because I know it's going to be the same gut punch they're going to feel for sixteen years or longer," he said.

Grandcolas ago sold the house they shared.

He still lives in San Rafael, and has found love again, with artist Sarah Hopkins, who works in animal welfare.

"Sarah and Lauren would have been great friends," smiled Jack, "and she's been a wonderful comfort and savior to me. It makes the mornings happy again."

For her part, Sarah says love and patience helped them move forward together.

"And Lauren's like a kindred spirit, she's like a guardian angel to me," observed Sarah, "and I've never felt it was a threat or taboo in our relationship, it was a sweet sharing that we had."

The couple's tradition each year, is to lay flowers at the San Rafael memorial, then go to dinner at one of Lauren''s favorite places, and share feelings about her and the heroism of Flight 93.

Phone calls from passengers and on-board voice recordings reveal that crew and passengers, in a desperate effort to wrestle the jet from the hijackers, stormed the cockpit before the crash. 

"From a common field to a field of honor forever," intoned Vice-President Mike Pence, speaking at a service at the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"Men and women who looked evil squarely in the eye and without regard to their personal safety, they rushed forward to save lives," lauded Pence.

Jack Grandcolas finds it emotionally wrenching to visit the site, which is a national memorial now.
While in-flight that morning, Lauren left a voice message for Jack, in which she calmly said there was  a problem with the plane, but she was fine and that she loved him.

That message is part of the archive, for the public to hear at the memorial.

"I felt like it capsulized the true spirit, and the calmness, bravery, and love that was on that plane," said Jack, "and anytime you can leave an inspiration like that, she would have said 'my life was well worth it, well-lived.'"

People who stopped by the memorial Monday ranged from strangers to friends.

"I think of her as an example, somebody who didn't waste life," shared Kimberly Rodler, who remembers when she first met Lauren through a mutual friend, Lauren was on roller skates in her neighborhood.

"The spirit, the intelligence, the fun of Lauren was manifest and she had a clarity about life, " added Rodler, choking up.

Retired grocer Eric Guastavino also stopped by to pay his respects, and remember.

"She was a good customer, full of life and love," Guastavino reminisced, "and we always joked about our shared Italian heritage, just a sparkly personality."

Lauren's wedding ring was at the jewelers being re-set when she died.

Sarah wears it now, and although she and Jack aren't married, they are committed to each other.

Five years ago, Jack brought the ring out of safekeeping, out of the darkness, just like him.

"As I met and got to know and fell in love with Sarah, I thought it should be back out, shining brightly, for a beautiful woman," he concluded.