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In 2006, while at Disney World with her four children, including five-year-old twins, Lee Woodruff got a phone call no spouse wants to receive. Her husband, Bob Woodruff, journalist, and co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight, had been critically injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Shrapnel to the brain. In their 2007, #1 New York Times Bestseller, In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing, Lee and Bob write with raw honesty about his injuries and the healing and recovery process for all of them. 

This week I interviewed Lee. Their story is a powerful reminder that families can heal and thrive after life-altering moments.

Lee Woodruff and I met last year on a virtual zoom event. Since then we’ve emailed back and forth a number of times where her strength and sense of humor came through loud and clear. Lee is a broadcast journalist and a former contributing editor for CBS This Morning and ABC’s Good Morning America. She’s a speaker, a poignant author of three books and countless magazine articles, and she runs a communications and media training business with clients all over the world.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

BRENDA: I see why you’re in demand as a speaker and you run a communications and media training business. You’re polished and well spoken on camera. Public speaking terrifies so many people. How do you help your clients overcome their fears?

LEE: It’s a process. I don’t think there’s any magic bullet that works for everybody. The most important thing is to get to know the person as much as you can, do a lot of listening, ask a lot of questions. It’s negotiating with people’s psyches and understanding their fears and hang-ups. 

BRENDA: You’re such a wonderful writer. When I first read your book, In An Instant, I literally couldn’t put it down.

LEE: You’re very kind. Thank you.

BRENDAIn An Instant will always be a timely book, particularly since so many people of a certain age are getting older and having health problems, and they, or their spouse, are becoming caregivers. I think the book you and Bob wrote will always be needed.

LEE: There’s a beautiful phrase from Rosalynn Carter, something like, “There are those who’ve been caregivers, and those who’ll need caregivers.” Being a caregiver is an evergreen role in our society. People are living longer, and while the details are different—Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Traumatic Brain Injury—there’s a universality of a bad thing happening, and what does healing look like? Healing isn’t always the same as cure, and then what does care look like?

BRENDA: One of the reasons I was drawn to you is because we’ve both experienced great trauma and loss and in the midst of these terrible things, we’ve pulled ourselves together and formulated next steps for ourselves and our family. In your book you write about when “the General” kicked in. Have you always been this way, or did the General show up when you learned of Bob’s accident?

LEE: I think I’ve always been the General. I’m the eldest of three girls, pretty organized. Probably more forthright as I get older. I think I made a conscious decision… so in that regard I was the General… People respond in different ways. You could just be stunned. You could legitimately and rightly fall apart and say to somebody else, ‘Help me make decisions’… but as I say in the book, I talked to people and would fall apart later. I wasn’t always the General. That was just my initial reaction, but I do believe it had to do with the fact I had four young kids with me when I got the phone call. A part of my brain was thinking, ‘You better do this right, because this could either be indelible in a good way or a bad way.’

BRENDA: Are there any strategies you can give someone for coping with the stress of being a long-term caregiver?

LEE: They all sound trite, and when you’re in the thick of it, they all sound like eye rollers. Things like try to get outside, find time with your friends, carve a tiny slice of pizza of time for yourself, but a lot of that may depend on resources. If you have someone who can come in and watch your loved one, or just be there in the house. A lot of people can rely on their friends’ network, but when I interview people for my AARP blog I hear, ‘I’m in year five, and I don’t have friends, volunteering anymore, who can come over on a regular basis and sit with (him) for two hours, so I’m always so careful about being prescriptive about that. For anyone who can afford to have a caregiver come in for two hours a few times a week, it’s probably a life changer. I talk to so many who are pinched and pressed and exhausted and at the end of their rope, and they don’t have the resources to do that, so I don’t have any answers for those people other than to listen and tell them this is hard. At the very least, instead of trying to fix it, just acknowledge that it does stink, and it’s hard and the person is doing the best they can do.

Bob & Lee Woodruff, 2021

BRENDA: Any thoughts about finding ourselves again when we’re no longer in that situation?

LEE: Again, that’s so situational… I don’t think you wake up the next day and say, ‘I’m going to plan a trip to Greece.’ I think there’s a real hibernation period after a big change like that… Even though you weren’t able to do x, y and z while you were caring for them, you’re still in that hole… It’s also a wonderful turning point for many of us because we get in patterns: seeing people we really don’t care about or prioritize in our lives, but we feel we’re supposed to, or we should. When a change like that happens, it’s a chance to reevaluate your life, and how you’re spending your time, and what do you want to do differently? What do you want to do for you, for a change, because for most caregivers, that’s the last thing on the list, as you know.

BRENDA: After Bob’s accident you wrote three books. I’m wondering if writing helped you go inside and find yourself.

