When Emmett left that night, I somehow knew this time was different. He left just as he had on many nights, saying he was going to go run an errand and be right back . . . but then not coming home for seven or eight hours. I knew in my heart that—just as the previous weeks had shown me—he wasn’t coming back any time soon. My six-week old baby began to cry the minute the garage door shut, just as he had done every night. This time, his cry seemed to be a panic, which I not only felt in his screams, but in my heart.
I called Emmett to beg him to come back . . . no answer. I said a prayer . . . I pleaded that the nightmares I had been having all week about my baby dying would just go away. This could not be the answer the universe had to get this father to realize what he had been given in this life! I prayed that the death of his child would not be the thing that shook his world and helped him want to come home to us. I pleaded with my Heavenly Father that he would not take my baby. I begged that Emmett would be given a chance to find peace and come home to us, and that he would be released from this torment that was plaguing his mind and his choices. I could feel his internal battle of something being wrong. I never heard it from his mouth, but I could see it all over his face. I pleaded that this feeling of panic I had would be calmed tonight, and that whatever it took for Emmett to come home and be the father I needed him to be . . . would happen. Maybe he could just get arrested and sit in jail for a few nights . . . thinking of his amazing life. Maybe he would want to come home to live it. Maybe he could get in a wreck and sit in a hospital bed, finding a realization that his wife and children were worth it . . . worth taking care of, and that it was worth being his wife’s sweetheart and his children’s father. At least maybe he could see that it was worth coming home to us.
After my prayer, I held my screaming baby in one hand . . . I held my scriptures in the other hand, and I bounced. For two hours I bounced. My phone sat near by . . . silent. Bouncing . . . screaming . . . tears rolling down my cheeks. Something was so wrong. At about ten p.m., I was overcome by sheer panic. I called and text him many times. No response. But how was this different than the hundreds of times he had ignored my pleas? Two more hours: bouncing . . . waiting . . . crying . . . panic . . . reading . . . singing to my hysterical infant. Would he ever stop crying? Midnight. Baby stopped crying and fell asleep. Now what? Now I was really alone and the pain sank even deeper in my empty heart. I went to reach for my phone . . . who could I call? Emmett wouldn’t answer. What would I say to my Mom, or my sisters? Would anyone believe me? Something was wrong . . . I had been saying it for months. No one really seemed to believe me. I finally decided to lie down and try to sleep. My head hit my pillow, but the tears just slid down my face. I guess I kind of knew in my heart that someone was on the way to tell me he had been in a wreck and I could go see him . . . or that he had been in a fight and I could go bail him out of jail. At least he would be forced to need me. At least I could look him in the eye and tell him I was here for him . . . and maybe for once in all these crazy months, he would hear me. Maybe this time, he would be in a place to feel our love pouring out all over him.
One a.m. . . . knock . . . knock . . . knock. I had fallen asleep. I don’t know how, but now I was jolted awake in a dreamy fog. Was all this real? Yes, and it was all going to be okay . . . right? Yes. Everything would be fine. Right? Each step to the door felt heavier and heavier, and my heart was racing like I had just run a thousand miles. Door opens . . . three people I had never seen before. Asked if I was Emmett’s wife. . . asked to come in. “NO! I don’t know you . . . just tell me where he is so I can go talk to him!” Ma’am . . . please let us in . . . “NO! I am here alone with my five babies, and I don’t want you in my house. Just tell me!” “Please Ashlee . . . please . . .” My sister Ali pulls up to the house . . . a true inspiration on the part of her boyfriend who had a strong feeling that she needed to head over to my house. Ali was here, I was going to be okay. “Fine . . . come in! Now tell me where he is.” “We need you to sit down . . .” I don’t want to freaking sit . . . Okay. We all sit down around my couch, everyone is fidgeting and they won’t look me in the eye. “Ma’am . . . there has been an accident . . . and your husband was killed at the Walgreens on Linder.”
Heart stops . . . lungs stop . . . body freezes. “Kandi . . . Rob . . . murdered . . . affair . . . gun . . . Kandi . . . Emmett . . . relationship . . . dead . . . murdered . . . Kandi . . . Rob . . . gun . . . Emmett . . . dead . . . husband . . . gone . . . father of five . . . murdered . . . family . . . broken . . . life . . . stopped . . . adultery . . . lies . . . secrets . . . secret life . . . murdered . . . gone . . . widow . . . alone . . . secrets . . . dead . . .”
“Kandi . . . Emmett . . . found . . . dead . . . babies . . . fatherless . . .”
I don’t remember a single word, just phrases and pieces. I couldn’t breath. My heart was pounding into my lungs and my lungs were full of all the lies, all the secrets that were finally being told to me. And now he was gone. No “I am sorry”s. No: “Please forgive me”s. Nothing but emptiness, humiliation, and utter despair. He was gone: the man to whom I had promised to stick with it through the good and the bad. Now, I had all the answers as to why it was going so badly, and he wasn’t even here to work with me to make it all right. All I could think about was our five babies sleeping soundly in their beds, having no idea that their universe had just been shattered. Where would I even begin? Could I just lie to them? Could I cover up all the bad stuff and just say he got in a car wreck? NO. That would just be more lies. Lies are what got us here in the first place. Plus, if they didn’t hear it from me, they would hear it from friends or read it on the Internet one day, then look back and think I was the liar. But how could I let them hear this? Me, a mother who hated my kids to even play with toy guns, a mother who skipped over the word ‘killed’ or ‘dead,’ or ‘murdered’ in our scriptures. And now their super hero— the man who was supposed to always protect them and keep them safe—had been brutally gunned down because he was sleeping with another man’s wife. How could I change that story to protect my innocent babies’ minds?
