WASHINGTON - The grief came in spurts.
For Kevin Fahey, the pain worked its way through the silence of the near-empty National Transportation Safety Board meeting room Thursday and hit him hard.
He stood there for a moment during a brief break contemplating the eagle and shield crest at the front of the room. Then he stared at his empty hands, draped across the waist-high glass partition designed to separate the families of the victims of Comair Flight 5191 crash from the people who were there to confirm the accident's cause.
His son, Thomas Fahey, wasn't there, would never be there.
And it hurt like hell.
"It is profoundly sad. It is for everyone. We always underestimate the degree of difficulty of these kinds of things," he said, then cleared his throat. "If you'd have asked me at 5 o'clock yesterday morning, I would have said I don't need to be there to hear it. Now ..."
Long after the media frenzy has subsided, after the National Transportation Safety Board's findings of fault have been properly filed away, the Fahey family and all those who cared about the 49 people who died in a fiery crash last August will be left with their grief and their memories.
Both came flooding back as roughly 20 families listened to the safety board members and staff review the facts. For most of the day, agency officials read from jargon-filled reports, using terms like "sterile cockpit" and "Notices to Airmen" and showed photos of the intersecting runways where the crash occurred.
Eyes glazed over, faces grew blank.
But every once in a while, sadness and even anger broke through that glass wall.
"It makes you want to speak out loud," Connie Fahey said during a break in the day's proceedings. She, like all of her family members, wore a pin with a black and white photo of Thomas on a horse that read "Thomas Fahey, keep me in your heart for a while."
Thomas Fahey, a riding trainer, had traveled to Lexington to help a student pick out a horse.
He was on the Comair plane on his way home to Kansas.
Connie Fahey came to the meeting armed with photos of her son and a solid understanding of such matters as runway incursions and the difference between an agency, like the FAA, issuing non-mandatory advisories versus actually creating rules.
"In our grief we've turned to knowledge," she said.
She tries not to think about the pilots, tries not to place blame.
But it's hard ... for everyone.
Amy Clay, the wife of pilot Jeff Clay, sat near motionless in the audience away from the other families and listened carefully as time and again the safety board staffers placed most of the blame with her dead husband and his co-pilot, James Polehinke. Polehinke has no memory of the crash of which he is the lone survivor.
It was a hard thing to hear, and Clay isn't sure she wants to talk about it.
In a phone interview, Polehinke's lawyer declined to comment on the NTSB's findings.
Connie Fahey's heart goes out to Amy Clay and Polehinke.
Still, she'd love a chance, just one chance, to ask the pilot and co-pilot some questions.
"I don't hold any anger or malice toward him," she said. "I understand that he has a serious brain injury ... I'm a nurse and I understand that ... But I'd still like to ask him if he remembers anything."
In the meantime, for the next few days at least, Connie and Kevin Fahey plan on losing themselves among the stone and marble monuments that line Washington's core. And as they walk, the couple will think about their youngest son:
A young man with curly blond hair and blue eyes who not only knew how to make horses jump when he rode; he could make them soar.