My husband, Bob Woodruff, was almost killed in Iraq while covering the war for ABC News in 2006. He didn’t die, but his recovery was long and hard. And then a few weeks ago he went to Iraq again, and people started asking me how I could “let” him go and if I was afraid.
“Is she a dutiful wife?” some wondered. “A doormat, maybe?” I am neither of those things, but I also think the answer is complicated. For one thing, both ABC News and I have limited his exposure to danger by forbidding him to go back to the war zone. Although he still yearns to do that kind of life-on-the-line journalism, he agreed, to my relief. But perhaps more important, I had to agree because traveling to far-flung hell holes and then reporting stories is simply what makes my husband tick, what gives him his juice. So I always knew he would want to go back to Iraq someday. To circumscribe that, to tell him, “You cannot do this because it scares me,” would be like breaking a wild horse for the circus. I lived with my husband when he was a lawyer, before his career change. He was unhappy, and that pervaded all the parts I loved about him.
Bob worked like hell at his recovery to get back to where he is today, back on air and reporting the news, the work he loves. So to live circumscribed by fear of all the things that could happen to him would simply waste part of my living time.
And now another Woodruff man is preparing to leave home. My firstborn son is going to college in August, and all these issues of safety and freedom are rising up again. As we drove in the car together recently, we came upon an accident that ground us to a halt. The remains of the scene were gruesome—motorcycle meets truck. I sucked in my breath in that way mothers do and thought of this precious boy-man and all the horrible things that could befall him once he is out from under my roof. Letting him go this fall will be one of the biggest passages in my life and, yes, I am afraid. But I would push down many fears to give him his freedom.
If I could bury my fears for my husband, then I would have to bury them for my son, I reasoned. “If you love something, you have to set it free” said the cheesy poster on the wall of my childhood bedroom in the seventies. I smile now, remembering the image: a butterfly and a rainbow. As a wife and mother, maybe that’s actually the best advice I could follow.
Lee Woodruff is the author of Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress and co-author, with her husband, of In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing, the story of their marriage and her husband’s recovery. Buy Perfectly Imperfect on amazon.com.