The Power of Friendship Over Grief
Hours later the two women were on a plane flying across the Atlantic. "Lee and I huddled together, holding hands, talking," says Melanie, "and I told her, 'If Bob doesn't make it, look at me, because I am the worst-case scenario. I made it, and you will make it.'"
In the days and weeks ahead, Lee would watch her husband hover between life and death in a drug-induced coma to reduce brain swelling and undergo numerous operations. She would stay by his side at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was moved, and hear prognoses from doctors that included severe and possibly permanent impairment. Melanie's constant support and presence during this time, Lee says, was "her glorious payback," although the help was difficult for her to accept.
"David's death was hugely consuming," Lee explains. "I took on my role 100 percent, and it's one of the things I am most proud of in my life. But Melanie's was a clean loss. He was gone, like a limb. When Bob was hurt, there was this hideous great unknown. What would he be like? How much would he get back and what would he look like? At least with Mel, I could say, 'This is going to hurt more than anything you'll ever go through, but time will be a healer. You and your girls will survive.' Looking at Bob, I couldn't believe anyone who told me that I wouldn't be living in some hell running to the nursing home visiting my mentally disabled husband with four kids in tow."
Melanie understood all too well, but Lee had already taught her what to say. "I replayed her own words right back to her," Melanie says. "In the year following David's death, Lee was so constantly optimistic, and that's hard to swallow. You want to say, 'You don't even know what I'm feeling,' but she was absolutely right. So when I was telling her she'd be okay and she said, 'I don't know that,' I could answer, 'You were right in my case, and I know I'm right in yours.'"
Then on March 6, in what can only be described as a miracle, Bob woke up in his hospital bed with Lee by his side. "Hey, sweetie," he said, "where have you been?"
Today, after months of rehabilitation, therapy, and hard work, Bob Woodruff is back at ABC News, and except for continuing but improving difficulties with memory, word retrieval, and fatigue, he is himself again. He still remembers, after the blast, seeing his own body from above, bathed in a strong white light. "In 2003 David approached the line of living and dying and continued forward into death," he says, "and I entered the same line and somehow bounced back. We were equally about as close as possible to the two different directions, and I'm still kind of shocked by it, why one family was spared and not the other."
Some friendships might not have survived the glaring disparity in outcome. "To be honest," Lee says, "I think Mel felt nothing but joy. I know there would have been some black piece buried deep in my heart, that I would feel bitter sometimes, but I know she didn't."