PLEASANTVILLE — In the weeks and months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — in which she lost her husband, Charley, a New York City firefighter — Andrea Garbarini found herself leaning on women she had never known. The fellow New York Fire Department widows, who came to regard each other as sisters, provided her with shared experiences and, later, inspiration to rise above personal pain for the greater good. "This is a family no one wanted, but got," said Garbarini, now the executive producer of a nonprofit documentary , "From the Ground Up: 10 Years After 9/11."
The 40-minute film tells the story of a small group of firefighters' widows rebuilding their lives by helping fund everything from group homes for autistic children to playgrounds and libraries in their hometowns.
"The film is about the widows of 9/11 and how they moved through their grief, and did amazing things for their fellow human beings," said Garbarini, 49, as she sat in the living room of her Pleasantville home. "It's about the triumph of the human spirit."
It was a chaotic, traumatic and exhausting time for Garbarini. Until that fateful day, she said, she had worked as an emergency room nurse.
Garbarini had to mourn her husband in public while staying strong for her two sons — Philip, then 3, and Dylan, who was nine days shy of his fifth birthday when he lost his father.
But with that public mourning came overwhelming support from all quarters, including family and strangers.
There were gifts — from handmade quilts and plaques to cash-filled envelopes — sent in the mail from around the country.
"It restored our faith in humanity, and we wanted to give back," said Garbarini, who started the edible garden program at the Bedford Road Elementary School in Pleasantville and ran in the New York City marathon in 2003, raising $20,000 to build a playground at the school.
Garbarini is one of four women, including Una McHugh, Sarah Siller and Maureen Fanning, profiled in the documentary. It also features Kate Richardson, who has since remarried.