Among the 17 killed in the first suicide bombing of a U.S. embassy was her father, Albert Votaw, 57, a housing officer for the Agency for International Development who had arrived in Beirut just 10 days earlier.
"I think it was the fact that it was an attack on a building," Votaw said of the emotional link between her father's death and the thousands killed at the World Trade Center. "We were at home watching television and for 24 hours we didn't know if my father was dead or alive."
Closure is a much-used word these days as survivors, victims' relatives, and the American public struggle to cope with the meaning of Sept. 11.
The word makes Votaw "bristle."
"Closure is a word that lets those not directly affected walk away," she said. "Closure does not exist for people like us."
It is a sensitive subject for government workers who have survived the terrorist attacks that have become a fact of modern life. It can be even tougher on the spouses and children of those killed.
Often, survivors say, the government that put them in harm's way seems to stand in the way of moving on.
"There has always been this stiff-upper-lip mentality within the Foreign Service," said Anne Dammarell, a retired State Department development officer who was wounded in the Beirut attack.
Dammarell lives in Washington and wrote a 1994 master's thesis on post-traumatic stress disorder among Beirut embassy survivors. She recalled the months of surgery and physical therapy she needed.
But there were equally painful emotional scars, wounds that Dammarell said she and others felt they had to hide because of a perception that State officials would not understand and see it as a "weakness" that would hurt their careers.
"It was really frustrating," Dammarell said recently. "I always had the feeling that they were ignoring the situation because they were embarrassed that it had happened."
State Department officials did not respond to several requests for comment about the issues Votaw and Dammarell raised, complaints echoed by other current and former Foreign Service workers over the last two decades.
But the department acknowledged as much in a September 2000 article in its own employee magazine about the establishment of an Office of Casualty Assistance.
The article, written by Kendall Montgomery, the casualty assistance office director, acknowledged that the employees' "normal reactions in the aftermath of a major disaster involving loss of life and severe injuries were compounded by frustration - frustration at the bureaucratic red tape survivors and victims alike encountered."
One way for survivors to cope was activism: forming memorial and survivor groups and setting up Web sites about the Beirut bombing and the simultaneous bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa on Aug. 7, 1998.
Another form of activism was legal action.
Since 1996, when Congress amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act permitting lawsuits against countries that commit or support terrorism, several suits have been filed against Iran to claim Iranian assets frozen in the United States since the Carter administration.
The U.S. government has already paid more than $150 million in Iranian funds to former hostages, including $26.2 million to former Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson, who was held in Lebanon for seven years.
Dammarell is one of 56 survivors or relatives of people killed in Beirut who on Oct. 29 sued Iran, citing its support for the Hezbollah terrorist group that bombed the embassy.
Joining that suit were Votaw and her three sisters, their mother, Estera, and their father's brother.
Votaw said it was a complicated decision for her family. Votaw's mother, a Holocaust survivor, had refused German reparations for her parents' deaths and was reluctant to join the lawsuit.
"She told us, 'I didn't let the Germans pay me for killing my parents and I'm not going to let Iran pay me for killing my husband,' " Votaw said.
Ultimately, Votaw said, the family convinced her mother it was important for them all to stand together with other Beirut survivors in the suit against Iran.
Beyond justice, some, including Votaw, have sought more empathy and compassion from the State Department toward survivors and relatives of Foreign Service workers killed in acts of terrorism.
Votaw offers a case in point.
Ten years after her father was killed, still searching for answers and frustrated by what she felt was a lack of information or interest by the State Department, Votaw said she filed a request for documents about the 1983 attack under the Freedom of Information Act.
"It just infuriates me," Votaw said. "What I learned through this was that people had been arrested. Some had been tried in absentia in Europe and their trials held to be invalid. Some people had been released. I shouldn't have to get this information through an FOIA request. They sent my father into a war zone."
In 1997, Votaw began writing State Department officials, offering to help them establish a victim-assistance office that people like her could contact for "periodic updates on what is happening or has happened to address terrorism in general and justice in our particular cases."
To date, Votaw said, the department has not even acknowledged receiving her letters.
A State Department spokesman, who would speak only anonymously, said it was impossible to determine why Votaw's letters went unanswered.
But two years ago, after the East Africa bombings, the State Department did exactly what Votaw suggested, establishing the Office of Casualty Assistance to provide a contact for employees and relatives coping with terrorism.
Predictably, Votaw said, even a sister who works for the State Department was unaware of the new office.
"It doesn't surprise me," Dammarell said. "I think that the department is mind-boggling, the way it is set up. I can imagine what it must be like for someone outside. Sometimes I think the most isolated of all are the parents and children left behind."
Joseph A. Slobodzian's e-mail address is email@example.com.