Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Thank You, Stranger: A race against time to say goodbye

Carrie Yeager and her cousin Tara at Carrie's wedding
Carrie Yeager (right) with her cousin Tara (left) at Carrie's wedding.
Courtesy of Carrie Yeager

This is the story of a race against time — and all the strangers who helped Carrie Yeager from New Hope say goodbye.

Thank You Stranger is our series about unexpected kindness in our lives. If you have a story to share about a stranger who made your life a little brighter, we want to hear it.

Contact us at minnesotanow@mpr.org or ‪(612)-361-1252‬.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well, we're going to have a new episode of a segment that people say they just love on this program. It's called "Thank You, Stranger." It's our series about unexpected kindness in our lives. We're going to hear the story about a race against time and all the strangers who helped Carrie Yeager from New Hope say goodbye. Ellen Finn, our producer, talked to her.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CARRIE YEAGER: Tara and I had been close our whole lives. I can still hear her voice. Tara and I were both the kind of people who just would-- I mean, it takes nothing to get us into fits of laughter. It's something to cherish.

ELLEN FINN: A few years ago, Carrie was away from Minnesota on a business trip in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a family member let her know that her beloved cousin Tara, who was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been bitten by a dog. As the days ticked on, Carrie found out that it got much worse. Tara had sepsis and had fallen into a coma. There was little left for doctors to do.

CARRIE YEAGER: The wheels really fell off for me emotionally, and I just couldn't. I couldn't kind of continue on with anything.

ELLEN FINN: A family member texted her that the doctor said Tara probably only had a handful of hours left to live. Carrie needed to get to Baton Rouge now if she wanted to say goodbye.

CARRIE YEAGER: Despite maybe it being an irrational decision to try to make it to her to say goodbye, I knew that I really had to just try to make it.

ELLEN FINN: The only flight leaving in the next 24 hours was leaving in just an hour. She knew it was basically impossible for her to make it to the airport to get on that flight, but she just had to try. She called her travel agent to rebook her flight.

CARRIE YEAGER: I literally could not form words. And so she would ask me questions like, what is your name? Carrie. What city are you in now? Charlotte.

What city are you supposed to be going to? Minneapolis. And we continue that conversation in one-word chunks until we had gotten to the point where my flight was rebooked.

When I rushed back to the hotel, streaming tears, still not able to speak, the checkout process was messy. And when I grabbed my bag and was down in the valet area, waiting for my Uber, I don't even know what made me think of it, but I realized that my bag didn't have any contents in it.

So I went back to that same front desk woman and said, forgot to pack. And she just moved quickly behind the desk, I assume to get a new key card, and just raced with me up to the room. And I stood there in the doorway, just weeping. And she went through the drawers. She went through the closet. She gathered all my toiletries out of the bathroom, and just piled them in there.

And when we went back down to the valet area, she was telling the driver I had a flight. And the Uber driver was like-- I mean, the look on his face initially was, you know this flight is in one hour, and we're 20 to 30 minutes away from the airport. Like, you're kind of an insane person. You're not going to make it.

ELLEN FINN: The Uber driver drove as fast as he could, swerving around gridlocked traffic to get to the airport. And by some miracle, they made it.

CARRIE YEAGER: But when I got on that plane, I think I was, like, the fifth or sixth row back in a window seat, and continued to just cry. I didn't know what to do with that other than to just grieve out loud. And so I think I took a few deep breaths, and the man in the middle seat finally took that opportunity to ask me if someone had passed away. The only thing that I could say back to him was just in a very weak voice, no, someone's about to.

ELLEN FINN: Carrie had a 15-minute layover for her next flight to Baton Rouge, where Tara was, and the plane sat at the tarmac for quite a while.

CARRIE YEAGER: So again, I was in a position where I was trying to just come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to make it.

ELLEN FINN: But once again, a stranger came to Carrie's rescue. It was her seatmate.

CARRIE YEAGER: When we finally started pulling forward, he just said, you're going to have to make it on your own. This is how you get there. I wasn't quite sure what he was getting at initially. And then he said, give me your boarding pass. I'm going to go hold that plane.

By the time I reached that I, of course, was out of breath and still just an emotional mess, and so I couldn't say anything to them. But he said, you're going to make it.

ELLEN FINN: Carrie couldn't believe it. But by the time she got to the hospital a few hours later, Tara was still alive. But she wasn't looking good.

CARRIE YEAGER: I was aware of sepsis and the damage that it would do to someone's body. But then when I went in, yes, she was swollen, and her skin was green and bubbling. But what struck me was that we've been told over the years how much we look alike, and we still did. And I remember thinking, I'd still recognize her anywhere. I told her that I love you and I'll miss you, and then just sat with her.

ELLEN FINN: Tara died just a couple hours later. Throughout her grief, Carrie often thinks about all of the strangers who helped her do what seemed impossible, get to Tara in time to say goodbye.

CARRIE YEAGER: If I was left to my own devices, I might have still been just slumped over the Charlotte Skyway having not made it very far at all. But for the grace of every person who took the time to do something for me, I was able to continue to make it to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, until I was finally able to arrive there and say my goodbyes. As hard as that was, something that I will cherish to have had the opportunity to do for forever.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CATHY WURZER: Wow. That story was produced by Ellen Finn and Alanna Elder. To see a photo of Carrie and Tara at Carrie's wedding, you can go to mprnews.org. And if you have a story to share about a stranger who made your life a little brighter, of course, we want to hear it. You can email us at MinnesotaNow@npr.org, or leave a voicemail at area code 612-361-1252.

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