LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) - Robin Tolsma almost gave up hope in her own personal fight after the tragedy of Flight 3407. The widow, who became the courageous leader of a vigilant crusade to make our skies safer, has revealed a painful struggle in a new book.
Tolsma had been keeping a journal since the tragedy that claimed her husband's life. And now she's out with a book that details how she turned a personal tragedy into a public triumph.
It was a day "Everything Changed" for Robin Tolsma.
"I didn't know who to be mad at," she said.
Tolsma lost her husband Darren when Continental connection Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence Center on February 12th, 2009.
"I don't know that there's ever going to be closure because I still to this day feel like he just went missing," Tolsma said.
In her book, "Everything Changed," Tolsma details the loss of her husband of 22 years, whom she met on a blind date when she was 17. The book chronicles the struggles she and her two children endured, and about the day she tried to take her own life.
You can find Robin Tolsma's book at the following locations:
- All area Wegmans
- Made in America store in Elma
- Talking Leaves (both Elmwood and Main Street locations)
- Bookworm in East Aurora
- Dash's in Clarence
- Tops on Broadway in Depew
Tolsma recounted, "I thought, 'You know what? He was the better parent.' And I felt very much that my kids got shortchanged, that the smart one was gone and they were left with me."
She continued, "I thought. 'You know what? It's time.' I'm going to join him because I thought my kids would be better off without me. So I took a razor blade, and I slit my wrists and I wanted to join him."
But help came, and she survived. It took a horrible moment, she says, to realize how wrong she was. While Tolsma appeared positive and strong on the outside, she was crumbling on the inside.
"I had this almost built up hatred inside me, and I thought it's causing me to become the person I don't want to be towards my friends, my family and my close circle."
Writing the book, she says, allowed her to channel the grief and anger. Despair turned to purpose, a reason to fight.
"Instead of giving up, fight. You know, fight that airline. Fight that airplane manufacturer. Fight the government," she said.
When she went to sleep on the night of February 12th, she didn't know the plane had crashed, killing her husband and 49 others. But that night she had a dream that Darren, the love of her life, died.
"When we went to bed, we were still waiting for him to call to say I made it home," she remembered. "We just assumed he was taking his briefcase up to work, and coming home later. And in that short time that I fell asleep I dreamt that I was at his funeral at the church where we got married."
Early the next morning the nightmare would begin. She turned on the television and saw that Darren's flight had crashed.
"At that moment, it's like, 'Who do I call? What do I say? What do I do? Do I get dressed? Do I not get dressed? Do I call my mother? Do I make that most difficult phone call I've ever made in my life, which is to his mother?' No one even knew that he was traveling because it was such a short trip. I didn't tell anybody," she said.
Tolsma also writes about her special bond with Jennifer West, who lost her husband Ernie in the crash. Darren and Ernie both worked for Northrup Grumman Corporation. The two women met at at the company's holiday party only weeks earlier, not knowing they would meet again, for very different reasons.
"It was the best friendship I wish I never had, is how I would say it, because I would not have had the opportunity to meet her if not for this, I'm sure," Tolsma said. "And knowing that we were going through everything. It was so horrible for each one, but each one of us has our own story. Things were different for her than they were for me. But yet, we went through everything together."
Like the time their husbands' personal effects found at the crash scene were delivered. They invited News 4 to be there that day. Among the items returned, Darren Tolsma's wedding band, which Robin now wears.
Tolsma said, "It was this black velvet box, and I remember opening it and crying because I thought the last time that ring was in my hands, I was putting it on his finger on our wedding day."
She talks about the many things she wanted to say to her husband, but never did. The wasted moments, she says, like going to the store together, now gone. When her husband was carried to his final resting place, it was Tolsma who drove the hearse. "I need to give Darren his final ride," she writes.
"I used to drive limos, so I have the license to drive a hearse," she explained. "So I asked Todd Pacer, 'Can I please, please give him his last ride?' And he said, 'Are you sure you're going to be able to do this?' And I said, 'I'll be fine.' And he handed me the keys. And I drove. And I just never wanted to stop driving because I thought he's still with me, and the second I let go, he's gone. And I can never do this again."
She unveiled her book Monday afternoon at Salvatore's Grand Hotel in Lancaster. Owner Russ Salvatore said he was very honored to be a part of the occasion.
He added, "We are in the process of building a memorial which represents like a little airplane. It's like the phoenix raising from the ashes. It's going in our park, which is the Patriots and Heroes Park."
The memorial will eventually be placed in the front of the property on Transit Road.
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