She is admittedly dispirited, and her eyes water from the lack of sleep.
She clutches a picture of her brother close to her heart and recalls the day she lost him - Sept. 11.
"I think about it all the time," says Joanne Kennelly, a Harlem resident. "I wake up, and I have terrible nightmares."
For Kennelly, the attack on the World Trade Center meant months of sleepless nights spent wondering about her brother, Paul Tegtmeier, a New York firefighter who was inside tower one when it collapsed. His body still has not been found.
Through it all, though, Kennelly said she has found some solace. Speaking about the support of her family and the outpouring of help from her community, her face warms with a smile.
"You don't think that there are people like that out there in this world," she said. "But I have run into some of the nicest people since this happened."
One of those people is Cpl. Robert Eastman of the Grovetown Department of Public Safety. Cpl. Eastman was named the county officer of the year for 2001 by the local Exchange Club and was awarded a $1,000 check. Typically, the money is turned over to the winning officer's department and given to a nonprofit organization.
This time, the Grovetown department and Eastman decided the money should go to Kennelly and her family.
"I thought it was fantastic that there was a local person whose family actually got the benefit of this check instead of it just going into a generic fund, which would trickle down," Capt. Gary Owens said.
"To me, that was a plus," Eastman added. "I felt good contributing in some type of way because the day I saw what took place up there I could understand those firefighters sacrificing their lives."
Kennelly accepted the check on behalf of her sister-in-law Cathi Tegtmeier, who has two young children, and sent the money to her in New York. Kennelly said her sister-in-law has only recently begun receiving money from the American Red Cross, but several donations have been sent from strangers.
"Just in the little town of Harlem, Georgia, I can't tell you how many people have stretched out their hand to me and said, 'We're so sorry for you,"' said Kennelly. "'Is there anything we can do for you?"'
Kennelly attended a memorial service for her brother in Hyde Park, N.Y., where she said most of her family lives. She said thousands of firefighters attended.
"The whole town of Hyde Park had shut down," she said. "We followed these fire trucks through town, and there were people alongside the road in lawn chairs waiting for us to come by."
While in New York, she also visited the Roosevelt Volunteer Fire Department, where her brother had served for several years. He graduated from the New York Fire Department's academy in 2000.
To join the force, he had to pass a probationary period and visit all of the stations. On Sept. 11, he was at Engine Co. No. 4, one block from the towers.
"All of the younger guys would pick on him and say, 'Oh, you're just an old proby,"' she said, referring to his probationary status. "At 41, he was the oldest one to graduate. It actually gave him a lot of incentive."
Kennelly said being a firefighter was what her brother was all about.
"He was the most selfless person I've ever met in my whole life," she said. "He would do anything for anybody."
Now, she looks for closure, holding out hope that one day he'll be found.
"My Christmas wish was that we would find his body because we just really want to lay him to rest where he needs to be. But it hasn't happened yet. So, I just keep hoping and praying."
Although she remains grateful for the good that has come about since Sept. 11, Kennelly wishes she could have the past back.
"My oldest son said it so clearly in the car the other day when we were going to a Christmas Eve service," she said. "He said, 'Mom, I would gladly give up every present under the Christmas tree and everything anybody has ever sent me just to have my uncle back.' And so true are those words."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.