Lesson from tragedy: living with feeling

People will never forget Sept. 11, but for Linda Lashendock, Elon University’s manager of video services and event production, it is a day that completely changed the direction of her life.

Lashendock had been working at the CNN D.C. bureau for 20 years. Every morning at 8 a.m., she had a conference call. She turned on the radio while she was getting ready for the office. As she stepped out of the shower, she heard, “If you’re just tuning in, we want you to know a plane has hit a tower in New York City.”

“I knew right away it was terrorism, I had this intuitive feeling,” Lashendock said.

She turned on her television and a little after 9 a.m., saw a plane hit the second tower. For three years, she had been dating a man who worked for United Airlines. When she saw the plane on television, she knew right away what it was.

“I picked up the phone and called the executive producer for the D.C. bureau and said, ‘It is a United plane,'” Lashendock said. “No one knew anything at that time, so she asked me how I could know that. I reminded her who I was dating and that I either picked him up from the airport every weekend or rode a United plane every weekend. I knew those planes. And we went with that in our reporting.”

While some people were heading home from work because of the attacks, Lashendock had to pick out what to wear for what she knew would be a busy day in the office. She picked out a lime green suit and three-inch heels to wear.

During the ride to work, straight down highway 270, Lashendock left the radio off to think about what would need to happen to cover the plane crash in New York that day.

D.C. destruction

When she looked up and saw that the National Guard were lining highway 270, she called the bureau to find out what was going on. That is when she learned a plane had hit the Pentagon.

“I knew in my heart the towers were going to fall. I had been thinking that on the way to work,” Lashendock said. “When I was told the Pentagon had been hit, my heart just fell.”

All the plans Lashendock had made earlier that morning were throw
n out in order to report on the Pentagon. As everyone was evacuating the city, walking away from D.C., Lashendock was trying to drive in the opposite direction.

Lashendock searched for parking, got out of her car, took off her 3-inch heels and ran down the street.

She remembered to call her parents to tell them that she was OK. She tried to call her brother, who worked on Wall Street, but couldn’t get through.

“When you work in the business, your feelings are pushed down and you just worry about facts,” Lashendock said. “I got to work, but I don’t remember what we did. I just remember working from Tuesday to Friday non-stop.”

One of the feelings she had to push down was the feeling of loss. One of her colleagues was on the plane that hit the Pentagon.

“She was on a plane going to LA when it went into the Pentagon,” Lashendock said. “I saw her everyday. We always hugged and said hello. We always greeted each other with smiles no matter what was going on.”

Friday was the first day she really got to sit down and think about the week and her emotions. She planned on leaving work around 8:45 p.m. instead of the normal 2 or 3 a.m. But that day the Pentagon self-ignited again.

“It gave me the creepiest feeling,” Lashendock said. “At that point, you don’t cry, and you don’t show emotions, not in the industry. I didn’t think it was terrorists again. I felt it was the last flame of the week. It was time to move forward.”

That night the executive producer called her. For 45 minutes they both talked about the week, released their feelings and cried.

“We cried for the person we knew and lost, for the families still living, envisioned cancer from the dust in NYC and for the people who had no fear and attempted to rescue people,” Lashendock said.
About two and a half weeks later, Lashendock decided she wanted out of the business.

“I was married to my job I loved so dearly,” Lashendock said. “This was my family, and now it was time to really join my biological family. And I needed to learn to feel the things I had buried in my work. I wanted to give back, love, and be kind as much as possible, and learn more and more every day.”

She was under a three-year contract with CNN. It took the human resource representative four hours and 18 minutes to convince CNN executives to let her out of her contract. She left the industry in February 2002.

Grieving goodbyes

Lashendock packed up her belongings and moved to Illinois that February.

A few months later, her stepdad died. She moved to North Carolina to be with her mom and started looking for job openings.

She was now living in a new location and looking for a new purpose. She called one of her friends and asked him, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” He responded, “You want to teach.” With that advice, she found a listing for a position as coordinator of Television Services at Elon in 2003.

“This job has changed my life in a really good way,” Lashendock said. “I want to be part of the legacy of Elon University, of making a difference.You had to remove all biases when you walked through the CNN doors. I don’t have to anymore.”

Three weeks after she started her position, her mom came to help her move in to her new house. They stayed at the Acorn Inn. When Lashendock woke up the next morning, her mother’s visage was grey and her mother looked at her and said, “I’m sorry.” Her mother ended up having a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital.

Later that day, Lashendock had to make the decision to take her mother off life support because of a second heart attack. The day Lashendock was supposed to move into her new house and truly start her new life, she sat in a hospital room saying goodbye to her mother.

“For the first time since I left CNN I was feeling what I wanted to feel: life,” Lashendock said.

She went into the hospital room and removed her mother’s ruby and gold bracelet and wedding ring, she cut her hair, she watched her take her last breath, she talked to her for 30 minutes, she leaned down to kiss her and hold her hand and then walked away.

“I said to God, ‘This isn’t how I wanted to feel it.’ It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Lashendock said. “It was my first lesson in feeling and not masking. I understood more those who lost families on Sept. 11. I hopefully learned more compassion. I started to apply the lessons I learned from Sept. 11: to live with more zest and more love.”

Story can be found here.

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