A bit of optimism with Simon Sinek: Moving Forward with my sister Sara
In August of 2000. Heading out of my front door to go to a friend’s wedding in Houston and literally was just opening the door, dragging my suitcase out and my phone rang and it was my mom. And she said something’s happened, something’s happened, I didn’t know what, but I dropped my case and ran downstairs to catch a taxi. What little information I had, I knew that my sister, who was to be married in two weeks, something had happened to her fiance, but I didn’t know what.
I couldn’t get a taxi because it was rush hour and everyone was fighting in New York City to get a taxi, and so I begged a person to let me share with them, and they did. And I’m so glad I was able to get there, because by the time I got to the hospital, I was the only person… I was the only person with my sister when she found out that her fiance had died.
They were on a train, on a subway. Heading downtown to get their marriage
license. And he wasn’t feeling well, he felt faint, and so as they pulled into the stop that they needed to get out of his step between the cars to
get air, we don’t fully know what happened, whether he fainted or had a heart attack, but he fell and he touched the third rail. The official cause of death was electrocution. My sister was holding on to his pant leg. When it happened.
That happened 20 years ago in August. And my sister said to me. Can we do a podcast about it? And so that’s what we’re doing. She’s sitting right across from me. And I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this with her in 20 years since it happened, we make references to it, but we’ve never talked about it.
So my first question for you is, why did you want to do this?
First of all, I’ve never even heard what happened that morning from your perspective. Let me take a step back. Twenty years is a long time, and I’ve always kept this very close to my heart. I felt this was my story, my grief, my heart, and I don’t talk about it very often because it’s difficult. It’s mine and yet when I experienced it, I was 25 years old and I felt really alone when it happened because it wasn’t like this happens every day that I had people to talk to and who understood me.
Two weeks after Peter died, I received a phone call from a friend saying there is a friend of a friend. This woman, Julie, is trying to reach you. Julie had a similar situation and she wants to talk to you, she read it in the newspaper, it was all over the news in New York City when this happened and reached out to me.
I felt a real sense of relief when I got that phone call because I was like, wow, there’s actually somebody that kind of understands what I’m going through.
This woman, Julie, became my beacon of hope. And I remember we talked once in a while and she had suffered something similar. Her fiance had died in a tragic accident seven years ago. For me, it wasn’t necessarily that she understood what I went through. I mean, we had the shared empathy and we had the shared understanding.
But for me, more than that, she was seven years ahead of me. She was my hope. She had remarried. She had kids. And I was like, oh, my God. Like, that could be me. Like, I can get there and even though I hardly talked to her, hardly saw her, we sat we had coffee once in a while. I kept her in the back of my head all the time because she made me get up every morning because I knew my life could go on. That’s the reason I wanted to do this interview, because every day I look at the news, unfortunately, and see the hundreds of thousands of people who are dying from covid-19 and from other tragic circumstances.
I can’t stop thinking about all the people that are suffering right now, the families that are suffering, the spouses, the children.
If I can be a beacon of hope for one person through this interview like that would fulfill me.
I’ve always wondered how I can use my experience, my story to help one other person. I hope I can be that beacon of hope because, yes, 20 years is a long time. It’s taken me a long time. Everyone out there can move forward.
Something could have happened to you, he was touching the third rail and you were holding onto him, you could have been electrocuted and you weren’t. I know that you stayed at mommy daddy’s house for a couple of months and then you had an apartment with Peter. I remember eventually you moved back home. Unfortunately, I live just up the street, and any time you wanted me to, I would come and sleep on your couch. I remember knowing you when you moved in with me.
I remember telling you the first time Peter’s birthday came up, but the first time this happened, I would always tell you it’s just the first time it’s going to hurt the most the first time, but it’ll be easier the second time and all of these things will happen more than once. I remember that. Yeah, I remember you and I talking about that, and I had prepared myself that no one was going to be the hardest because you have to go through everything once, right. The second time is going to be damaging. The third time is going to be that much easier.
The first time I had to take the subway, the first time I had to go
to the bagel store we used to go to, the first time I had to walk into that apartment, first I had to go back to work for somebody, go on a date again.
I remember making a list. I wrote down a list of all the first that I had to do this year, and I have it in my diary.
I had no idea you did that because I knew I wanted to kind of check them. I’m like, OK, I can do this. Like, I have no choice. I’m going to have to do these things, that sort of genius to make a list, because the whole concept of dealing with life after tragedy is overwhelming. It’s kind of genius to write it all down, all the things you’re going to have to do that you don’t want to do. And you only have to conquer each one once, so you don’t have to do them all at once to make it a checklist. It’s actually manifesting eating an elephant one mouthful at a time.
Twenty years is such a long time, and I beat myself up a lot for still being sad and I’m like 20 years, you might be over it, you know?
I question like, why do I struggle to feel sad and have a hard time talking about it? And the weird way the world works.