That night was filled with these questions and turmoil inside myself. I wanted to be able to protect this man whom I had loved for seven years. I wanted to be able to just take away all the pains that would follow that black night. But that is not how this world works. We have to face truths, we have to be strong for our babies, we have to have faith that even on the worst night of our lives, our Heavenly Father is going to carry us through—carry us through in the words we have to speak, carry us through the painful truths, and carry us through to keep taking another breath . . . keeping us moving forward and living . . . not only for ourselves but for the ones who need us.
I remember walking into my closet that night to beg Heavenly Father for a ‘do over.’ I begged Him for answers to why all of this was real. I fell to my knees and pleaded for the peace that I needed. The most peaceful feeling came over my body. A still, small voice whispered to my heart: “BE STILL . . . I have been here, and I am still here. Angels have guarded this home and each of you. None of that has changed. It will be hard, but you have to keep moving forward. You have to have faith for a brighter day, which will come as long as you keep protecting these sweet children and having faith in Me. You are not alone. You have been watched over, and I am proud of you. I believe in you. Now is the time when you have to decide if your testimony has been in your perfect life and your husband, or if your testimony is in Me. Ashlee, be still. Breath. You did all you could. You did your best. I am so proud of you. You were an amazing wife; you are an incredible mother. You are still you. Do not let this define who you will become. You are still the Ashlee you have always been, and I see so much good in you. Believe in yourself and do not doubt who you are because of the pain you now feel so deeply. Find forgiveness and peace. This is the time to find the beauty that is still all around you. Make the world a better place for those children I have blessed you with. I will carry you when it gets unbearable, but I need you to STAND.”
And there it was . . . the defining moment I was praying so hard for Emmett to receive. The moment when you realize that all you have and all you are doing is worth it because Heavenly Father is proud of you. He is the reason you have been given all that you have. Why we couldn’t have had that moment together, I will never know for sure, but I understood that the “Why” in life was sometimes not always answered. It is the “How” in life we have to seek. How can I show my Father in Heaven that I believe Him when He said He watched over me and has been with me? I can keep living, and move forward. He asked me that night to be more than just me . . . He asked me to believe in Him and have faith that He would be there to help me through it all. And day by day, He gave me opportunities to accomplish things and to continue to find ways to do all that He asked of me. That night, He asked me to have faith, but then, He not only gave me the courage to follow that faith, He laid out before me the path that would bring me the peace and healing He desired for me. Peace and healing has come in a series of moments . . . one step at a time.
Heavenly Father loves each one of us individually, regardless of the choices we make. He sees our worth as a person no matter who we are. He saw the beauty of all the letters sent to us to brighten our days. He saw all the times people dropped by to take my kids to a movie or a hockey game. He saw every floor that was mopped and toilet that was cleaned. He saw all the closets in my house that were organized, and the meals brought in with love. He saw the checks that were written. He read the emails that gave me strength. He witnessed the blankets that were sewn for my babies out of their daddy’s clothes. Not one good deed we do on this earth goes unnoticed. Even though, at times, we all feel a little invisible . . . He is always there. He sends his love in ways that we don’t always realize come from Him. And sometimes, He uses us to be someone else’s Angel. Each one of us was made just the way we are . . . on purpose.
I think the moment I truly understood unconditional love was when we were sitting in Rob’s murder trial. For three weeks, we all sat there: Emmett’s family on one side, and Rob’s on the other. We all listened to the facts. We all knew exactly what happened. The facts were the facts. I watched his family. I watched his Mother. She loves her son. She is aware of the fact that he isn’t perfect, and that he made a life-altering decision, and yet her love for him as her son lives on. That is how I see our Father viewing all of us. We all make mistakes. Some of them are life-changing, and some of them will never be known by any one else . . . and yet our Heavenly Father loves us still. He sees our worth, He finds good in us. We are still His son or daughter.
Whatever path has led you down roads you wish you could change, there is still hope. You can find a way back to the road you always dreamed of as a kid. You can be anything you want to be. Our past does not have to define our future. We have the power to make a change. We can become whoever we choose to be. Nobody can tell you that you do not have worth, because no matter who you are . . . you do.
I don’t think I truly knew that until all the things that gave me a sense of self-worth were taken away. Find your sense of worth by being the best person you can be. Find it by writing letters to someone in their need. Find it in serving someone else. Find it by becoming selfless and living your life to make your Heavenly Father proud of you, because every other outside source powering your view of your self-worth can literally be taken away in a second. All that we have in our lives is because of Jesus Christ. He is the reason for every blessing. So let us live each moment in gratitude for the fragile blessings we all have.