LEE: For sure. That’s where I’ve always found a complete sense of being absorbed by something. In An Instant was never intended to be a book. That was my journal. That was how I managed the stress of the hospital, the unknown, the coma Bob was in (for thirty-six days). I was just writing through it. Writing what happened for him, if he lived, and for my kids, if he didn’t, and just because that was a place I could exert some control of the story a little bit. So much in therapy, today, after trauma is about writing, and that was exactly what I was doing.

BRENDA: Talk to me about the nonprofit Bob Woodruff Foundation you and Bob started. Since you began, you’ve raised $80M dollars to care for members of the military with Traumatic Brain Injury and their families. That’s awesome! 

LEE: It was a time in the war when those with brain injuries were coming back and people in America didn’t really know what was happening. We didn’t know how Bob would survive, and his brothers and I kind of made a pact and said, ‘If he gets better, we need to use our voice and all the attention his injury has gotten and turn it back on these families… ‘ It started and grew, and it was part of our therapy, this thing that could give back to others, and that makes the bad thing at least have a purpose. It just became something bigger than us, and we’re both really proud of what it’s done for families.

BRENDA: I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to do this before the holidays, because I wanted people who were thinking about making an end-of-year, tax-free donation to read this and think about giving to the foundation.

LEE: It’s been such a hard time for so many families, that even giving a little bit every month to organizations they care about is good. I think anybody who reads this, at any time, can always help. It’s nice to be able to write a fifty dollar check in February. Every organization needs that.

One of my favorite interviews with Lee and Bob, 2017. When you read about the severity of his injuries, you realize Bob is a walking miracle.

I encourage everyone to visit the Bob Woodruff Foundation and see the impact Bob and Lee’s nonprofit has made for those with traumatic brain injuries. So far the foundation’s funded and shaped the most innovative programs to support our injured heroes, and they’ve reach more than 11 million veterans and their families across the country. If you’re so inclined, you might consider writing a tax deductible check for whatever you can afford. 

Over the years I’ve given their inspiring book, In An Instant, to friends whose family members have suffered a debilitating stroke, a serious heart problem, and now Covid. If you, or someone you know, find yourself in need of a big bouquet of hope and inspiration, may I suggest Lee and Bob’s book. They write about more than his injury and recovery–how they met, and when they lived in Beijing, China. Both were at Tiananmen Square when the protests and the massacres happened. It’s the only insider’s account of this time I’ve read, and it’s riveting, as is the entire book.

Speaking of books, one of my favorite places to discover new books is Lee’s monthly Bookmarks Blog. You can subscribe to it on LeeWoodruff.com.

Love, Brenda


  • Lynn January 22, 2022 at 9:17 am

    Giving this book to others who might be struggling is a great idea! I have always admired the Woodruffs and how open they have been while sharing their story.
    Brenda, have you shared your story on this blog? If so, I missed it. I would love to read it! I really enjoy your blog.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Lynn, Thanks for reading and leaving me a comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed my conversation with Lee. As far as my story, it’s sprinkled throughout my various blogs, plus I’m editing a memoir I’ve written. Over the years, my blog readers have asked me to write my story. I look forward to sharing it with all of you. xoxox, Brenda

  • Barbara January 22, 2022 at 10:55 am

    My neighbor’s husband died of ALS. It was a long difficult illness. Those of us in the neighbor helped take care of their yard and brought them… her food but it took a lot out of her. I think Lee’s comment about being the caregiver or needing a caregiver will eventually be true for most of us. X.o Barb

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Barb! I, too, have two friends who lost their spouses to ALS. It’s a wicked disease that leaves an indelible mark on everyone who loved them. Brava to you and your neighbors for pitching in to help. It was more than a neighborly thing to do. You were quite simply their angels who watched over them. We should all be so fortunate to have angels and neighbors like you. xoxox, Brenda

  • Beckye January 22, 2022 at 11:30 am

    What a great post! Sharing this. Also must read the book now! Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Inspiring. And so wonderful that they could see their blessing compared to others going through the same thing, and turn to share that blessing with those in need. The Lord gave them eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand and obey. May He grant that to all of us.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 1:02 pm

      Beckye, “To whom much is given, much will be required,” and the Woodruff’s have responded in full. I think you’ll enjoy their book. It’s an insight into them as people and an example we should all strive to implement if we’re faced with a tragedy in our lives. xoxox, Brenda

  • Katherine January 22, 2022 at 11:36 am

    Brenda, I so enjoyed you sharing the interview you had with Lee Woodruff. What an exceptional person she is, and her husband Bob. You have to have
    a very strong backbone to handle and survive something so devastating. As Lee said in so many words, when everything is taken away from you, what is left is how you respond. This is so true. Since I am fairly new to your blog I would like to hear about your challenges that you faced in your life. We all have been
    through rough times either personally or with family and friends. It never ends, and often times the caregiver gets forgotten about.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Katherine! Thanks for reading my blog. I’m happy to hear from you. If you’re new to my blog you’ve missed many of my posts. My readers have asked me to write my story, and I’m finishing a memoir I’ve written. The process has allowed me to step back and realize I’ve been surviving something since the day I was born, and it’s become clear why I’ve been preoccupied with survival. A quick summary for you: I’ve been widowed twice, the first time when I was 37, I was kidnapped in Guatemala, I’ve had breast cancer and am grateful beyond measure to be here. I look forward to getting to know you through our comments to one another. Thank you, again, Brenda

