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She survived tragedy to live generously

In the wee hours Sunday morning, the toughest little lady I ever met drew her last breath.

Her name was Dian Boling. She was my mother-in-law.

Dian died from pneumonia in the Intensive Care Unit of Sacred Heart Medical Center.

She was 79 years old – a fact that amazes me.

My mind keeps traveling back 32 Decembers ago, to the plane crash that forever changed our family.

Nobody who knew Dian back then would have dreamed that she could possibly reach such a grand old age.

At the top of the skeptic list were the health care professionals who bustled about Dian’s bedside in the very same ICU.

During one hushed consultation, the doctor in charge gave my lovely wife, Sherry, some blunt advice.

It might be prudent, he told her, to hold off on the services she and her brother, Lee, were planning for their father.

“You may be having a double funeral.”

What a sad, stressful time.

Clare Boling was killed on impact when weather-related engine failure forced him to land his twin-engine Cessna in a rolling, snow-covered field about 50 miles south of Spokane.

Dian, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, was critically injured.

Her teeth were knocked out. Her jaw and ribs were broken. She was in severe shock.

Most serious was the spinal injury that permanently paralyzed her from the upper waist down.

Three other passengers were in the plane that day: an attorney who worked in my father-in-law’s firm, his wife, and my sister-in-law, Wendy. Their injuries ranged from serious to slight.

The news was big enough to make the top of The Spokesman-Review’s Dec. 2, 1977, front page.

On Monday I reread the newspaper that Sherry had put away in her hope chest 30 years ago.

“Spokanite dies in plane crash,” declares the headline with “4 passengers hurt” as a kicker.

Clare was president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association that year. He had scheduled a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to check out the accommodations for an upcoming conference.

An instrument-rated pilot, my father-in-law decided to fly his own plane rather than take a commercial flight.

Sherry and I had spent the night in their South Hill home. I remember the smiles on the faces of Clare and Dian as they walked out the front door.

Later in the afternoon I was in a hotel interviewing someone when my editor tracked me down about a lawyer who had died in a plane crash.

Needless to say, there was no double funeral.

One of my clearest memories of the 1977 Christmas season was hearing Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.” The song was played regularly on the hospital radios, and it became an anthem we could all easily identify with.

“If we make it through December.

“Everything’s gonna be all right, I know.

“It’s the coldest time of winter.

“And I shiver when I see the falling snow.”

Dian spent 4 1/2 months at Sacred Heart. When she came home from the hospital, we were told that her life expectancy was “three to five years.”

I told you the lady was tough.

But Dian was a lot more than that. She was a committed Christian who took to heart the principle of giving.

She created college funds for our kids. She gave generously to charities.

When my best friend’s dog died, she even gave some money for a new pet.

But of all the good memories I’ll have of Dian, this one tops my list.

In all her subsequent years – many of them spent in pain and semi-bedridden – I never once heard this woman complain about the lousy hand that had been dealt to her.

“Oh, I don’t have it so bad,” she once told me. “Many others have it far worse than I do.”

This season a new family anthem comes to mind. We’ll have a blue Christmas without her.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at


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