New chapter for Marin County man who lost wife on 9/11

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As the nation marks 18 years since the Sept.11 terror attacks, a new chapter is beginning for a Marin County man who lost his wife on United Flight 93.

Jack Grandcolas, husband of Lauren Grandcolas, will re-marry this month. 

He does so, he says, knowing Lauren is with him.

"If anything we feel we're divinely guided and protected by her," said Jack, at the home he shares with his fiancee, Sarah Hopkins. 

"It was almost as if she was saying to me, 'please love him for me'," said Hopkins, who met Jack in 2006.  

The wedding will be mostly family, and casual, in Pebble Beach, where the couple splits their time. 

'No tuxedos, no tight dresses, just comfortable and relaxed," said Sarah, who acknowledges the early years of their relationship were challenging, as Jack's grief was still raw.  

"Every one of us who lost someone that day lives it every day," said Jack. "The pain and the scars are real." 

When the two met through mutual friends, only five years had passed since Jack lost Lauren and their unborn baby.

Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as passengers rose up to stop the hijackers.

It was the only aircraft that day that did not reach its intended target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol.

Forty passengers and crew died.

"You can't deny something that huge, you can't pretend it's not there, you have to embrace it," said Sarah.

It wasn't easy, the couple says, growing a relationship in the shadow of monumental loss, but over time, Jack's wounded heart healed. 

"I am happy to get to this point with this lovely lady who has stuck by my side through thick and thin and everything in between," said Jack.

He knows the two women - had they ever met - would have been great friends.  

"Both feisty, both energetic, type A, list-makers, fun, athletic, they've got to laugh, together they would have been a handful." 

Sarah is an artist who also works at the Marin Humane Society, where the couple adopted two cats, Louie and Gracie, plus a turtle named Keno. 

The couple has forged their own family, in a home different than the one Jack shared with Lauren, but full of items they chose together.

"It's been a long road, it will always be a long road," said Jack. "We have cats instead of kids. But that's okay. Everybody is dealt cards in life and you just have to play them."
He is writing a book about his experience: life with Lauren and his journey through grief, and he hopes the stories will help others.
Jack no longer travels to Shanksville for the annual anniversary service.

Wednesday, he watched it on television, then headed out for a hike, which he knew Lauren would approve of.   

As always, Jack and Sarah visited Lauren Place, on 4th Street in downtown San Rafael, where a small plaza and plaque honor Lauren and the heroism shown by those on Flight 93.  

They found the memorial dotted with floral bouquets, candles, photos of Lauren and handwritten notes of thanks.

Jack and Sarah took it in, and tidied the flowers.  

"Lauren's been my angel on my shoulder and she sent me an angel," said Jack. "People ask me how I'm doing, and I say I'm doing great, couldn't be better', which is a nice thing to be able to say."

Grandcolas says he is in contact with other Flight 93 families, and they remain frustrated that those who plotted the terror attacks still have not been tried. 

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described as the mastermind, and four others held at Guantanamo Bay, are set for military trial in 2021. 

Grandcolas also supports a grassroots movement, declassify 9/, which aims to expose terrorist nations by declassifying investigative documents revealing how the attacks were financed.

"All Americans should sign the petition," said Jack, "because we need to let countries know if you are going to fund terrorists, pay people to live here and learn to fly planes to kill thousands of people, you're going to be held accountable." 

Looking back on 18 years, Jack's sincerest hope is that the U.S. might heal as he has, and recapture the spirit of unity that prevailed after the attacks. 

"This day should make us realize we're in this together, we're one love, one country and we all got to try to get along and make it work."  

But right now, a wedding looms, only two weeks away.  

September, a month he dreaded for so many years, will now hold a happy anniversary.  

"I've never been so in love with Jack and I never thought we'd be so happy and content thirteen years in," said Sarah, giving Jack a hug.

They thank Lauren for their happiness. 

During cancer treatment a few years ago, Sarah wrapped herself in a comforter that belonged to Sarah.

Most days, she drinks her tea from a mug, cherished by Lauren.   

"And when we do have those trying times I look up and say 'Lauren what would you do with him ?'", joked Sarah. 

By next year's 9/11 anniversary, the couple expects to be living in Pebble Beach full-time, as Jack is retired now.

After 25 years in Marin, the move is bittersweet.

"Marin will always be in my heart, and my home," said Jack,"but the only thing constant in life is change, and I think it's time."