An organizing motto for their grief
August 12, 2021 1:58 PM   Subscribe

After Bobby McIlvaine died on September 11, 2001, his family's grief ravelled in many different ways. In a sensitive, and often surprising, account, Jennifer Senior traces the tangled threads to their unexpected destinations in the present.
posted by Rumple (15 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 

It’s the damnedest thing: The dead abandon you; then, with the passage of time, you abandon the dead.

I just...damn. This whole article is excellent, but this line will stay with me.
posted by later, paladudes at 2:30 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]


I can't read about conspiracy theories right now. Does the article move on from that after the section about his father?
posted by Gorgik at 3:46 PM on August 12


Gorgik, yes, it does, though it does touch on it very briefly here and there throughout. But it's much, much more than just the conspiracy theories.
posted by cooker girl at 3:57 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


My god, that ending. Masterful.
posted by minervous at 4:02 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I read this yesterday. Absolutely agree it's a masterful and profoundly moving piece. There are so many facets - how collective memories are shaped and evolve over time, how individualized our responses to trauma can be, how forgiveness and understanding are wildly elusive until one day they're not. I'm amazed that the author's own proximity to the story doesn't get in the way, and it probably provides some closure for them too. And then there is the fact that most of us over 30 have some particular and personally defined relationship to the events and the piece can somehow transport our personal feelings about 9/11 to an entirely new place. The temptation for me to insert my own narrative into the story is strong- I can imagine how survivors are trapped in a sort of celebrity status where ordinary people feel the need to play out their unresolved 9/11 trauma in their interactions. It definitely surfaced a whole lot of complicated feelings for me.
posted by simra at 4:21 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


CW: brief mention of a suicide…

It’s the damnedest thing: The dead abandon you; then, with the passage of time, you abandon the dead.
I just...damn. This whole article is excellent, but this line will stay with me


To the extent that you feel comfortable talking about your grief, later paladudes, I would like to hear what it brought up for you.

I have a long history with many deaths, numerous lost loved ones. The one that shattered my world beyond re-assembling was a Beloved who committed suicide, and me missing by 12 minutes a message he sent asking if I could meet him.

Like the mother in this article, the only way forward was to construct - not even REconstruct, just flat out construct - myself differently.

I have not abandoned my dead — what *has* happened is that I have abandoned my tight hold on my exact relationships with my dead — how they were in specific moments and how it felt for me to be with them in those moments. At this point, my dead have become part of my DNA in ways I struggle to explain. I don’t often think about particular happy moments or what if they were still here’s…. but there will be a thought I think or a particular way I hear a song, or a moment of feeling secure, and it is Them, now living in and through Me. Love always transforms. It transforms itself, and it transforms the beloved. That is the power of it.

It is a beautiful thing when I catch those moments of them in me; transforming.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:43 PM on August 12 [17 favorites]


This was a beautiful piece. I felt sympathy for everyone interviewed and I hoped that Jen was happy with how the piece turned out, since there wasn't as much about her internal life in this piece. It was also interesting to see inside a marriage where one person is a conspiracy theorist and the other person is resigned to living with it. I hope that Bobby's dad does move on from that "activism" soon as he suggested he would.

I also loved that she ended the piece with a quote, just as Bobby has pointed out earlier in her career.
posted by rogerroger at 7:20 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


At this point, my dead have become part of my DNA in ways I struggle to explain.

This is exactly right. Once I accepted that my grief for my parents was mine, that I was under no compulsion to get over it and get on with things (as some relatives who, I now understand, were already very badly damaged when my parents died insisted), I could stop denying it and instead it just sort of became the background radiation of my life.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:17 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


Like everyone else, you remember where you were when you first heard of the events of 9/11. I had been in the towers a few times in the 80's and 90's. Looking down from one of the windows made me a little light headed. We went to a pre-planned weekend trip to NYC that October and brought pastries from the now shuttered De Robertis Pasticceria to one of the firehouses particularly hard hit. I knew people who were on their way to the towers and were turned back. It was a time when the whole world was sharing our grief. This country had a golden opportunity but we squandered it.
This piece is a heart rendering testament to the ties between people.
posted by DJZouke at 6:26 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I could stop denying it and instead it just sort of became the background radiation of my life.

