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How Lee Woodruff’s “Ambiguous Loss” Became a Mission to Help Others

Lee Woodruff and I got know each other through several shared passions – giving voice to the complexity of grief, building resilience in the face of adversity, and supporting veterans and their families in whatever way we can.

For me, I became interested after the loss of my parents. Lee’s attention was sparked in 2006 when her husband Bob Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury. The celebrated journalist was in Iraq covering the war for ABC News when his armored vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. He was placed in a medically-induced coma for 36 days. During Bob’s recovery, Lee met many families of service members and learned even more about brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, and depression. The entire experience inspired the couple to create the Bob Woodruff Foundation, supporting America’s sick and injured service members and their families.

I am honored to share the details of Lee’s extraordinary journey in my latest Q&A.

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Jon Stewart on Grief, Resilience, and Supporting Those Who Serve Others

Jon Stewart’s father passed away several years ago. But the former The Daily Show host’s personal experience with loss is not what prompted our discussion for my grief & resilience blog. Jon and I were in Arlington, Virginia to join Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and founder of TAPS, Bonnie Carroll, for the launch of the TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing. Also with us were authors Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith, and Rebecca Soffer. Read more about this pioneering organization and its new Institute here.

Jon is a staunch supporter of service members, veterans, and military families. He is also a tireless advocate for first responders and is credited with being a driving force behind getting Congress to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The Zadroga Act provides health care and financial support for 9/11 first responders. These men and women breathed in toxic dust and smoke during the massive cleanup at Ground Zero. According to John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, more than 7,000 first responders have developed cancer (as certified by the government) and nearly 2,000 have died.

Jon has spoken at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and USO events and he’s visited with troops overseas. Most impressively, he’s used his singular platform to hold America accountable for the care of those who have served and suffered.

Our conversation was intimate and far-reaching. He also spoke with WTOP radio and Connecting Vets about the significance of the new Institute. Below is an edited compilation of the most important portions of these discussions.

Allison: Why have you chosen to talk so openly about grief and resilience?
Jon: Grief and illness are really isolating when they occur. Unfortunately, when people go through tough times many choose not to reach out for help or don’t know what to do. There’s so much confusion. Individuals may even wonder if they’re grieving the “right” way. [Note: there is no “right” way to grieve that works for everyone.] And while everybody experiences loss, too few know how to grieve so they can hold tight to their loved one’s memory while making the best of the time they still have in front of them. (You can learn 85 strategies for honoring and remembering family and friends by reading my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.) Sadly, this is one of those fields where TAPS has an incredible wealth of experience and compassion.

Allison: What inspired you to lend your voice to the launch of TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing?
Jon: I’ve done a bunch of work with the USO and military families at Walter Reed and Fisher House. I’d become aware of TAPS through that. Yet even amongst injured or ill veterans, there is a separate area for Gold Star families or other military families who have experienced loss. There’s a divide, even within communities that have each other’s backs in an enormous way – and there’s no community better than the veterans’ community with each other. But man, grief is still this really strange area, this taboo that I think is really tough for people to think about. And Bonnie, to her great credit, used her loss as a springboard to be there for others who are in that same situation. It’s incredible what she’s been able to build.

Allison: I’m sure you get asked to lend your voice to many charities. Why first responders and the military?
Jon: I’m drawn to supporting people who give of themselves so selflessly. It’s an unusual individual who, when you hear the sounds of trouble, actually moves towards it, rather than away from it. I’m generally in the “I just have to be faster than the least fastest person’ category.

I’m also struck by the stoicism within these communities. Members of the military and their families don’t often reach out for help when they need it. And I think too often we depend on them, and yet when the time comes for them to depend on us, we’re not there for them. So I try to help push along the idea that the least we can do for them is repay their service and selflessness with support.

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