One night in 2004, Tara and Dirk Lindsey decided to go out for a celebratory dinner with their three children, Rachel, 10, Madelyn 6 and baby Yates, 5 weeks old, to commemorate their plans to start a sheep farm in Seminole, Texas. But fate had other plans in store for them: A drunk driver, three times over the legal drinking limit, struck the driver's side of their car, seriously injuring the couple, and killing all three children.
Rushed to the hospital, the couple was in critical condition for a week before comprehending the reality of their situation. “The medical staff did not want us to know [about our children]; they were afraid it would make our condition worse,” Tara, 35, and Dirk, 41 said in an essay sent in for the “Everyone Has a Story” series hosted by TODAY’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
When Tara finally woke up, surrounded by friends from her small Texan town, she knew something was terribly wrong. She recalls asking about her children’s whereabouts, and the silence spoke for itself. “It was all so crazy — I couldn't believe it was happening to us,” Tara said. “We weren't doing anything wrong.”
Still fighting for their health, Tara and Dirk couldn't even attend the burial. Instead, Tara’s mom planned her grandchildren’s burials, as her daughter mourned in a medical ward. “We were able to attend the funeral by ambulance and then we were brought back to the hospital,” Tara said.
Adding to their grief, the drunk driver held responsible — who recovered in the same hospital — never apologized to the Lindseys or acknowledged her guilt. “I just really want her to know what she's done to our lives,” Tara said. “You can't get them back.”
The driver received three life sentences and will be up for parole in 27 years. The mangled vehicle from their accident in now is a mobile exhibit for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and travels around Texas sharing the Lindseys' tragic story.
Despite their painful loss, the Lindseys knew they had a great deal of love they still wanted to give. They wanted a future with children, and weren’t afraid to rebuild their family. “We couldn't imagine life without [children],” Tara said, who pursued adoption since she had her tubes tied after the birth of her son.
Exactly two years after the accident, they received a phonecall: their adoption agency had approved their request, and they would soon be parents of twin Chinese girls. “We went from a horrible day to a happy day,” Tara said of the anniversary. “In our hearts, we know what the day is but we try not to acknowledge the day in order for us to get through it.”
“It was our faith and hope in God that we would survive this tragedy,” she said of her ability to move past the accident. “So we named the girls Hope and Faith.”
Today, caring for their beautiful children, the Lindseys understand their new family can never replace their previous one, but they are thankful for a new chance and are trying to provide their girls with a normal, happy childhood. Photos of Rachel, Madelyn and Yates line the walls of their home, but they are careful not to overwhelm Hope and Faith with the family’s past.
“We don't want them to feel like they are in the shadow but we will never forget our birth children,” Tara. “We will always have that pain in our hearts, but you can live after a tragedy.”
When questioned about how many children they have, the couple answers that they have five: three in heaven, two with them on Earth.
After the Lindseys described their ordeal, Brazilian singer Paulo Szot of Broadway’s “South Pacific” sang an original song titled “Heaven’s Rope,” written by Kathie Lee Gifford and her collaborator, David Friedman. The lyrics represented the couple's remarkable struggle and perseverance:
No one can stop the pain from the loss
That you feel when you're torn apart
All you can do is hold on to
The ragged end of heaven's rope
Clinging with all the strength that you have
With your last bit of faith
Your last bit of hope
Holding on to heaven's rope
The Lindseys were the fifth winners featured in the “Everyone Has a Story” series, which will continue for three more weeks. Like previous participants, the Lindseys were presented with a tailor-made gift: Artist Rob Maniscalco gave them a touching family portrait that included Rachel, Madelyn and Yates alongside Hope and Faith. “It was a labor of love,” Maniscalco said of the artwork that took him five weeks to complete.
Holding Faith and Hope on the TODAY set, the Lindseys were thankful of the opportunity to share their story with viewers.
“This is our story of thinking life cannot go on, yet God had another plan for us,” Tara said of her strength to move forward. “We thank God everyday for giving us a chance to be a family again.”