This. Love is a flow-between; a relational entity, a unique and singular living thing, because each and every one of us is unique and different constellation of ourselves, depending on who we are interacting with.

There was alive-love and now there is death-love, and in no way are they opposite or an-absence-of. It’s more like being introduced to a 6-dimensional universe.
posted by Silvery Fish at 7:34 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


This was a stunningly beautiful piece - one of the best I've read and as a bereaved parent also with a spouse who responded differently to grief, I've read a lot of them. I saw it before it was here but so glad it was posted.

Our loss, being an infant loss, was very different but the way Senior captured the waves and longevity and just, well, everything, was - wow. My daughter would be 17 right now, and although I have engaged in a very full and joyful life since, it is actually true that not a day goes by that I don't think of her; her imprint, faint-edged though it is compared to an older child remains in our family and my husband and I are changed because of it.

Because part of that loss was a lack of access to emergency surgery at the exact time needed, as well as medical error prior to that, I've been sitting in the pandemic with a lot of that. It doesn't compare to being a part of an event like 9/11, but it certainly gave me a sense that I needed to speak up more loudly than I would have about the impact of overflowing ICUs, burnt-out staff, overwhelmed systems of care. There have been days it's been hard to focus on anything else. Seeing some of that reflected in the dad's story in this piece was a first for me.

If anyone is looking for further experiences of parental/family grief and loss I also recommend Once More We Saw Stars. It's memoir, so different than this reported piece but well worth the read.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:58 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


Sometimes I read the comments before clicking the link. If this is you, I strongly recommend clicking the link. I don't want to spoil the narrative, but it is complex, rich, surprising, compassionate and also plain good writing. I probably forgot something. And I cried, if that means anything.

One of my colleagues is a leading 9-11 conspiracy theorist. Maybe I will return to this thread to explain why they are completely and utterly wrong, but right now I will spend some time grieving for those who were lost.
posted by mumimor at 10:43 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


If you are of a certain age and lived in and/or grew up in NY, you knew people who died. A good friend from HS died. A friend's husband was able to call her to say goodbye. Another friend was coming out of the subway in the Trade Center when the first plane hit and literally had flying body parts land at their feet.

Instinctively, I knw everyone dealt with tragedy, with death, differently, but I never could have put it into words like the author did. You are old like me and live long enough and unfortunately you are exposed to death and tragedy. I had a family member accidentally killed at the age of 23 in NYC. I had a family friend's child commit suicide at 19. The previous 9/11 stories. Grief is a very varied thing. I would like to think that each person chooses how they deal with it, but I think most of the time grief chooses for you.

The things people say to you...Helen makes some great points about things people say, not necessarily ill intended that just are hurtful. When my family member was killed, I learned Helen's lessons. From that time on, what I say to people is, "I am so sorry for your loss" If appropriate, I add, "If you need anything, just a sympathetic ear or a distraction, I am here for you, no questions asked."

The author did an amazing job with the story.

Although it lives on, I choose to go with Life loves on.

posted by AugustWest at 12:21 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


It’s the damnedest thing: The dead abandon you; then, with the passage of time, you abandon the dead.

I came here to post this exact quote.

This is such an inclusive in-depth story where the writer is just far away enough to be able to tell it honestly but close enough to tell it emotionally.
posted by bendy at 8:38 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


It was also interesting to see inside a marriage where one person is a conspiracy theorist and the other person is resigned to living with it. I hope that Bobby's dad does move on soon from that "activism" soon, as he suggested he would.

I very much agree. Helen Mcilvaine seems like a remarkable person; it was striking to me how easily she was able to let go of her conflict with Jen as soon as she read the diary entries attesting to Bobby''s love for his fiancee. It's hard to comprehend what information or what framing will convince Bob Sr. to set aside his obsessive conviction. It is, unfortunately, one shared by many other people, which.I would think would tend to provide reinforcement for one's views.
posted by virago at 9:38 PM on August 14


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