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Penn State Alumna Details Life After 9/11, Loss Of Father In New Memoir

As we’ve all learned throughout the last year and a half, it takes great strength to overcome adversity, but it’s important to not let the adversity define you. That’s exactly what Penn State alumna Ashley Bisman has shared in her memoir, “Chasing Butterflies,” which was published back in June.

When she was 16, Bisman lost her father, Jeffrey Goldflam, when he was killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks while working on the 101st floor of the North Tower.

As a New York native, Bisman knew she wanted to leave her home state because so many people knew who she was and that she lost her dad on 9/11. Because of this, she also lost a sense of privacy. So, Bisman chose Penn State for a fresh start where no one knew who she was.

“It was really important to me to go to school outside of New York where people were meeting me for the first time, and, you know, they would only know about 9/11 and that I lost my dad if I decided to share that with them,” she said.

She graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but even before coming to Penn State, Bisman always had a passion for writing.

Ashley Bisman

Bisman started writing her memoir in her 20s after moving to New York City, focusing on her experiences with dating and the struggle to find a meaningful relationship in the same city where she lost her dad.

“I started just documenting all of my experiences,” Bisman said. “I was doing all of that in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, which was a really unique experience because, you know, who in the world is looking for love and establishing a career with the life of this Freedom Tower shining down on that?”

What’s unique about Bisman’s memoir is that it’s not the story you would initially expect. While it focuses on her life as a young adult in New York City trying to find love with the Freedom Tower looming over her, it is ultimately a love letter to her father and the memories she has of him that she now gets to share with readers.

Bisman described the writing process as “amazing” and is happy she gets to share with the world who her dad was and “give him a pulse again.”

“It gives him life again, which brings me so much joy,” Bisman said, “It’s nice to know in many, many years to come, hopefully, when I’m not here, and my children are grown up, they’ll have this book and they’ll be able to read about my memories with my dad. It keeps us alive and keeps our legacy alive.”

A portion of the proceeds of “Chasing Butterflies” is donated to Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit organization that originated from the September 11 attacks and supports families who have been impacted by terrorism, military conflict, or mass violence.

Originally, following her father’s death, Bisman didn’t want any connection to 9/11 and hoped to move on from it. However, when she finished writing her book, she knew wanted to donate the proceeds of the book to a bigger cause. Once she found Tuesday’s Children, Bisman had an instant connection with the organization.

Ashley Bisman

“When I told them, ‘I have this book and want to publish it,’ they couldn’t do enough for me. They really became like second parents in a way. You know, any help they could provide, any guidance they could provide — they were really there for me every step of the way helping to spread the word,” she said.

With this year being the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Bisman said that the grieving process has changed from being a teenager to now being a mom of two kids. As a teenager and young adult, she wanted to blend in with her peers and move forward. As a mom, she views her dad’s death through a different lens.

“I find that grief has different phases, and it never goes away. It’s constantly changing even now 20 years later…It’s not the same for every person,” Bisman said. “For me, in high school when I lost my dad, I really just wanted to be like a regular teenager. I didn’t want to be different than anyone else, and I had felt so different having lost my dad in that way. So, my goal was really just to, like, keep on going and persevere and push through.

“….I think in my thirties as I became a mom I started to kind of process 9/11 differently. You know, those fears are coming off of, ‘What’s going to happen one day when I’m not here? I hope they can take care of themselves, and I hope they can be OK.’ So, I started thinking about my dad and the way he died a little differently. With all the different phases of my life, I’ve been processing my dad’s death differently.”

There are a lot of lessons Bisman wants people to take away from her book. For the younger generations who were too young to remember 9/11 or were born after the attacks, she wants them to know that it remains a personal tragedy to this day.

“For me, it’s not 9/11 and it’s not airplanes and towers. It’s just that I didn’t have my dad for over half my life,” Bisman said. “That’s what I want people to understand. It’s not just about that day. It’s about our specific family members that you don’t have. I don’t have a dad, my mom doesn’t have a husband, and my kids don’t have a grandpa, and that’s what it’s about.”

Additionally, she hopes the younger generation will educate themselves more on 9/11 and on ways to give back to Tuesday’s Children. As for the biggest takeaway, Bisman wants people to know that the hard times don’t define your life. It’s about the times you pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

“No matter what you’ve gone through in life — no matter what tragedy you faced or what hardships you’ve been through — you can overcome it and live a successful and happy life. It’s not the tragedy that’s defined you — it’s how you persevere and move forward.”

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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