The long reach of grief: How one death on 9/11 reverberates today

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Any grieving parent will say that you want every last molecule of what has belonged to that child,” says author Jennifer Senior. ‘Because you will get nothing less, nothing else. There's nothing left.” Photo by Shutterstock.

Over 20 years ago Bobby McIlvaine died in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th -  he was 26.  Bobby had taken an elevator to Windows on the World, a restaurant in a building he seldom had reason to go, for a media-relations job he’d held for two months. 

Helen and Bobby Sr, Bobby’s parents, his brother Jeff and soon-to-be fiance Jen struggled to make sense of their hellish nightmare - spinning off in different directions, each grasping for hope, comfort, a memory, a word that would help fill the massive void that was left in their lives.

“Here you have this couple, one half of the couple is waking up every morning and it's always September 12 th, there's always murder to be solved,” says Senior.  “He's always got to be speaking at conferences, talking to other people who think like him, other people who are truthers. And then there's Helen, who wants to never think about September 11 ever again.” 

Senior, pictured here, shares a metaphor on grief  “you're at the top of a mountain and you've each got a broken leg, so you can't help the other one down. You've each going to do it in your own idiosyncratic style. When I mentioned this to somebody else who studies grief for a living,” Senior explains. “She said that’s a good metaphor, but I object to one part of it. Some people never get down the mountain.” Photo by Laura Rose 

Each looked for answers and comfort differently -  in their own and often highly idiosyncratic way. For family friend Jennifer Senior, their story inspired a broader contemplation on love and loss; 

“There is a fear among those who grieve, that you're going to forget. The dead abandon you, and then you suddenly abandon the dead after a number of years. You don't want to abandon those you love, it feels like a form of betrayal.”

Senior shares the story of Bobby McIlvaine's parents, brother and girlfriend. How each of them tried to deal with their grief and why grief is so complex and long lasting?  

In her book, “On Grief: Love, Loss, Memory” author Jennifer Senior says “The books that have the kind of the grand unified field theories of grief, they wind up being kind of wrong and then you're going, “Oh, am I grieving incorrectly?”

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Andrea Brody