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Robin Marantz Henig

Mourning Online

The website "Modern Loss" offers a fresh perspective on grief.

Trend stories in The New York Times Sunday Styles section tend to be pretty laughable, and easy to mock; one recent piece about the so-called trend in monocles ("One Part Mr. Peanut, One Part Hipster Chic") was so off-the-wall that even the newspaper's own Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, saw fit to make fun of it the other day.

Last Sunday's piece that claims that Millennials are re-defining what it means to mourn had its problems, of course: as is typical for Times trend pieces, the whole trend was already a couple of years old (I've been following Caitlin Doughty and her Order of the Good Death, mentioned in the article, since 2012). And, as Amanda Hess wrote on Slate's XX Factor blog, this latest variation on the "How Millennials Do Whatever" was, typically, peppered with examples of people doing Whatever who were all not Millennials at all, but people in their thirties and even forties.

But reading the piece did have one salubrious outcome: it led me to the web site Modern Loss.

It's painful to read through most of it, but this is meaningful stuff. Like this from Caroline McCarthy, whose mother died of breast cancer about seven years ago, when Caroline was 23:

I still wish I could call my mother whenever I’m overwhelmed or bewildered. I still wish I could have seen our relationship make its full transition to one between adults. I think about how much she would have loved every role that Maggie Smith has played in the past decade, and how much I would have liked her to meet my cat.

Or this, from Tre Miller Rodriguez, a young widow who writes the site's "Mourning, Noon, and Night" column:

When my 18-year-old brother, Phil, died in a car accident in 1994, my parents and I didn’t grieve politely. Phil was the first major loss we’d experienced as a family, and we mourned him in ways that reflected his live-out-loud approach to life. Which may be why we chose a steel coffin that resembled his beloved Nissan 300ZX, and didn’t blink when his friends slipped blunts into it at the viewing. Beside the funeral guest book, we placed a jar of glass from his broken windshield with a framed message: “The glass may be shattered but our memories are not: Take a piece.”

It's hard to write about grief without getting mawkish or repeating worn cliches, especially when the wound is fresh. (Maybe one of the reasons I liked these two posts is that the writers had years to live through their mourning, process it, and only then craft it into an essay.) But many of the Modern Loss posts manage to avoid the pitfalls. Spending a half hour on the site leaves you feeling that the certainty of death -- of ourselves and everyone we love -- can, if viewed through the right lens, make our short time on earth that much more precious. Millennials aren't doing that any differently from anyone else -- except, maybe, for the not-quite-minor detail of doing so much of it online.

About the Author

Robin Marantz Henig is a science journalist and the co-author, with her daughter Samantha Henig, of Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?