I was on Instagram two days ago flipping through and a TED talk popped up. This woman, Nora McEniry, and she writes books on grief. She had lost her husband and she had this one line that just stood out to me and it said, you can move forward, but you never move on.
You can move forward, but you never move on.
I think that gave me permission after all these years to know my life has moved forward. Yes, I found love and yes, I remarried and yes, I have kids. And yes, I am so grateful and I’m happy and I laugh and I’m funny and I can be all these things. Yes, I also cry. Yes, I’m still sad. You don’t move on. You don’t move on from that. It’s not a thing you move on from. It wasn’t a moment. It was my life. It is my life. And I think I had to understand that, that it’s wasn’t a moment that, you know, just get over it. But you can move forward sort of accepting tragedy as part of our journey and part of our life story.
As much as anything else in its formative right, I even remember somebody from Peter’s family after the tragedy happened, said to my face, Don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll be fine. At the time, I was so angry, I was like, how dare you tell me that? I couldn’t understand that in their minds. I’m 25 and looking back now, there’s a difference between moving forward and moving on.
One of the things that happened for me is I don’t even know if you know this, but you gave me courage to do difficult things. I’m not 100 percent sure that I would be where I am in my career if it weren’t for you.
You know, I had a job. I worked for a big ad agency when this happened and as you healed. As you move forward, I remember just being in awe of your courage, your courage to go through that lens, to pick up your life and put it back together again, and that would always be my point of reference like when I had difficult decisions to make at work, I would be like, if Sarah can do this, I can do anything.
I remember I stopped being afraid of difficult things, even in relationships, because I saw the courage that you exhibited. I don’t have your courage. I’ve never said this to you. I’ve said it to. I’m not sure I would have made it through as healthy as you have. It was easier to be the brother.
I think you can never prepare yourself for these things. I even think back to myself, like, how do I do this at the age of 25?
How did I get through it ? There’s no rule book. And I just remember the first day, the thing that I was terrified about was getting sucked into the Depression like that was my fear and I just remember saying to myself, wake up every day, get dressed and go for a walk. I did it every day, and I don’t know where that comes from.
I just remember saying to myself, wake up every day, get dressed and go for a walk.
Brad (my husband) and I were talking about this recently that when covid hit and we were all in isolation, I did the same thing. I woke up every day, I got dressed and makeup on and went for a walk. I think the only difference for me this time doing a tragedy in our world was I wasn’t alone and it felt really nice. But I would look at other people and walk into we’re all thinking the same thing.
I think the hardest part when that happened for me was I was so alone, being so young and going through something that no one could understand. I hated being different. I hated people feeling sorry for me. I hated people giving me sympathy because all I really wanted was what you gave me, which was just like you gave me courage because you just listen to me and you just were real with me. And I you need real you don’t need sympathy when you’re going through.
I hated people giving me sympathy because all I really wanted was what you gave me, which was just like you gave me courage because you just listen to me and you just were real with me.
I mean, for me, you know, and the reason that I think you and I got so
close during that time because I felt I could just be me with you, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else. I didn’t have to try to be brave or try to pretend I was OK.
You gave me permission to just be and you were one of the only people I think I was able to be with and just be because everyone else just looks at me differently and treated me differently.
You and I had a conversation after September 11th and it was a few weeks after the shock had subsided living in New York City after September 11th, everybody had one degree of separation. Everybody knew at least one person who knew somebody who lost somebody, everybody.
I remember, you said you would walk around the streets and for the first time, you didn’t feel alone. I totally remember that feeling because it was exactly a year later after Peter died, and I remember just feeling like, wow, there’s a bigger club than just me as a member here and even though I don’t know anybody affected, it didn’t matter. It speaks a lot to how human beings exist as social animals, as tribal animals, where just simply knowing that the world becomes your support group, just simply knowing that other people know what it’s like to lose somebody in a tragic accident, that you went to work in the morning thinking everything was fine and there was nobody came home just knowing that. Is cathartic. It’s a strange thing that that would offer a catharsis, just simply knowing that people can relate.
It goes to what you’re saying, which is I didn’t want to be different and yet it’s a sadly small club. Sadly, it’s a bigger club now with covid. I think there’s a strange understanding that you have an empathy, I think it’s about empathy.
You just know when you’ve been dealt a card that you weren’t expecting or asking for and it’s not a club you want to be part of, but if you’re there, unfortunately, you have to get it in order to know how to see other people in that way.
One of the things that it did for me and again, I don’t even think these are things that you and I have talked about ever. It put things in remarkable perspective. Obviously, you recognize how stupid most of the things we do are and how seriously we take these stupid things when there are things that are just way more important in the world, like relationships and family and love.
I remember my office was fantastic. They said take off as much time as you needed to be there with your family. I think I did. I took up a at least two weeks, I think, because I was just shuttling between mommy and daddy’s house where you were and going home.
