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'Time has not healed the pain'

A memorial for flight attendant Michael Tarrou seeks meaning in his "sacrifice.''


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002

A memorial for flight attendant Michael Tarrou seeks meaning in his "sacrifice."

CLEARWATER -- One year ago, Dr. James Tarrou was in high spirits. The 75-year-old retired educator, who survived open-heart surgery three years ago, was looking forward to the marriage of his 38-year-old son Michael Tarrou and Amy King, both flight attendants for United Airlines.

The couple had planned to move from Connecticut to Florida so Michael could be closer to his family and daughter, Gina, from a previous marriage.

But Michael and Amy were on United Flight 175, the second plane the hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

"We were preparing for a wedding, not a memorial service," said Tarrou, his voice breaking. "I talked to him the night before."

On Sunday, James Tarrou, his wife, Patricia, and other family members sat in the front rows of the traditional Greek Orthodox Church named Kimisis Tis Theotokou, or Church of the Annunciation, at 1910 Douglas Ave. A special service was held to memorialize their son and the other victims of the attack.

This is the fourth memorial service for Michael that was held at the church. It is a Greek tradition, Tarrou said, to hold a service 40 days after the death, then three, six and 12 months later.

One year later, the wounds are still fresh.

"They say that time heals, but one year later, time has not healed the pain. These services are another confirmation that they will never come back," he said.

In the ornately decorated Byzantine-style church, candles and incense burned while the worshipers sang, prayed and chanted during the three-hour service. Many of them wore scarves and dressed in black. Family friends U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis and State Rep. Gus Bilirakis and their families came to pay their respects.

This is the 15th anniversary of the founding of the church. Normally, the occasion would be upbeat and joyous. But the visiting Metropolitan Bishop Paul Stratigeas, of the Archdiocese of New York and North and South America, gave a fiery, polemic sermon in both Greek and English condemning hatred and violence in the name of religion. He stressed that Michael's and others' deaths were not in vain and called them "sacrifices to the Lord."

Tarrou said the message was inspiring and comforting.

"He gave us the support we needed and attached meaning to Michael's death," he said.

Tarrou is a retired high school teacher and college professor who was visiting Russia with a group of students when the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred. He and Patricia had four children. Michael was the third child.

His older brother Charles John Tarrou is a pilot for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"We always worried that he (Charles) would be the one," Tarrou said.

Before the service, his family remembered Michael as a man who was well-liked and had dozens of "best friends."

He played soccer in high school and studied American combat karate, earning a purple belt. His supreme love, however, was music. He owned and played two guitars and loved to write music.

One of his songs includes the lyrics "To live in love is the only way."

His sister Demetra Lumia, 38, of Palm Harbor said it was ironic that he died at the hand of evil.

"He was a very peaceful man who didn't believe in violence," she said.

His other sister, Gigi Tarrou Hintz of Safety Harbor, added, "He would have wanted us to forgive and learn from this."

Patricia Tarrou said the family was fortunate that they had always gotten along.

"We always said "We love you,' which, in a way, helps with the pain," she said.

Michael's daughter, 12-year-old Gina, remembers her father as a "jumpy, happy guy" who was always trying to cheer her up.

The seventh-grader said becoming a cheerleader at Carwise Middle School has helped her cope.

"It takes my mind off things so I'm not just sitting around moping. And the school and all my friends have been very supportive," Gina said.

She believes her dad is in a better place, watching over her and wanting her to be happy.

"He didn't die; his body died," she said.

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