Bobby McIlvaine Died on 9/11. This Is the Shape Grief Took

Jennifer Senior on how his parents, brother, intended fiancee have coped
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2021 10:08 AM CDT
Bobby McIlvaine Died on 9/11. This Is the Shape Grief Took
The 9/11 memorial fountain.   (Getty Images)

"'The only thing I do is 9/11 stuff,' Bob Sr. says. 'My whole basis of everything revolves around the day.'" That's understandable. Bob McIlvaine Sr. lost his 26-year-old son that day, and in a lengthy piece for the Atlantic, Jennifer Senior presents a deep picture of the shapes grief takes, of 9/11 conspiracy theories, and of a life lost. Senior has not just access to Bobby McIlvaine's family—Bob Sr., mom Helen, younger brother Jeff, and Jen, the woman he planned to marry—but also familiarity. Bobby was her brother's roommate at Princeton, and later his roommate in Manhattan on 9/11. Bobby wasn't typically at the World Trade Center. He had gone that day to help a colleague set up for a conference at Windows on the World as part of his media-relations job with Merrill Lynch and was just outside the building when the planes hit.

His "was one of fewer than 100 civilian corpses recovered from the wreckage," writes Senior, and it was years later, when Bob Sr. finally mustered up the courage to read the medical examiner's report, that his "whole thesis" changed. "Looking at the body, I came to the conclusion that he was walking in and bombs went off," says Bob Sr., who has emerged as one of the better known 9/11 "truthers." Helen, Jeff, and Jen have wrangled with their grief in other ways. They've also all wrangled over Bobby's diaries—in the days after his death, Bob handed Jen the one Bobby was writing in at the time of his death. Helen was furious and wanted to see it; Jen refused. All these years later, Senior met with Jen, who handed the diary over. In it were three words the family had clung to, three words Jen had long ago shared that no one could now recall the source of: "Life loves on." (Read the incredible full piece.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.