I remember when I finally came back to work, I went to my boss. I said this in the most polite way I could muster, but I need to make a deal with you. It’s not really negotiable, which is if I get a phone call from Sarah, I don’t care what I’m doing, I don’t care what meeting I’m in, I’m going to get up and walk out, and if she needs me to be with her, I’m just going to leave the office. I said it may never happen or it may only happened once. I don’t know. But I just need you to know that my responsibility. No one is not here. They said, fine, and I think it happened twice, I was in a meeting you called, you needed me and I just got up and walked out and left the office. No, I didn’t announce anything. I just left.
But again, it comes to courage, which I’m not sure I would have had even the courage to say that to my boss in a nice way if I didn’t see the way that you were able to manage through this. It’s just one of those little things that stands out that I remember, and it helps me keep perspective of the important things in life.
.. I remember, and it helps me keep perspective of the important things in life.
Have you been able to maintain that sense of perspective 20 years on now?
Yes, I think that where I’ve grown and learned from that is that I don’t underestimate anyone else’s. Sadness or situations, I don’t belittle and make my problems are bigger than anyone else’s problems, but what I am able to do is make myself have empathy. I really do hear people and say, like, that must be hard for them right now. And I’ve become a much better listener.
God, I didn’t know I was partying and clubbing and getting married and my life took a big turn and I had to learn a lot of these, like coping skills the hard way. I’m grateful in a way I learned these things because they’ve helped me in life. I’m grateful that I’m a better listener and I’m grateful that I’m more empathetic and grateful that I think before I act, that’s something I think my biggest takeaway in life is.
I think when I see that traffic light changing from green to orange, I think, is it worth it? Is it worth going? I’m like now. Is it worth running across the street in New York City when it’s you know, the ticker is counting down your three seconds to get across the street and I don’t do it. I would have a twenty five, but I don’t do it. I just think I’ll just wait till the next one.
How has this helped you as a mother?
In a way, it’s helped me in a way, it’s hurt me because I worry about the safety of my kids and my husband and you, I worry about people around me because I’m scared how easy it is to lose somebody that you love. So I’ve definitely had to help myself be less overprotective and less worrying, worrisome about all of you, every time you go on a plane, every time you travel, I worry.
But the good thing is it’s made me. Value family. So much I mean, we’re so close, our family, you and I, and they wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Are your kids learning to cope with stress because of what
I mean, my kids, they’re young, I’ve never they don’t know the story. I hope one day I think about it all the time. How will I tell them and what can they learn from it.
My kids are pretty resilient, and I think that’s probably for me. I think you and I grew up in a resilient household. As you said, we traveled a lot. We had to start new schools. We had each other. I think my kids are very similar. I really do. I see a lot of what we had in them. They lean on each other.
We just moved across the country last year and they embraced the change. They were amazing. I’m proud of them for that they do what we did. I love them asking you permission to have a sleepover.
I remember the first time I heard I’m like, you’re letting them go to sleep. I was like, no, no sleepovers in each other’s rooms.
We used to do that. I love that they’re close.
How does it feel to talk about it now?
It feels cathartic in a way, because I’m doing it not for me, I’m doing it for somebody else and I think that’s why I can do it. I think I never wanted to talk about it because I never wanted to make it about me. But if I can do it with the hope that someone else can feel heard, feel supported, feel hope. That’s why I can do this right now.
Any advice you would give to your 20 year old self on how to move forward, what you know now, looking back, that you wish you knew then?
It’s hard to tell a 20 year old self to appreciate the little things, because that’s what you love about your 20s, is that you just don’t think you just do and just live. But I think for for my 20 year old self, I feel I just have immense gratefulness, like for my experiences, the good things and the bad things and I had amazing highs and an amazing low, but I would tell myself, hold on to those moments, because they shape you, they shape you’re going to be in 20 years the good and the bad, it’s really accepting the journey.
Right, as opposed to trying to reject or hide or, as you said, move on from why would you write like these things. They help us learn things, help us grow. There’s so much positive that came out of this as well. They’re just not moments in time.
I think that’s what I would tell my 20 year old self. They’re not
just moments in time. They are experiences. That are you and have become you, and I just don’t think you have that perspective in your 20s in nerve endings, just a thing, a moment, a day, an event. It’s larger than that and one day we’ll look back at this time in life and think the same, there was a movie, I don’t know if you remember that movie with Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doors.
I think about that movie all the time because It was basically my life. It was actually on a train. Like she walked into one door in her life, went one way. If she walked into a different door 30 seconds later, her life would be completely different and I think about that movie because that is life.
You can’t control what door you’re going to go through, what’s going to happen, but you just have to accept and hope you made the right decision.
You know, I think to myself, what if I waited for the next train?
What if we took the different door? You know, but that’s not life. Life is a sliding door. That’s also what makes it so exciting. It’s kind of a motto of my life. I think about that all the time. What if I do this? We’ll have a different outcome.
Maybe that’s OK. I’m going to turn off the mikes now and give you a hug.
Thank you for doing this.
Thank you for being here for me always, always.
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