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Our First Christmas Without Mike

Day 16 - December 21st at 9:58am

"Vanderburg party of 4, your table is now available." Yes, we did that last night. It was a little weird but we did it! During dinner Abi asked me "Mom, are we pastor's kids anymore?" I had to answer, "No, honey, I guess not." I hadn't considered how much our "titles" tie into our personal identity, so it would make sense that while we figure out our "new normal" that we would all ask those questions. I'm thankful for the titles that I still have like "Child of God" and "Momma." We took a basket of goodies to the nurses at Catawba hospital yesterday. It was weird going back there for the first time since the accident, but I just gritted my teeth and did it. I hate dread and fear! I just needed to face it and get over it. We walked inside and the lady behind the desk said some of our nurses who helped us that night weren't working so she asked if she could take our picture with the basket before she placed it in the break room to make sure they saw it. We said sure! :) I'm thankful for nurses. Being a nurse isn't "just a job." I'm so glad that our nurses didn't "just do their job." They were compassion and tender hearted towards us. I will never forget them and the tears they cried with us. I'm also thankful for my grief counselor this morning. We all 4 met with her last night and I think that she will be a great tool in assisting us as we deal with our grief. Having someone reaffirm what I am doing has been a comfort for me. I'm also thankful for you guys who check on me each day and read my posts. I write these things each day because it helps me process my thoughts but I thank you for caring enough to read them. This morning we managed to get all our teacher gifts, our cards, our classmate gifts and rideshare pal gifts all ready to be delivered. I poked my head onto the porch as Mrs Jennifer was loading up the gifts to take to school and I heard Christmas music playing from her car and for a few minutes I felt genuine Christmas cheer. My kids were happy to be delivering their gifts, happy that their school allowed them to wear PJ's to school today and happy to celebrate Christmas. If I could ask you to do one thing this Christmas... it would be to soak up every moment of this weekend. If you've had a squabble with someone in your family this year, make it right, even if they are in the wrong. Eat. Laugh. Indulge on your spouse. Love everything you get! Enjoy being a family. Be silly. And above all thank God for the gift of family. I'm going to do my best to do the same.

Day 17 - December 22nd at 10:39am

I've hit another pothole. I hate those things. My family fussed at me last year when I didn't do picture calendars so I thought I would do them this year and I ordered them around Thanksgiving. This morning, while looking through the pictures on my phone to pick out which ones I should print, I found a picture I took of Mike on his last weekend on earth.... eating his favorite kind of ice cream and although I've flipped through my phone many times over the last two weeks, seeing his picture today has made me so, so sad. I can rationalize it in my mind and think through the processes of grief in my brain and yet regardless, the tears won't stop. This is not supposed to be the way it is. It's not! I feel so cheated. Do you know how unfair it is to have to write "From: Ashley" on a Christmas gift tag?!?!? For the last 16 Christmases every tag has been from "Mike and Ashley." Out of habit, every single time I make a bank deposit I still write "Michael and Ashley Vanderburg" on it. My heart is in heaven this morning and maybe after while I can pull it back together. I feel overwhelmed with the decisions I have to make and the fact that they affect so many people outside of my family of 4. Will we still live in Granite Falls? Will we move closer to my parents? Will I still stay at my preschool job? Will we still stay at our church? So many decisions!!!! They cannot wait 6 months to be made like I was hoping. Everything in this house is a constant reminder of the life we had together and today it hurts like a knife. I've got a mile long list of things to do today... like fax death certificates to Mike's retirement people and a few more presents to wrap and I need milk. I am not really in control of my emotions today so I don't want another "Belk incident" where I burst into tears in front of a poor, unsuspecting worker. Maybe me and the girls will go get our nails done. Maybe I'll just forget all about this stupid list.... but it'll be waiting on me tomorrow. It always is. I stopped posting to answer a phone call. Brother Smith (our interim pastor) called to tell me that he was at the church with our District overseer when a lady stopped by to bring me a gift. He called to tell me it would be at the church for me whenever I could drop by to get it. Her story was one of pain as well because her husband was also killed by a drunk driver. It's like there's this "club" that you never ever want to join, but once you're a member, you find solace and strength by knowing someone else has gone through this and they made it.... and I can too. Just another way the Lord shows me He loves me. I'm not alone. He will help me make the right choices.... I covet your prayers today. Ashley

