melodee tonti

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those left behind

  I was watching a movie with my daughter last night, and it got me thinking about heroes. There is a reason that we love movies with super heroes.......because heroes always come out on top. Good always wins. When there is danger, and it seems that all is lost, someone sweeps in and saves the day. I think we all wish that were the case in real life. But in real life, bad things happen. And heroes don't always come home.

Sunday, June 30, I got the call that my cousin, Andrew Ashcraft, had lost his life fighting a fire in Yarnell, Arizona. It was devastating news, and it took a while for it to sink in. I woke to an inbox full of emails and a voice mailbox full of messages from various media outlets, looking to use pictures I had taken of my cousin and his family, and wanting to know about Andrew. The story of this team of 20 men had spread. Their faces were everywhere. They were being hailed as heroes. Men that ran into the face of danger......and heroes, they are. But there is another group of people that deserve that title......the wives, mothers, fathers, kids, brothers.....those that have been left behind.

My cousin is gone, but it is his wife that will have to face every long night without him. Staring at the ceiling, hand on his empty side of the bed, wishing for sleep to bring a moment of relief. Eyes opening in the morning, and for a moment before fully waking, feeling like things are the same as they have always been, only to have the reality come crashing down like sandbags on her chest. It is his wife that will have to answer the question of, "Mommy, when is daddy coming home?" from kids that are unable to comprehend what has happened. His wife that will have to pack up a closet full of clothes that still smell like him...sort through his mail......wash the last load of his laundry left in the hamper. She will unconsciously twist her wedding ring on her finger, and miss the familiar clink that it made against his when he held her hand. She will replay and replay voice mails, terrified that they will somehow get deleted, and she will lose the sound of his voice saying, "I love you." She will collapse in tears...she will cry out in anger.

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His children will take their Father's Day cards to the cemetery. While the other kids sit by their fathers at career day, his kids will clutch pictures of them smiling and wrestling with their daddy, and share stories of how their daddy was a brave firefighter.

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His mother will remember the day he was born....the first moment she saw his face......his chubby baby fingers holding onto hers. She will remember exactly when and where he took his first steps......the sound of his laugh filling her house......tripping over shoes and skateboards. She will live with a constant, aching wound in her heart. Each time she is asked, "How many kids do you have?" it will open again. She will shed tears of both joy and sorrow when she sees a glimpse of her baby in his children.

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If the definition of a hero is "one who shows great courage"........then these people must be counted as the heroes in my book. Those left behind with broken hearts, staring into the void of a future that is so different from what they had envisioned. Getting up and putting one foot in front of the other takes more strength than I can even fathom. As a wife and a mother myself, they are living my greatest fear. I am broken for them. Broken for all of the others that had to say goodbye. My cousin died doing what he loved, alongside men that had become brothers to him. I know that the best way to honor these men is to care for those that they have left behind.

"Remember, the burden of sorrow is doubled when it is borne alone." - Goran Persson

To help Andrew's family click here.

the wildland firefighter foundation

the 100 club