Today is Ashley’s Birthday. Rather, Monday was. Honestly I was too busy being present and “living” her day out to post this blog.
Trying to figure out what to do for Ash’s big Four-Zero b-day has been hard.
Not for the simple fact that I can’t ask her what she wants…
But I’ve become accustomed to making these “special days” as special as I can. And I am usually a mix of emotions, but mostly happy at the end of the day because I know Ashley would have enjoyed it.
The boys and I enjoyed lunch with Ashley’s parents at Papa Jack’s, went to the cemetery for a nice visit and then to the nearby play ground. We finished up the day by going out on the boat for a sunset cruise. All in all, it was a day Ashley would have enjoyed.
Since we are on Spring Break, I also pulled a typically Ashley move and added few more things to our to-do list on her birthday by scheduling the floors in my entire house to be ripped up and be redone, as well as finishing packing for a beach week…
I don’t know how Ashley was able to do things like that. “That”as in be able to enjoy a wonderful birthday while having 50 other things going on at the same time that needed attention. I definitely channeled her and made it to the beach in one piece, and I think/hope my floors are coming along…
This birthday would have been Ashley’s 40th.
Ashley’s birthdays were always fun because Ashley just wanted people to enjoy themselves.
Anyone who knew Ashley, knows that she made a big deal about her friends’ and family’s birthdays, except for her own. For her, it was always low key.
(There are many exceptions to this… I’ve heard some wild stories about her college birthdays, her high school birthdays and we had a few, like in 2008, when we celebrated her birthday in the VIP lounge at Opera. THAT is a story that I will save for the book.)
So clubbing it-up in ATL aside, it was a bigger deal for her to make people feel special on their birthdays than to sit in the spotlight on hers.
Honestly, she would rather just spend time with her boys.
So for this blog I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane. (Well what I remeber birthdays with Ash as. I’ve excluded many that have their own blog worthy moments but here are a few of my most memorable.)
Ashley asked me what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday. I told her I just wanted to be with her and the boys. She replied, “No, it’s your 40th! we’ll do something fun.” I said okay, but I wanted to wait and see what kind of treatment she was on and then we could figure it out.
(Ashley was expected to start a new treatment shortly after the New Year. The new cancer therapeutic—lutetium (Lu) 177 dotatate (Lutathera)—was a targeted form of systemic radiotherapy. It was another tool that has helped many neuroendocrine patients and was approved by the FDA in February 2018. It was really another straw that we could grab onto and hope.)
Unfortunately, she never got to try that treatment or plan that birthday for me. But our friends, especially Trish, stepped up and made it a very special day for me. Having friends that make you feel special when you really don’t feel like celebrating are the best kind of friends.
Ashley and I went to Asheville together for her birthday. She loved the idea, the trip, and even wanted to plan a PiPhi girls trip there in the future. But in typical Ashley fashion, she made me cut it short so we could get home to the boys on her actual birthday.
My 30th birthday was hard and memorable, to say the least. We had traveled to Birmingham for our couple’s shower that Ashley’s sorority sisters threw us. On the way home, we stopped to get gas and across the street was a suspect Wendy’s in Atlanta. Ashley got a Diet Coke (she used to drink those by the gallon back in the day) and I got a questionable frosty. I can’t remember if it tasted “off,” but I regretted eating it. The next morning, I woke-up vomiting and everything else.
Ashley woke me up for work and I didn’t budge, she continued to get ready and then was almost knocked over as I sprinted to the bathroom.
Obviously, I was in no condition to teach. Ashley offered to get my sub plans ready and told me to get back to bed. Not being the “planner” Ashley was, nor the seasoned professional I am today, I was ill prepared for this “sick day.” I had emergency sub-plans but they had not been updated since first semester, so I had to go to school and make sure everything was squared away, printed off and made sense for the sub.
I barely made it out of the school without collapsing or vomting on a student. Not the best look for me, and definitely would not have made it in this COVID era.
Ashley took care of me throughout the week, but I was miserable and could not keep anything down. By day three, she asked if I needed to go to the hospital.
It was the only time in our marriage that I was sick (literally). Ashley nursed me back to health, and did a great job even though I was the biggest baby. (I know I was a great caregiver to her but maybe it was the guilt of how bad I am at being the patient).
