At first, her husband's death, Sept. 11, at the Pentagon seemed unreal to Centreville's Donna Teepe. But over time, reality set in.
"Somehow, I got through it all," she said. "I attribute it to the friends I have that gave me support. They were there for me, finding things to do to keep me busy — craft fairs, lunches, shopping, museums. And my kids helped, too."
Residents of Country Club Manor, the Teepes lived in Centreville for 20 years. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Karl Teepe, 57, had worked the past 10 years as a civilian budget analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
But he and six others in his office perished, Sept. 11, when an airplane hijacked by terrorists crashed into the Pentagon. Teepe worked in the part of the building that collapsed. He was in the center of the C ring when the aircraft's nose hit his office and split it in two.
The Teepes were a close-knit family, and Karl's death devastated his wife and their two children, son Adam, then 22, a 1997 Chantilly High grad, and daughter Wendy Green, then 28, who lives with her husband Derek in Colorado.
Although it was tough carrying on without her husband — whom she'd known since the seventh grade — Donna Teepe somehow found her way through the tears and the tragedy. She's the preschool director at Christ Presbyterian Church in Chantilly and, she said, "My job gave me a reason to get up in the morning and someplace to go."
There are good days and bad days as she recalls Karl working in the yard or happily building shelves or cabinets in their home. "Weekends are the worst for me because Karl would have been around the house," she said. "And I miss the interaction of telling each other stories and being together on a daily basis. I've caught myself saying, 'I've got to go home and tell Karl that.'"
But she's comforted by the many wonderful memories they shared, such as Wendy's wedding and Adam's graduation. She also remembers Karl's deep thirst for knowledge — how he loved to read and take classes — and how he shared each new thing he learned with his family. And she'll never forget his zest for life and how much he enjoyed his family.
"I think back to when the kids were little and how good he was as a father," said Teepe. "He was really into his family and was always thinking of special, creative and fun things for us to do."
For example, one winter when Adam was 10, just for kicks, Karl decided they should ride the whole Metro route, from one end to the other. "It was absolutely a wacko thing to do," said Teepe. "We got a family pass, and we got out at each stop and took a picture in the station. We were gone all day. We shopped and had lunch at Union Station and, when we got home, Karl created a wacky trip book [of our adventure]."
He was always planning the next outing or vacation. Because Wendy was born on Bastille Day, July 14, the Teepes took her to Paris for her 21st birthday. "It was great," said Donna. "We did three weeks, including Germany — where we'd lived when Karl was in the Army — and we showed Adam where he was born. When he retired, he planned [for us] to travel around the edge of the U.S. — I miss all that."
Teepe also misses the quiet times they shared after the children were grown. "We didn't go out a lot," she said. "We were very content to stay home and be together."
Now, she goes to a support group with other spouses of people who were killed at the Pentagon. "We just talk," she said. "It helps me, and the other people understand what I'm going through."
Adam is now in grad school, studying environmental science at the University of California in Santa Barbara. "He took off a year to be with me, and thank goodness he did," said his mother. "I'll always be grateful to him for that — it really helped me get through."
He and Wendy came home again, this past weekend, to spend the week with her. Monday night, they went to The Kennedy Center where First Lady Laura Bush sponsored an invitation-only concert for Sept. 11 survivors and rescue workers. On Wednesday, they participated in a remembrance ceremony at the Pentagon and attended an evening concert.
Thursday morning, Sept. 12, they planned to attend a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of all those not yet buried. That afternoon, Karl's office was planting a garden to honor him and the six others in his office who were killed.
"I'm grateful that we were married 34 years, and I'm also grateful for all the time we had together and that he got to see his children grow up," said Teepe. "Most of the time I'm fine, but I do have my moments, so I cry a little bit and then get over it. I have to go on living — I have no choice."
She said the toughest thing is no longer being able to look forward to spending the future with the man she loves. "The plans we were making together — those are just forgotten," she said. "He's been part of my life for so long that [for a long time] I didn't know how I'd be able to make it without him."
As a result, she's taking one day at a time and finding joy in the small pleasures of everyday life. The cute things said by her preschoolers make her smile — one child was amazed that two of her teachers have the same first name, "Mrs." — and the parents and staff at Christ Presbyterian have really been supportive.
"My birthday's in August, and my staff threw me a surprise birthday party," said Teepe. "It was just wonderful that they would think to do that — and that helped me get through my birthday."
She also finds peace, knowing that Karl's up in heaven, looking down on her and their children. "I think, sometimes, he's laughing at me and what I'm doing to his garden," she said. "And I know that one of the stars is him, watching over us."