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For the first time in my life, I ate a piece of birthday cake in celebration of a life that isn't really here, I ran my first 5k, and I went to the movies alone to see a movie that I really wanted to see. And now, as another first, I will somehow condense the last 9 months of living without Mike into a 5 minute letter that I will read on Monday before a judge.

Day 272 - Aug 30th at 10:06pm

Maybe some day I'll do this grief thing with the grace that most people think I have..... but the daily inward struggle still reminds me otherwise. I cleaned out Mike's truck a few days ago... another activity I have conveniently avoided for almost 9 months. Every trinket, picture, paper and receipt took me back to another life. I found a receipt from Sherrill's jewelry dated a few days before our wedding anniversary in 2013. I found pictures from the day we got the new big bus at the church. I found a car jack that someone got him for our "Handyman" wedding shower in 2001. I often wonder how he would have handled it if I had died and he had lived. I'm sure he would have handled it better spiritually than me. I asked the kids the other day, "If I had died and Daddy had lived, do you think Daddy would have wanted to move?" They all agreed that he would have. Handling all the bill stuff and the day to day operations of the household would have been difficult for him because that wasn't his strong suit. I think a lot of that would have fallen on Abi. I rely on her a lot to help, but I think it would be even more so if she was trying to help her Daddy make things work inside the house and taking care of her younger siblings. I see so much of myself in her. Sometimes if I'm trying to figure her out I just go back to how I was as a 13 year old and I can put myself in her place. She has had to grow up so fast.... losing a parent does that to a child. Some days I worry that she hasn't really grieved as she should have... but then I wonder that about myself too. I never used to sit around the dinner table and think about what life would be like without those you love in it, but tonight as I sat beside of Eli, he was laughing, and then spilled a drink in the floor, but I couldn't help but think about how hard life would be without him in it. Before, I never considered those things because it's so hard to think about.... we have a tendency to want to avoid those horribly painful scenarios, but because of the reality before me, it's hard not to. Sometimes I wonder if people think I should be ready to "snap out of it" already because I think I may have felt that way too... before. Now I know there is no such thing. It's so difficult to help people understand that some minutes you can overachieve and then in the next few minutes your brain is so foggy that you don't know which end is up. I greatly underestimated what grief can do to you. Today, at school, during our chapel time, Mrs Gruver spoke on grace. I found myself wishing so badly I had done grief in a perfect way. I wish I never doubted. I wish I was never angry. I wish I had faith to know it would all work out and I wish I genuinely believed it. I've made so many mistakes along the way. But Mrs Gruver reminded me that God gave us grace to cover those times.... not so that we would continually live in that place, but so we wouldn't glory in our own perfection, but glory in the one who is perfection. I hate it when my kids have those big mess ups, but it doesn't change how much I love them. And when I mess up, it doesn't change how much He loves me. I just find that He gently pulls me back in and lovingly corrects me. I'm so thankful that He gives us "just enough grace for today." ❤️

Day 275 - Sept 2nd at 7:50am

Today my widow friend Kim hits her one-year mark. I wish I was at the one year mark already. In my mind, I like to envision that it's a magical milestone in which the dark clouds open, the skies become blue again and we are free to continue on in life without the pain of missing those in which we no longer have. (Note: spare me if this isn't what really happens lol) She's made it so far in a year. I bet it feels like a lifetime. I'm so thankful for our friendship although we met through broken hearts. I hope this is a day in which she will acknowledging her accomplishments within the last year. I know for me, it's been the most difficult days of my life. Finding the strength to lead your children, lead your household, make decisions.... it's hard. She's traveled this road with such grace.