Another memorable birthday was the following year.
Since my 30th was so bad, Ashley wanted to make sure I had fun on my 31st so she arranged a party at Trisha’s. The party was fun, but the most memorable part of the day was the cake that Ashley “built” me. Ashley had previously bought, baked, or had someone else make me “funfetti” cakes for previous birthdays. However, she knew I’m not a huge fan of cake, so this particular year she asked what kind of cake would I want. I told her like German chocolate cake.
While I’m getting ready for the party, Ashley comes upstairs.
“Soooo, about your cake… You can take a look at it but I don’t know if you are going to like it. “
Me: “You made it, so it’s going to be good.”
Ashley: “Umm. Wait until you see it…we don’t have to bring it to Trisha’s if you don’t want.”
I go downstairs and my bride, who I had been married to for over 9 months now, had built me a cake that resembles something I vomited up the previous year when I had food poisoning.
Ashley running late, did not time the cake right while she was getting ready. In her haste, she took the cake out and tried to frost it right away. The cake pan she was using was new, so it really only “baked” the bottom of the cake. The cake got stuck and came apart a bit. But no worries, she just thought she could cover it with the frosting. Ashley proceeds to frost the cake with room temperature frosting on top of a hot cake that was already falling apart. The coconut pecan frosting stuck to the spatula so it is mainly just ripping the cake apart. She finally gets it covered in frosting, but because the cake is so hot, the frosting is melting and spreading out on the cake plate…
We didn’t bring the cake but I did learn how to be honest with Ash and told her the truth… The cake tasted great!
I told this story to my brother Matt and sister in-law Ingrid and they had their friend Jennifer make a wonderful German chocolate cake that Ashley would have been amazed by.
Great birthdays aside, cancer tried to rob some of them from us.
Ashley and I had a good life together, but our marriage was challenged by illness, feeling sick, and finding strength. When I first met her, she was healthy, active and fit.
This was par for the course and after her pregnancy with Fischer, Ashley was able to get back into a fitness routine fairly easily and get back to her pre-baby weight in no time. So much so, we were unprepared for the start of her health issues 11 months after Fischer was born.
Itching, GI issues, rapid weight loss, jaundice and finally a diagnosis that led to a Whipple procedure and cancer removal, all within a short 3 months.
Ashley felt awful but still managed to throw Fischer’s 1 yr old birthday party. (And postpone her surgery to coach her team at state.)
I’m still trying to figure out how she did it, any of it.
But then a friend reminded me; because she had to and wanted to. That same friend also pointed out that I worked 2 full time jobs, help her raise a one year old, earn a doctorate, maintain my home, and be Ashley’s rock... I’ve learned that we are always more capable than we think we are and can do more than we see possible.
The greatest and most memorable of birthdays was finding out that she was pregnant with Baker. Two weeks before my birthday in 2014 she surprised me and said “I have your birthday gift.” I told her I didn’t want it then, but to wait until my actual birthday. She said “too bad” and showed me the pregnancy test. Well actually all 3 that she took to make sure.
We had been trying to get pregnant for 16 months without luck, and were worried because we did not know if Ashley would be able to get pregnant after having cancer, the Whipple to remove the tumor, and all of the scans.
We both had very chill birthdays in 2014 after the excitement of finding out she was pregnant with Baker. We hoped that this pregnancy would be as “smooth” as Fischer’s.
As Ashley started her 2nd trimester of pregnancy with Baker, she started to get “episodes” of nausea and excruciating pain. She would go get checked out and they could not find anything, and kept telling us that Baker was perfectly fine. In hindsight, it may have been related to her cancer. The episodes would get worse, and even ended up with her in the ER a few times, but they would vanish as quickly as they came on.
Baker was born without a hitch, but Ashley was having heart issues which caused a few scares of its own. Luckily, she recovered and felt better, again.
A year later, her cancer returned. Which led to several years of spending birthdays for her, Fischer, Baker, and myself at doctor’s offices, having procedures or in the hospital. Not forgetting that Ashley went into cardiac arrest 5 days before Fisher’s 5th birthday.
