Herald Columnist Interview 2009

Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Author’s writing helps her endure loss of fiance

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

May 15, 1999, that’s the day Elise Crawford was to marry Mark McLaughlin.

By the time that day came, Crawford’s happily-ever-after dream was destroyed. Her world was a living nightmare. The Lynnwood woman found herself crushed by grief, depression, illness and financial struggles.

Only in the past few years has she grown to accept her loss and find new happiness.

Their names may be unfamiliar, but the story of what happened to McLaughlin on the day after

Thanksgiving in 1998 is likely to bring instant recollection. Perhaps you remember it as a huge traffic jam or an accident.

“It wasn’t an accident. It was a murder,” Crawford said last week.

McLaughlin was the King County Metro Transit driver shot to death by a passenger while his bus was on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The gunman, Silas Cool, killed himself. The bus drove off the bridge and onto an apartment building below, injuring more than 30 people. One passenger later died.

“We were very private people, and all of a sudden everybody knew about this public tragedy,” said Crawford, now 43.

That December, about 5,000 people gathered at Seattle’s KeyArena for a memorial service for the 44year-old driver. Buses from all over the Northwest took part in a procession, and among the speakers was U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

In photos from that day, Crawford appears calm and dignified as she accepts her fiance’s memorial flag. And yet, she said last week, “I did not and would not accept it. Mark was coming home.” She said she continued to cling to that impossibility for years, as life became increasingly empty and chaotic.

Crawford, who has two grown children from a previous marriage, is neither a university-trained grief expert nor a schooled writer. Raised in poverty in the Seattle area, Crawford said she spent time in foster care and left school before graduation.

Today though, along with running a business selling pet care products, she is an author. Crawford’s book “A Promise Kept: The Story of One Widowed Bride’s Journey Through Grief” came out in April from Xlibris, a self-publishing company.

The book is a wrenching chronicle of Crawford’s dark days after McLaughlin’s death. Her children, Dale and Lexi, were 11 and 9 when her fiance was killed. She writes of being shown kindness by some and rejection by others. She lost their home and was taken in by friends. Despair brought her to the brink of self-destruction.

Always, Crawford wrote in the book, she felt the real presence of her beloved Mark. She said she not only felt his closeness, but his reassurance that she and her children would be all right.

Today, 22-year-old Dale is in the Navy, and Lexi, 20, works at a bank and attends community college.

There is also a new love in Crawford’s life. In 2004, she met Roberto Martinez, now her partner. Crawford wrote that the inspiration for her book came in dreams, but she also credits Martinez with encouraging her to sit down and begin to write.

Working at an old computer in their small Lynnwood home, Crawford said the story she had dreamed began to flow. Faith and prayer were important in her journey, Crawford said.

Toward the end of her book is a poignant memory of a visit to the Aurora Bridge, where a pillar holds a memorial plaque for McLaughlin. There, years after the tragedy, she wrote that she was able to truly say goodbye.

“Bus route number 358 zoomed quietly by, blanketing us with a warm and comforting breeze,” Crawford wrote. When McLaughlin drove the route, it was the 359, a number retired by King County Metro in the driver’s honor.

Her healing continues. “Sometimes it’s day to day,” Crawford wrote.


Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com