Lee Woodruff likens loss to being inducted into a club you have no choice but to join.
In her recently released first novel, “Those We Love Most,” the journalist, author and mother examines loss from the perspective of a family ripped apart following the death of a child. In their grief, they also are forced to look at their own flawed lives.
Woodruff, a summer resident of Silver Bay on Lake George, said she usually has to preface a conversation about the book, which recently made the New York Times’ best-seller list, by explaining that yes, a 9-year-old boy dies, but it’s not the overarching theme.
“You don’t really know the kid — it happens in the beginning of the book. It’s about what comes after,” Woodruff said. “Certainly, sad things happen, but that’s sort of life in its many forms. The triumph is trying to get past and moving on.”
Woodruff’s inspiration came from a call she received as she was preparing to give a speech a few years ago. She learned a little boy on his bicycle had suffered a brain injury after a teen driver had struck him. Fortunately, the child recovered, but she said she couldn’t help thinking about all the lives changed from that one accident — not only the victim’s and his parents’, but the driver’s and his family’s.
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“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it make an interesting story?’ ” she said.
Woodruff, herself, understands loss well.
Her husband, ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, suffered a traumatic brain injury six years ago and was nearly killed after being hit by a roadside bomb while on assignment in Iraq. Just a month before, he had been named a co-anchor at ABC’s “World News Tonight.”
In 2007, the Woodruffs co-authored “In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing” about the experience and initiated the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides grants to wounded soldiers after their acute care and rehabilitation.
Although the new book is a work of fiction, it is not surprising there are parallels to Woodruff’s personal life.
“Certainly the emotions, the sort of strong rootedness of understanding of how this feels — that absolutely came from a place of knowing,” she said.
Woodruff, also the author of “Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress,” said while writing her new book, she had to set it down for about a year because she didn’t know where the story was headed. She needed the characters to “talk” with her, but she has been pleased by readers’ reactions.
She has kept an exhaustive appearance schedule to promote the book, and in October will stop at Colgate University, from which she and her husband graduated and where her son is a student. She said she hopes to talk with some of the future writers in the English department.
Woodruff also is at work completing her next writing project, a book she thinks will cause people to examine their marriages. She said she has been disturbed by the next generation that looks at commitment as being “disposable.”
“Kids are making decisions about blowing up relationships, and I think in the back of their mind they believe there is something better out there. Five years later, I see them limping back to the easy chair thinking, ‘Wow, maybe I acted in haste. Maybe there is no perfect person for someone out there,’ ” she said. “The question becomes, ‘How do we get through that sort of middle place in a relationship and move forward to make it richer and deeper?’ ”