That was not the way Ashley wanted to spend those birthdays, but she always, put more effort on the birthday boy or girl and made everyone feel special, especially me and the boys, even when she did not have too.
My first birthday in Georgia, Ashley and I were actually on a “break” but we were still good friends. Ashley’s was dating another guy. But Ashley knew I was homesick and planned a fun birthday for me. She got our friends together and they took me out. I had a great night and she and some of our friends got me a card and an MP3 player.
Not an iPod or iPhone but like a random MP3 player that I had to download songs from Limewire. Which led to me crashing Ashley’s computer at least once or twice. This gift was much appreciated because I was running around with this giant CD fanny pack thing and looked like an idiot.
I put these “thought notes” in my blogs because one day I hope Fischer and Baker read these and are able to get some context of the life her parents led before they were born or could remember.
A week later was Ashley’s birthday. I had planned to take her to lunch and then leave her to do whatever plans she had with her “boyfriend”. It was a warm, beautiful day. We had lunch at Johnny’s pizza by the mall and enjoyed hanging out. As our check came, I asked her what her big plans were for the night. “I don’t know, he hasn’t called me, he had to work so maybe we’ll do something this weekend.”
I laughed and jokingly said “well at least you got to have lunch with me.”
Ashley replied. ” I wouldn’t want to have lunch with anyone else.”
This led to a conversation that would change Ashley’s relationship with me and my life forever. That conversation focused on what we wanted in life, how we thought we would achieve it, and what’s keeping us from getting “it.”
It wasn’t the only conversation (that would be several conversations, walks through Collins Hill Park, ultimatums, hugs, arguments and some poster signs to get this figured out)
But during our conversation Ashley got a text. (Great now he’s going to say happy birthday through a text, and he will get credit for that while I’m taking her out to lunch).
But it was our friend Analisa inviting Ashley to her lake house. Ashley, not wanting to be alone on her birthday (I’m sure DotDot would have rescued her) thought about going. Ashley then asked me “Wanna go?”
At first I declined, I had to work the next day and Ashley didn’t (I was still working at a PT clinic that first year) and they were on Spring Break. But then I thought if this dude calls and we are at the lake house, Ashley will have spent the entire day with me and not him.
Not a hard choice to spend my afternoon at the lake with Ashley and our friends.
We had a great time at the lake and had a great talk on the way back home. I realized I didn’t want Ashley to date him or anyone. I was still figuring out if I wanted her to date me.
Every birthday after that, for 14 years, we spent together. I have almost every card she gave me and same for her.
Ashley’s 40th would have been a milestone for her and she would have partied with her friends.
I’m sad that she did not get to do that. I’m sad she cannot celebrate with her boys, her parents, her family and friends. I’m sad she can’t celebrate with me….
I’m also sad that Ashley didn’t know the Mike I am today.
I don’t have the life I planned with Ashley and sadly I never will. But I do have the life God has blessed me with. I try to live life with a grateful heart. I am blessed with my boys, my family and friends.
During Ashley’s treatment and after her death our community rallied around us and lifted me up.
Sometimes I doubt what I’m doing or where I’m at. But then I look at Fischer and Baker and see the joy on their faces and in their hearts. How they love each other, love their friends, love school, love their activities and most importantly still love their mom.
I also see all of the new friends, new neighbors, new family that I have made and the new relationship I’ve started. It’s amazing how these people have come into my life, that never knew Ashley but have gotten to know her through me, through my blog and through the boys.
Just a reminder from God to let me know that I’m doing the best I can.
I also see the opportunities that God has put in my life and I am grateful.
This past year with COVID was hard but in these past two plus years without her, I’ve learned how to enjoy every birthday that I can.
I think about her a little more. I feel her presence a little more, I hug the boys a little more, and I am grateful for the time I had with her so much more.
It was also fitting that her birthday was so close to Easter because I am reminded that Ashley’s celebration in heaven was so much more than what I could have planned for her. And for that I’m happy.
A Birthday is a new beginning –
A birthday is the first day of another lovely year,
A year of new tomorrows that is shining, bright and clear,
A year of possibilities as endless as the sky, and a chance to meet the challenges in everything you try.Author Unknown