PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. (WGHP) — There is a certain way things are supposed to happen, in life. And dying young is not one of them.
Rob Peraza was 30 when he was working for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center on 9/11. His younger sister, Joan Burton, who lives in Pleasant Garden was just out of college, starting her married life in a new state.
“It was a shock to me when I got to be the age that he died. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m living longer than my older brother,’” Joan said recently.
Joan’s husband – who is also named Rob – knew Rob Peraza, as well. They were high school friends. But Joan didn’t meet her husband until after high school. For Rob Burton, there are things about the way his friend died that forever sear that memory in his mind.
“I don’t know the day that my grandfather died, I don’t know where I was,” said Rob Burton. “but I know exactly what I was doing the day that Rob (Peraza) died. And I know everything for the couple of weeks afterward – where I was, where we went – I remember all that and it’s been 20 years.”
Those years have softened some things but made other pains more acute, belying the old adage that time heals all wounds.
“I don’t know if my thinking has changed so much as how I approach grief, I think, has definitely changed,” Joan said. “I’ve definitely been more open to the variety of how people grieve. It happened to us. It was a horrible event, and it took so much away from my immediate family but also my dad, my mom, my other brother and that family. It’s really taken its toll on our family.”
One of the ways it has done that is it’s taken away the opportunity for Joan and Rob Burton’s children to not just get to know their uncle but see how they are alike.
“Riley and I went for a walk, one day, and it really hit me,” Joan recalled. “She’s like, ‘Tell me about Uncle Rob, I don’t really know much about him.’ And I didn’t answer her question. Well, I told her he was just a fun-loving, energetic guy. He would have taken you guys on a bunch of adventures. He would have definitely been the fun uncle. He always laughed. He wanted to be the center of attention but I couldn’t really answer her question because I didn’t feel I got to know him as an adult. I knew him as a middle schooler because he was gone my high school years, so I didn’t really get to know him as an adult and it’s crushing that I say that.”
But Joan sees flashes of the brother she remembers in her firstborn.
“I most definitely see Rob in Riley Marie,” Joan said of her daughter who is now a freshman at UNC Charlotte. “Because I was the youngest, so I got a lot of the razzing, the picking on and all of that, growing up and that’s what I remember of my brother. So, I see that in her (in how she interacts with her younger brother, Robert).”
Riley Marie can relate.
“I feel like I’ve always been told that I have kind of the same personality as he does in sort of the sarcastic banter type of way,” Riley said. “So, I’ve always wondered that. I’ve always wanted to meet him for that aspect to see how much we were truly alike.”
And Rob Burton reminds us of the lesson we should all take from that day.
“Love the people that you have in your life because you don’t know when they’re going to be taken,” Rob said. “People get sick and die and you have time to prepare for that. But someone goes to work, idiots fly a plane into it, never see or hear from them again, you’re not prepared for that. There’s no goodbye, nothing.”