  • Linda January 22, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    Brenda, thank you once again for a timely and touching blog post. If we haven’t been a caregiver yet, or cared for, we all certainly will be at some point. What an inspirational book and the power of hope and love! Be well.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 1:12 pm

      Thank you, Linda. Everyone should read Lee Woodruff’s book because at some point or another in our lives it will lift us up and give us strength and hope. xoxox, Brenda

  • Rachel January 22, 2022 at 12:46 pm

    You always have such inspiring posts and find the most interesting people to interview. Our country and the world is a mess but I know I can find refuge on your blog. Thank you!

    • 1010ParkPlace January 22, 2022 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you, Rachel! Your comment makes me smile. I’m grateful you enjoy my blogs and my visit with Lee. A refuge… how nice. Yes, I aspire to be that. xoxox, Brenda

  • Della January 22, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    I remember the stories on the news when Bob was injured but I didn’t know the rest of their story. Thanks for suggesting the book.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 23, 2022 at 10:49 am

      Hi Della, If you remember their story on the news I think you’ll enjoy their book. Thanks so much for reading my blog and leaving me… and Lee… a comment. Brenda

  • Elizabeth January 22, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    Brenda, I love when one of your posts pops up in my blog. It is always a pleasure to read, no matter the subject. How wonderful to have meet Lee Woodward and become friends. I was/am a huge admirer of both Lee and Bob. I remember well his injury and this book. I read it years ago. My nephew was hit by a car this part April, he is 13, he flew 85 feet and suffered a TBI. Thankfully he is doing amazing, in fact the doctor said it is a miracle how well he is doing. THANK GOD. That said, my brother and SIL have suffered in ways I cannot even imagine while caring for him. My other SIL is now caring for my MIL who is 94, and it is a challenge and struggle some days. It is so very sad that in this country if you do not have the “means” there is no relief for you as a caregiver. Thank you Lee for this interview, your car, and compassion are beautiful. I love that Lee offers hope and help, even as she said if it is just a kind word and an ear to listen. Thank you again Brenda for a fabulous post!

    • 1010ParkPlace January 23, 2022 at 10:52 am

      Lee and I thank you, Elizabeth for sharing your nephew’s and your family’s story. Times like these test us to the limit as people and as a family unit. I’m glad to hear your nephew’s doing better. Thirteen… Far too young to face such a challenge. xoxox, Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA January 23, 2022 at 8:48 am

    LEE I RECALL YOUR HUSBAND SO WELL………HE WAS SO HANDSOME!I DONOT remember if I knew about this.YOUR points on caregivers and friends and who you want in your LIFE is so relevant to me.I completely understand.AND on top of all that you had FOUR CHILDREN to raise!I think you deserve a STANDING OVATION and I AM SO HAPPY TO SEE HE MADE IT!!

    • 1010ParkPlace January 23, 2022 at 10:55 am

      Thank you, Elizabeth, for your sweet note. You are always such a caring, compassionate woman, and you’ve not had an easy time of things, so more than most people, you understand. Love, Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA January 23, 2022 at 8:53 am

    HE IS STILL GORGEOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • 1010ParkPlace January 23, 2022 at 10:56 am

      And Lee is stunning. Don’t forget Lee. xoxox, B

  • cindy January 23, 2022 at 10:00 am


    This was absolutely wonderful. I have such great respect for Lee and Bob Woodruff. They are heroes in every sense of the word in my opinion. Her points about caregiving are so valuable. I was deeply involved in the end-of-life care of both my parents. My sister was an alcoholic and was unable to help in any way. You just muddle through it the best you can. I cannot wait to get her book. Thank you so much for the interview.

    • 1010ParkPlace January 23, 2022 at 10:59 am

      Cindy, Then you know a lot about summoning “the General” and making tough decisions and the physical and inner strength required of being a caregiver. Thank you for your comment. I always love seeing you here. xoxox, Brenda

  • Lee Woodruff January 24, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    Brenda– thank you for such a lovely article. You made me much smarter and wiser than I really am. And I so appreciate all the comments. We are all in this together!

    • 1010ParkPlace January 25, 2022 at 11:53 am

      I enjoyed it Lee, and I’m quoting you verbatim! You’re right: We’re all in this together. The kindest thing we can do is pave the way for those who find themselves in similar situations, and you’ve done that for all of us, so thank you. xoxox, Brenda

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