Day 18 - December 23rd at 9:43am

7 years ago today I posted the scripture Luke 2:8-11. I've often wondered what I would have chosen, if I had the option of knowing Mike would be gone in 7 years.... would I have chosen to know or not to know? Mike and I lived our lives in such a way that truthfully, even if I had known he was going to be moving to heaven, I wouldn't have changed anything. My counselor says sometimes people try to make themselves feel guilty when someone they love dies, and I have fought that too, but then I remind myself that we never hung up without saying "Love you, Bye." And we never had those silly fights where someone sleeps on the couch. That's not to say we didn't get on each other's nerves, because we sure did. (I especially got mad when I was cleaning out a space and throwing things away and he would come behind me and dig through the bags to try to find a prized possession that I had often tossed haha). But there will come a day when people will say "if I had only known the Lord was going to return today, I would have been ready" but it will be too late. Live your life in such a way that you don't have to worry about His return. I believe it will be soon. I've never wanted it more than I do now. Be ready. As Mike would always say, "Let our eyes be fixed, fastened and focused on You." His return is soon. Be blessed today as you finish your last minute details to prepare for Christmas – Ashley

Day 19 - Christmas Eve at 9:27am

Here we go.... it's Christmas Eve. The best way I can describe my emotions today is that I feel like I'm walking in mud. I'm getting there, it's just so slow and painful. My counselor lady says to embrace the emotions that come my way today, but if I do that I think I'll just cry all day.... I feel like if I think too much, the dam will break. We are at Mom and Dads until tomorrow night. I'm glad of that. We will also go to Mike's mom and dads today as well. I am looking forward to the kids opening their gifts. I'm also looking forward to taking down the Christmas decor at my house. Despite it all, I will continue to be thankful that my 3 kids are here with me. Thankful that Jesus sent his Son to earth for me. Thankful that I can give my kids what they asked for. Thankful for friends and family who will walk this road with me. I'm also thankful for unexpected friendships of fellow widows who will understand and answer a myriad of questions as I sort through life. So while I continue to work on the "Merry" part, please know that I wish you guys a very Merry Christmas. I've never been more aware and appreciative of the support of the family of God than in the last 19 days. You will never know what you all mean to me. I pray this is the absolute best Christmas ever for you and your family. Much love...

Day 20 - Christmas Day at 9am

I had a wonderful morning watching my children open their gifts. Lots of surprises and wonderful excitement! I love seeing them smile. Thank you for thinking of me and for all of your kind messages. No tears this morning, just smiling faces. Hope everyone has a wonderfully Merry Christmas from the Vanderburg's!

Day 21 - December 26th at 8:15am

Well..... I made it. I even managed to find a little Christmas joy along the way too. If this were similar to the last 15 Christmases I would be leaving my tree up along with all the Christmas decor for as long as I could possibly stand it, but this year I'm ready for it to come down. Those of you who know me well, understand how much I dislike change. Sometimes I even have to force myself to try new foods or even change out a pillow case. I dislike change. Since Mike left, I'm surrounded by it and my natural defense against "change" has became an embrace. I need something different. I sat in a different chair around the dinner table. We ate different foods than we normally would. We did Christmas at a different house. I just need different. I didn't cry tears at all yesterday but Christmas Eve was more difficult because we were at Mike's parents house. I literally thought "Evidently God really doesn't know me at all! If He thinks I can handle this, then He is so wrong. I can't do it." Then a gentle reminder would help me understand that I CAN make it. One of my favorite gifts yesterday was from my sister-in-love and she had it painted for me. It said "Joy Comes in the Morning." I need to find the perfect place in my house for it because I need the reminder. I need to see it everyday. I'm ready to find that joy. I've always been a joyful person, so this cloak of sadness that I've been wearing for almost 3 weeks is heavy and doesn't feel natural to me. Every single little thing reminds me of Mike. I don't know if I truly thought about him this much before or if it's just because of the circumstances, but every pecan, anything "pickled" (haha), every tiny little detail makes me think of Mike. And the further I get down this road the more I realize that there are even more questions without answers.... more things to decide. More consequences to consider. I've relied on my parents and Mike's parents a lot to help me weigh out options and for that I am thankful. So, today, I will take down a tree with special ornaments that I've collected over the last 16 years and will put them away until next year.... praying that the cloak won't be as heavy next year. The thing about grief is that you never know what to expect. We think it's impossible to laugh and cry at the same time and yet that's what you do in situations like this. You laugh at something funny and then cry because he isn't here to see it. I feel an overwhelming thankfulness that my children had such a wonderful Christmas.... and that I received so many wonderful gifts too. We are truly blessed in so many ways, but I just wish I could fast forward a few years and then look back to see how far I've come... but I know that isn't possible. I would always tell the kids (when we were overwhelmed with cleaning up one of their rooms), "You know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time." :) I've told myself that so many times over the last few weeks. Tackling this house definitely feels like an elephant, but I will do it one bite at a time. Wish me luck! :)


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