Meet two couples whose lives took an unexpected turn.
By Morgan Mercer
12 months. 30 states. 20 countries. Armed with travel books and a loose itinerary, Guy Still quit his job at Fox News and set off on a year-long trek with his girlfriend (now fiancé), Heidi Melquist. It’s an uncommon move for a 31-year-old, but Still wouldn’t trade the miles for anything. Sure, his career is important, but it no longer tops his priority list. Two years before the trip, Still’s parents died in a car crash. “Their death was the impetus to making this happen. My parents had stuff they always talked about doing,” Still says. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
He and his girlfriend hit the road in April 2010, traveling the United States for three months. Then they hopped on a plane and flew—South America, to Africa, to Europe. There was Machu Picchu in Peru, Nelson Mandela’s South African home, swimming with dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar—and don’t forget the animal refuge in Bolivia. Three times a day, Still would bring fruits and vegetables to the monkeys in the rainforest. A Bolivian escort was the only way he could avoid surprise monkey attacks. Primate problems aside, Still stands by his decision to travel, not worrying whether future employers will feel hesitant to hire him. His career can recover. “People don’t regret things they do, but things they don’t do,” he says.
The Backstrom family, from left to right: Justin (seated), Matthew, Ryan, Charles, Nathan, Connie, and Jacob.
The Power of a Choice
Almost every night before going to bed, Connie and Nathan Backstrom, along with their two boys, Ryan and Charles, plop down in front of the TV to watch Mary Tyler Moore and just laugh. One look out their kitchen window at the little country cemetery at the bottom of the slope, and you can see why the Backstroms need some comic relief. Etched on a black tombstone is not one, but three names—Matthew, Jacob and Justin.
Most parents don’t bury their children, but on Oct. 17, 2004, that’s exactly what the Backstroms did. “The hardest thing I ever had to do was close those three caskets,” Nathan says. There was Matthew, 20, the laid-back artist, Jacob, 17, Mr. Strict and Organized, and Justin, 16, the brains of the family. The boys’ tiny red Saturn didn’t stand a chance when a drunk driver slammed into the driver’s side. “The heartache is forever,” Connie says. She could have been angry, but she knew it wouldn’t bring her boys back, much less solve anything. Instead, she channeled that energy into speaking. The couple’s message is one of faith, love, and the possible consequences—good and bad—each choice has. Tragedy is part of their identity. “With a death you never recover,” Nathan says, “you adapt.” For the Backstroms, that means sharing their loss with others—250 groups and counting—in hopes that the memory of a smiling trio of boys will make someone think twice before picking up the keys after one too many.