Lee Woodruff Offers Insights on How to Cope With the Ups and Downs of Life
Be Inkandescent: Let’s talk about “In An Instant,” the book you and Bob wrote after his accident. In it, you artfully chronicle what it was like to suffer through the news that he was injured, and the possibility that he might not survive. Can you offer some words of wisdom for others who are struggling with similar dramatic changes?
Lee Woodruff: I’d suggest that if they like to write, they put down into words everything that is happening, how they feel, all their hopes and dreams, fears and concerns. It’s cathartic.
You are in shock when something like this happens. Several weeks before the accident on January 28, 2006, Bob was named as co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight.” He was reporting on the War in Iraq when a roadside bomb gravely injured him and his cameraman. Immediately, he was operated on—and that scared me.
I wanted him to be flown home. Thankfully, no one listened to me, because that surgery saved his life.
After his condition stabilized, he was then flown to Germany, and I flew over to meet him there, and thankfully I had an amazing support system to help with the kids at home. He spent 36 days in a coma. And there I was, sitting alone in the Intensive Care Unit in a foreign country, waiting. So, for me, writing the book was my way of processing what was going on.
The doctors in the ICU encouraged me to talk to him, and while I was next to his bed I told him stories of our life. I knew that if he ever woke up that he would want to know everything that happened, so when I wasn’t sitting by his bedside, I wrote it all down on my laptop. The words flowed out of me. I never thought that what I was writing would be a book. I was writing for Bob, for myself, and for our kids. It was the only control that I had in my life at that moment.
Be Inkandescent: Why did you decide to turn it into a book?
Lee Woodruff: Bob’s neurosurgeon looked at what I was working on and said that he thought it would help others. It turns out that thousands of men and women cycle through hospitals with these types of war injuries—and yet there isn’t enough information getting out about the realities of it. So I went to work putting my grief, hope, and fears into words.
Be Inkandescent: Then, on February 27, 2006, Bob woke up. That must have been an amazing day.
Lee Woodruff: You can only imagine. But it was also scary, because we didn’t know the real extent of his injuries, or what the future would hold. So the fear of that is in the book, too. From my 900 pages of notes, we wove together Bob’s thoughts and mine, and 13 months after the accident, Random House published it.
Be Inkandescent: When did you decide to write the follow-up, “Perfectly Imperfect?”
Lee Woodruff: Well, in those hundreds of pages of notes, there was also a lot of my thoughts about life. Then after “In An Instant,” made the New York Times Bestseller List for 2007, my editors at Random House asked me what I wanted to do next. That’s when I told them about the other stuff I had written, and “Perfectly Imperfect” was born.
Be Inkandescent: This book has also been a huge hit, and taken you on a new journey—quite literally, with speaking engagements around the country—and even more visibility for the work you are doing with the nonprofit organization that you and Bob set up, Remind.org.
Lee Woodruff: Yes, lots of good things have come from this horrible thing. But that’s what people do. To make it palatable, you make something good out of something horrible.
Be Inkandescent: Do you think everything happens for a reason?
Lee Woodruff: I think the trick is to believe in something bigger than you. For me, faith is the key to getting through the bad stuff. I turn myself over to it regularly, and on my most sorrowful days, when I know that things are out of my control, it gives me the strength to believe that the world is still a good place, and good things do happen. A wise woman once said to me, “You can be bitter, or you can make it better.” So I have tried to make lemonade from this pile of lemons.
Be Inkandescent: If you could turn back time, would you?
Lee Woodruff: In an instant. I loved our life. Bob was thrilled to have been named the co-anchor with Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News’ flagship broadcast “World News Tonight,” in December 2005. He had worked his whole career for that, and it was so exciting to watch him succeed. We had a really lovely flow to things at home, and I was happy in my work.
But things happen as they will, and when they do I advise others who are in the thick of it to be good to themselves, and be in the moment. Through the scariest days, I wouldn’t let myself think about what would happen six months or a year down the road. That was terrifying to me. I figured that if I could get through the hour, I was doing well. Then I knew I could get through the next hour. And in the worst moments, I told myself that this was as bad as it was going to get. It was true. The bottom line is that you don’t know how strong you are until you are tested.
Be Inkandescent: In “In An Instant,” you share that this wasn’t the first time you have been tested. You talk about using a surrogate to help complete your family with your twin girls. Other women facing infertility issues can surely relate to the courage it took to take this path. Can you offer them any advice?
Lee Woodruff: So many women go through the painful experience of not being able to have kids—and suffer in silence. By talking about it in the book, I hope to shine a light on the subject. It’s another reason that it’s important to live in the present. Time and again it is clear that we have no control over what happens to us—just to how we respond to what happens. So if there’s no apparent rhyme or reason to anything, I make a decision every day to make the best of it.
Be Inkandescent: Like many powerful women, you are a proponent of giving back. You co-founded and now sit on the board of trustees for the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation’s Remind.org, a nonprofit that provides critical resources and support to our nation’s injured service members, veterans, and their families, especially those affected by the signature hidden injuries of war, traumatic brain injury and combat stress. Can you tell us why it is important to give back, and how more women can fit nonprofit work into our busy schedules?
Lee Woodruff: Here’s what I think about volunteering and giving back. It’s important, and it feels great to help someone else. But as women, we are giving all the time. The key to giving, without completely depleting yourself, is to wisely choose your moment, and your venue.
Previously, I didn’t do a lot of donating of my time because I didn’t have a lot of time to spare. When this accident happened, it was my moment. The cause is important, and starting the foundation is the right thing to do for so many injured men and women. So I figured out how to make time.
But just like everything in a woman’s life, we all need to figure out what we want to do, and balance it with what we can do. No guilt. No drama. Just be clear with yourself about your priorities, and your limitations, and you will live in your power.