Mourning Bobby McIlvaine – The Atlantic

Grief, conspiracy theories, and a family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/11

The late Bobby McIlvaine’s wallet lies open, warped with age and covered with soot from the 9/11 attacks. The image is set into a frame featuring The Experiment’s show art.
Bobby McIlvaine’s wallet (Danna Singer for The Atlantic)

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On September 11, 2001, Bobby McIlvaine was killed, along with nearly 3,000 other Americans. In the 20 years since, his parents and brother have searched for ways to live through, and with, their grief.

The writer Jennifer Senior’s brother was Bobby’s roommate when he died, and in the cover story for The Atlantic’s September issue, she visited with each member of the family to understand their personal journey through the aftermath of national tragedy.

“The McIlvaines very early on saw a grief counselor,” Senior tells The Experiment’s host, Julia Longoria, “who said to them: ‘Here’s how you have to think about this. You are all at the top of a mountain, and you all have a broken leg, and you all have to get down to the bottom of the mountain. But because you all have broken legs, you just have to take care of your own self and figure out how to get down.’” In this story, Senior explores how each family member dealt with their grief in very different ways. “But there might be a flaw in that metaphor too,” she says, “because, you know, some people never get down the mountain.”

This episode’s guests include the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior and Helen McIlvaine, Bob McIlvaine Sr., and Jeff McIlvaine, the family of Bobby McIlvaine Jr.

A transcript of this episode will soon be made available. Please check back.

Further reading: “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind,” “Everything My Husband Wasn’t There For”

Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

This episode was produced by Alyssa Edes and Julia Longoria, with editing by Katherine Wells and Scott Stossel. Reporting by Jennifer Senior. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde.

Music by Water Feature (“Double Blessing I” and “Richard III (Duke of Gloucester)”), Naran Ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), Keyboard (“Being There,” “Small Island,” and “Staying In”), Parish Council (“Heatherside Stores), Alecs Pierce (“Harbour Music, Parts I & II”), and H Hunt (“Journeys”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Joe Plourde. Additional audio from C-SPAN.