I'm proud of you, Kim. I'm proud to call you friend. You are an inspiration to me. Love you..... Ashley

Day 277 - Sept 4th at 6:06am

We had a wonderful weekend thanks to a program called "Growth from Grief." They gave us complimentary hotel accommodations and attractions tickets to several different places in Orlando, FL as a respite trip since the kids lost a parent to death. We enjoyed it very much and we got to spend valuable time together as a family. We are in the terminal now, getting ready to fly home, and I am thankful for our weekend together. ❤️

Day 278 - Sept 5th at 7:55am

Some days it's easier to long for the past than to look toward the future. ❤️

Day 279 - Sept 6th at 5:57pm

Tonight, I should be planning how we would celebrate Mike's 44th birthday tomorrow. Instead, the irony is that tomorrow is also our latest court date. My 2nd and 3rd graders had plenty of ideas today of how I can still send presents to heaven. I teared up as I tried to tell them that tomorrow would be a sad day for me. They were so honest and genuinely excited that Mike would be spending his birthday in heaven. In their precious eyes there's no better place to be. I wish I felt that way. If the defendant really wanted to give us a gift, a guilty plea would sure do the trick. I don't know if he will enter a plea tomorrow or not. I've still not seen him. I won't be able to tomorrow either... I can't go. I have to be off Friday for another court related matter and I can't take off 2 days in a row. But it's just not right! It's not fair and it's not ok. No amount of time served will ever be enough. No amount of money will ever make it worth losing Mike. And it feels so unfair that we have to go on living life..... and figure it out without him. Today marks 9 months. I'm 75% through the first year and it's hard to imagine exactly what the new normal will be.... and how will I know when I find it? I have been trying to remember what I did for Mike last year for his birthday..... the funny thing is that I can't remember. I know I did something firearm related... like Ammo and targets, but I just can't remember what. It seems like I got him a new phone too. I got him an iWatch 2 birthdays ago. He was so happy because he didn't expect it and it was a huge surprise. I've always celebrated birthdays big and I'm so glad we celebrated Mikes birthday big too. Looking back I wish I had bought him a new truck and had it sitting outside with a big bow when he woke up. We couldn't have afforded it, but if I had known it would have been the last birthday I celebrated with him I would have gone all out. I would have spared no expense.... in hopes that he knew how much I loved him and how much I appreciated him.... just so he could have felt like the most special man alive. This year my biggest decision is what to do..... I want to honor his memory..... I don't want to pretend like the date isn't important but it will be hard, and sad, no matter what. I decided to post tonight so that I could hopefully make it through the school day tomorrow without tears. I feel like I just got through that week long funk over Eli's birthday and now here we go again. If there was a way to fast forward through all this I would give you every penny I had to make it all go away. I'm glad it's not so continuously intense anymore, but it makes the intense days seem worse because I've had days of peace. And even joy. I feel so fickle in my emotions. So up and down. So back and forth. So happy and sad. It's hard to explain unless you've lived it. Losing Mike has been harder than anything I've ever experienced times 10. I'm ready to be finished with all these stupid firsts. I just want them to be over. I just want to crawl up in somebody's lap and be hugged. .... tight. Comforted. I want to feel safe again. Secure. I don't allow myself to think about all the attributes I miss about him often. It just hurts way too much. But I want people to remember how wonderful he was. He was so gentle. And kind. He was THE best father. He was compassionate towards people. He was quick to forgive but would also quickly tell you if you were wrong. He loved my family as if they were his own. But he was also apt to drive to Charlotte to spend time with his mom and dad if he felt like they needed him. He would have defended me to the death. The same goes for our kids. He was also that way over our church members. I can't tell you how many strangers he "loaned" money to that we never got back, but we also never went without. A service rarely passed when he didn't compliment me publicly on something he felt I did well.... which, thankfully was a lot of things. So, if you think about it tomorrow, when Facebook tells you it's Michael Vanderburg's birthday, will you post on his wall what you miss about him? What things you loved about him most? I want to be able to save your thoughts/posts for the kids. I'm the meantime, I covet your prayers. I tried to go to church but couldn't make it through the tears to go inside. So, Happy Birthday Mike. I know it's got to be the best one yet, but I sure miss you like crazy down here. Love always, Ashley

