19 promises: A year after Arizona tragedy, firefighter's widow filled with gratitude
Juliann said it was "a blessing" to know that someone had survived, though her own situation was now inescapably real.
"My biggest concern, obviously, was my kids," she said. "I kept looking at them in those moments and thinking, 'How am I going to tell them that their dad's not coming home?'"
The officials said the bodies — now draped in American flags — would stay at the deployment site that night while the incident remained under investigation.
"I was really concerned with the fact that ... he had to stay out there overnight," Ashcraft said. "I still as a wife wanted to take care of his needs, and it's hard to shift and realize he doesn't have physical needs anymore."
Earlier that year, remorse for having to be absent from home so often was bearing down heavily on Andrew Ashcraft, and he felt compelled to renew his commitment to his family. While on a picnic with his wife, he wrote out a list of promises to her.
A few of them offered practical benefits:
"I promise to always take out the trash."
"I promise to always take care of you."
"I promise to be mean if it means helping you and our family."
Most of the promises had deeper significance:
"I promise to be the father our family deserves."
"I promise to protect you with my life."
"I promise to love you for time and all eternity."
On May 2, less than two months before fire would claim his life, Andrew Ashcraft signed the list and hung it on the living room wall.
"At the moment, they sounded great," Juliann Ashcraft said. "But to have, now, a signed contract from my husband on my wall that says, 'I'll love you for eternity' is really a miracle in itself."
The list contains 19 promises in all, "Which is kind of interesting," she said.
Months before he signed the list, Andrew Ashcraft gathered his wife and children, devout Mormons, together for a Family Home Evening lesson. The father presented his family with silicone bracelets stamped with the words "Be Better." The bracelets would encourage each family member to uphold their standards as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"He said they would remind us to be better at home, better in the community, better friends, better brothers and sisters," Juliann Ashcraft recalled, echoing still more of the promises on the list.
"He wore his, and he said, 'I will die with it on, or it will fall off of me.'"
Andrew Ashcraft was determined "to be someone you're proud of, ... to never ease up and coast" and to make "decisions that will make our family strong." Each commitment made the list.
Few items were recovered from the deployment site where Ashcraft and his fellow hotshots died. The fire at the site burned in excess of 2,000 degrees, splitting boulders and incinerating equipment, according to an investigation report. Ashcraft's silicone bracelet, however, survived.
Juliann calls it "a real tender mercy."
"I think God knew that I needed to have a small reminder that Andrew loved our family and he was standing for something out there," she said.
It seemed her husband still intended "to rise above my environment," as well as "to show my love for you" and "how thankful I am for you." More commitments.
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