Centreville's Donna Teepe is a grandmother for the first time, and proud of it. But it's a joy she can't share with her husband Karl because he was among those killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
A RETIRED Army lieutenant colonel, he was 57 and had worked there 10 years as a civilian budget analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. When terrorists crashed a hijacked airplane into the Pentagon, Karl Teepe was in the center of the C ring; the plane's nose struck his office and split it in two.
Five years have passed since then and life has moved on for his wife and children. But it hasn't been easy.
"After awhile, I stopped saying 'Why?' and wishing 'If only ...' because that doesn't get you anywhere," said Donna Teepe of Country Club Manor. "I think I'm fine. But there are those little wishes and ifs, and I still miss him — and I'm sure that'll never end."
The Teepes were married 34 years and raised two children, Wendy and Adam. Donna's the preschool director at Christ Presbyterian Church in Chantilly. And Karl, with an insatiable passion for learning, loved reading and taking classes. They lived in Centreville for two decades and were a close-knit family.
Now, as the fifth anniversary of the tragedy approaches, Donna still lives in their home and directs the preschool. "This is where my friends and job are," she explained. She said her occupation is "a purpose and friends to see — and something to get up for."
She also finds great comfort and pride in her family. Adam, now 27, a graduate of Chantilly High and the College of William and Mary, took a year off from school to be with his mother after his father's death. He then attended grad school at the University of California at Santa Barbara and got a master's in Environmental Science.
Afterward, he returned to Virginia to work — "which I was happy about," said his mom — and is now employed at ICF, an environmental-consulting firm in Vienna. Wendy, now 33, and her husband Derek live in Colorado, where Wendy works in the computer field. They're also brand-new parents of daughter Natalie, born June 12, and nearly 3 months old.
In her spare time, Donna enjoys meeting friends for lunch and shopping, and she makes Creative Memories scrapbooks. However, she admitted, "I'm still working on my daughter's wedding album and she's been married 5 1/2 years now."
She also belongs to a support group of 9/11 survivors and, through that, she said, "I met a nice man. His wife died at the Pentagon, too. We date and do things together, and it's less lonely. The worst part of this whole situation is you're all alone."
"I THINK about Karl every day," continued Donna. "Mostly, I miss his sense of humor. I find myself thinking, 'I haven't laughed in awhile,' — and that's sad because I like to laugh. But my son is a lot like him and laughs at my jokes. Basically, I'm a happy person, and I think that's a good way to be."
As for her new friend, she said, "We talk about getting married, but I don't know." It's been helpful, though, sharing their thoughts about the losses of their spouses.
"We can understand how the other feels," said Donna. "We're about the same age, and he has two daughters who are going through the same problems of losing their mom as my children are, after losing their father."
But she didn't begin the relationship lightly. Instead, she said, she finally allowed herself not to feel guilty about having feelings for someone else, because she knows it doesn't take away from anything she and her husband shared.
They're also both working on raising funds for the Pentagon Memorial, and he's on the board of directors. "Deer Park Elementary had a carwash in May and donated the $1,300 they raised from washing cars to the memorial fund," she said. "I was very impressed."
In June, Donna presented this money to the president of the memorial-fund collection at the groundbreaking for the memorial. It'll cost about $18 million to construct and another $10 million to maintain it forever. To donate, see www.pentagonmemorial.net.
The support-group members initially met once, every other week, with a facilitator. Now, they've all become friends and also get together socially. At first, said Donna, "We just talked about the issues that were upsetting us, at the time, and it's amazing how talking it out can help you."
Even practical matters, such as getting her car registered in her own name, proved trying. But she then shared what she'd learned with the others.
"It gives you a place to say what you need to say, without sounding whining and complaining, and you feel better," said Donna. "And maybe there isn't a solution to your problem, but being in the group has definitely helped."
Since the tragedy, things have changed for some of the members of her group. "Some of the younger ones have gotten married, some went back to school and got advanced degrees and some moved out of the area," she said. "But a lot of us stayed where we are."
Still, the pain and confusion endured for many — as well as a sense of something being greatly amiss.
"About a year-and-a-half after Karl had been killed, I went into the meeting one day and asked, 'OK, what do I do now? The future isn't here like it was supposed to be,'" said Donna. "And they said, 'Yeah, that's right. It's the same for us.' But I felt better having expressed that."
She also shared her grief with her daughter. "When Natalie was born, I told Wendy, 'I wish Karl were here to see our new granddaughter,' and Wendy said, 'Yeah, so do I.' We knew each other in high school, and I couldn't see my life without him. But life does go on, and I'm glad I have my children and my friend. He provides another addition to my life, which is good."
AS FOR the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Donna doesn't see it as any more meaningful than any of the others. "I think about it because I think about Karl," she said. "And I like the fact that they're doing the memorial to honor Karl and the others who lost their lives, and that people won't forget that this happened. But it's not like, 'Oh, good, he can come back.'"
However, this Sunday night, Sept. 10, she'll participate in a walk in the mall area and, she said, "There'll be 184 lights at the Pentagon — one for everyone killed there. It's the first 9/11 ceremony that won't be at Arlington."
Donna will also attend a special ceremony Monday morning, Sept. 11, at the Pentagon. "I attend all those type things because it honors him," she said. "And we want people to be aware of it and not to forget, so it won't happen again."