Day 281 - Sept 8th at 9:37am

Today we go for mediation. If you would say a special prayer for me and my children today.... that the Lords will would be done, I would really appreciate it. ❤️

Day 283 - Sept 10th at 7:22am

For the first time in my life, I ate a piece of birthday cake in celebration of a life that isn't really here, I ran my first 5k, and I went to the movies alone to see a movie that I really wanted to see. And now, as another first, I will somehow condense the last 9 months of living without Mike into a 5 minute letter that I will read on Monday before a judge. On Thursday, I posted that a "wonderful birthday present for Mike would be if the defendant would plead guilty" and around 2:30pm on Mike's birthday, we got the call that he did want to plead guilty to 2nd degree murder. I feel a sense of shock and happiness, in hopes that he will do what he says come Monday..... so why do I feel like I'm preparing for a funeral? I haven't talked much about the forgiveness aspect of all this, even though in my heart, I know I have forgiven the defendant, but it doesn't mean that I don't want him to serve time for the horrible choice he made to drink and drive.... a poor choice that cost Mike his life. Regardless of the time he serves, the truth is that he can get out of prison and be with his children again, if they are willing to have a relationship with him. Unfortunately, my kids don't have the same option. These last few days have seemed like a whirlwind. In an effort to avoid a long story, the nutshell version is that the owner of the company (the defendant was driving a company vehicle), had an opportunity to apologize to us on Friday for the many mistakes he made that contributed to the accident, but he chose not to. In my book, an "I'm sorry" goes a long way.... but only if it's heartfelt and true. I know the company owner personally. My first job when I was 16 was for his dad and I worked for his dad for several years. We graduated from the same high school. When Mike and I were on our honeymoon, his dad and step-mom were on the same cruise. The fact that we had a prior relationship only makes it worse. How could he not be sorry? The "it's hard to come into a room with the family and apologize" thought is invalid because losing your husband is MUCH harder than that. Trust me. I could never do that to someone. So not only do we have to forgive the defendant, but also those who's negligence contributed to the accident. Even if they aren't sorry. Monday will be hard, but going through a trial would be so much harder. I am so thankful that the defendant wants to take responsibility for his actions. This post is only visible to my friends because I want you to know that if you want to be there for the guilty plea, and his sentencing, you are welcome to. It will be at 10am at the Newton courthouse, across from Pin Station. I will do another post on Monday after it's all said and done that will be a public post. The attorneys tell me that we can't mark it in stone until he officially submits a plea. So please be in prayer today and tomorrow for several things.... our families, the defendant, the defendant's family, the attorneys involved, the judge, peace of mind, clarity and above all, that justice to be served. Love always, Ashley

Day 284 - Sept 11th at 12:38pm

I'm very pleased to inform you that Zachariah Carl plead guilty to 2nd degree murder and was sentenced to 19 years in prison, but can work his sentence down to a minimum of 15 years. I am pleased with this sentence and I praise the Lord for going ahead of us today. ❤️❤️❤️ thank you for your prayers.


Update- Zachariah Carl was sentenced to a minimum of 15-years of prison time. The district attorney made an unusual request as part of the sentence. He sentenced the defendant to hang a picture of Mike in his cell for the duration of his sentence. Update- District attorney just told judge Carl's blood alcohol was three and half times the legal limit after drinking at two different restaurants. He was combative with the trooper and told the officer I don't have to do "s--t" after running a red light and striking the families van. Carl was also convicted of DWI in 2011 and 2015. Breaking Catawba County- Zachariah Carl is pleading guilty to 2nd degree murder, DWI, driving with license revoked and open container in an accident that killed a local pastor. The highway patrol says Carl had a previous DWI. The pastor, Michael Vanderburg, had three of his children in his car when the crash happened on highway 70 near the Fairgrounds.


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