I have a confession: I've been kind of avoiding reading about those 19 incredible, brave Arizona firefighters who lost their lives battling a wildfire this weekend. Sometimes I don't feel capable of taking in any more sad news or tragedy. But when I read that before firefighter Andrew Ashcraft died along with his 18 fellow heroes, Ashcraft texted a photo to his wife and four children, I couldn't help myself.
The photo he sent shows Ashcraft's fellow members of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots crew setting up camp for a lunch break. You can see smoke from the Yarnell Hill fire in the background; the very fire that took their lives not much later.
But even more haunting to me is the everyday-ness of Ashcraft's texts with his wife and children.
"I'd love to be in a swimming pool right now," Ashcraft texted after his wife Juliann sent him a photo of their four little children at the town pool. And when his 4-year-old daughter told her daddy it had started raining, and she wished he could see it, he replied: "We could really use a little rain down here."
Those were Ashcraft's final words to his family.
It's absolutely heartbreaking. But more than just making me cry, it reminds me of what an incredible sacrifice not only people like Ashcraft are will to make, but that their loved ones are also willing to make. Those who take jobs like fighting fires, or fighting crime, or fighting wars, are so brave and admirable, but so are their spouses. I can't imagine what it's like to know that your beloved is facing death and danger even once -- let alone on a regular basis.
Ashcraft's widow, who is now a single mother to four fatherless children, said that her husband quit his electrical engineering job three years ago because Ashcraft wanted to do something more meaningful with his life. That must have been a big decision for their family, but it's one that Juliann was willing to make because she not only believed in her husband, she believed in the importance of what he was willing to die for. Photos of the Ashcrafts before this tragedy show what a sweet, loving family they were.
When Juliann stopped getting replies to her texts that fateful day, she must have known that her worst nightmare was coming true -- a feeling that so many others have to face in the name of keeping the world that much safer for the rest of us.
Thank you, Juliann Ashcraft. You -- and all the mourning family members of the lost Granite Mountain Hotshots -- are just as much a hero to me as your brave, beautiful husband.
Do you have a loved one who puts his or her life on the line? How do you cope?
Image via Juliann Ashcraft