Chatham Author Hopes Book Will Help People Deal With Trauma

By: Debra Lawless

Author Pam Koch. COURTESY PHOTO

During the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 18 years ago now, nearly 3,000 people died; 2,606 of those were killed at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Of the dead, 746 lived in New Jersey, and 18 were from the small suburban town of Basking Ridge. Just 36 miles from New York City, Basking Ridge is an easy commute into the city by train. At the end of that nightmarish day of Sept. 11, parked cars remained at the train station, grim notices that their owners were never coming home. In 2002, a memorial tree was planted outside the Basking Ridge train station to commemorate the town’s dead.

Pamela Koch, who now divides her time between Chatham and Naples, Fla., moved to Basking Ridge in 1997 and was living there in 2001. She is the author of the book “For Goodness’ Sake: The Story Behind the Saint James 9/11 Bereavement Support Group” (Archway Publishing, 2019).

“I think the bottom line is, I hope it [the book] might be an inspiration for others to go the extra mile, to become the risk-takers and say ‘yes, I could volunteer and reach out to others in difficult times in their lives,’” Koch said in an email interview last week. “Believe in calling on God and be aware of it in your own life. Make a difference for a stranger—and my prayer is for this book to become a catching force and a sympathetic as well as empathetic influence on those hurting around us.”

“For Goodness’ Sake” can serve as a resource for others trying to recover from trauma in the wake of recent mass shootings. The book includes stories of the individuals suffering loss and the volunteers who came to their aid.

Here, then, is the story behind “For Goodness’ Sake.”

When Koch, who grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., first arrived in Basking Ridge, she commuted to a nearby town to work in a church as a pastoral minister trained in bereavement work. She was then a 47-year-old mother of two daughters that she was raising with her husband, Bob. But her life was soon shaken by a diagnosis of breast cancer. She bills her book as “an inspirational memoir,” and much of the inspiration comes from how Koch overcame not one but two formidable illnesses—she was later diagnosed with leukemia—and still found the will to help others whose lives were torn apart by loss on 9/11.

Of the 18 from Basking Ridge who died, 11 were from Koch’s church, Saint James. During the 10:30 a.m. mass on Sept. 16, 11 candles on the altar represented each of the dead. At the end of that service one of the priests asked Koch if she was well enough to lead a grief support group.

Yet after her breast cancer treatments, Koch questioned if she was strong enough to do grief counseling. “The spirit was willing, but the body was weak, and I continued to pray for direction,” she writes. Still, she said “yes” to the priest. Later that day, when her trained grief facilitators agreed to come on board, “all doubt lifted off my shoulders, and I knew that the grace of God would lead me just as I had felt His presence in the past when entering hospice patients’ homes, the hospital rooms of the sick, and the nursing homes of the elderly.”

The bereavement support group first met on Oct. 4, 2001, in the parish hall, with 19 attending. By the end of December, the number had risen to 55; by February the group embraced 76 families which included 104 children. At the one-year mark, the group received a letter from First Lady Laura Bush.

And then, at the two-year mark, Koch was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), apparently a side-effect of the medicine she had taken for her breast cancer over a decade earlier. As she received treatments as an in-patient in the hospital, the nurse one day brought in 38 cards. As it turned out, “the 9/11 families walked alongside me every step of the way. Artwork from 9/11 children came in the mail daily.” It was a long, grueling haul through a T-cell transplant, but with her family and her 9/11 families at her side, Koch healed with the support of an entire community.

“The book was a passion of mine, as it is for most authors,” she says. “Over a span of 10 years it took me a long time to finally get serious about completing this story, but it was always there vividly in my mind.” She was inspired to write especially in Chatham, where she and her husband bought their home in 2002, during the summers. Koch is currently working in a second book.

Koch will sign copies of “For Goodness’ Sake” at Yellow Umbrella Books on Saturday, Aug. 31 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. She will speak at the Eldredge Public Library on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.