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It was an absolute pleasure to interview Dr Ashley Wellman. In episode #26 you will hear her heart-breaking story of how Ashley lost her husband suddenly and the journey she and her daughter have been on to develop a new magical life together out of the bereavement of a husband and father.
Ashley shares openly, that whilst she was breaking, she was not broken. Ashley had vowed to her husband to create a magical life for her daughter and out of the bereavement process comes a beautifully poignant and illustrated children's book called The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons: My Friend Fresno.
I feel so blessed to share the amazing life lessons that can come from some of the most challenging times in our life. Whether you have been impacted by sudden death, trauma or losses of any kind, you will hear the beautiful messages of hope and resilience from Dr Ashley Wellman that will make you think about the choices you make during difficult times.
Some of the key takeaways from this episode include:
- How we all have the ability to find resilience in the most devastating of times.
- Just because you don't work in the same job anymore doesn't mean you lose the skills and experiences that came with it.
- That there is real power in choice, and that we get to choose every single second how we live our lives.
- Others can ONLY define you if you let them and when you give them the power to do so.
- How our human lives are intertwined with one another and that people are placed on our path sometimes for a season, but other times for a lifetime, and that we all have a part to play in each other's journeys.
I hope you get lots from this episode.
More from Dr Ashley Wellman
Instagram @MyFriendFresno @DrAshleyWellman
Twitter @MyFriendFresno @DrAshleyWellman
The Book – The Girl Who Dances With Skeletons: My Friend Fresno
Mentioned in the Show
How to Leave a Podcast Review on Itunes
More from Beth
The Power of Scripting – Pick up my latest book.
The Journey to Gratitude – Join the next gratitude journey.
The Full Show Transcript
[00:00:00] Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 26 of the Visualise You show. I'm your host, Beth, Hewitt, and this week on the show, I'm going to be sharing a very poignant, deep episode about resilience through. Grief loss and trauma and how the most beautiful, amazing things can come from adversity and tragedy.
Now I need to warn my listeners that whilst there are so many uplifting, inspiring messages in today's episode. We do touch on subjects like miscarriages, job losses, sudden death,
And there's even reference to sexual assault and violence. But this isn't a dark episode. This is an episode of light when our lives change direction, but not through our own choice.
So let me tell you a little bit of a backstory, actually, how I came to interview Dr. Ashley Wellman.
[00:01:00] Ashley is a criminologist who specializes in trauma and victimization supporting families affected by homicide, but it was Ashley's own story of losing her husband that saw her life change literally in an instant
Ashley and her daughter, Reagan have been such a source of inspiration. They’re. Now on this journey to share their first children's book, The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons, My Friend Fresno.
Which has been part of the healing process for Ashley and her daughter to get through this grief and pain which comes with losing and loved one. And.
Back in August. When I first started the podcast, I put a message out into a podcast community and asked the people to come forward who had pivot stories. And Ashley was one of the first people that reached out to me. And I [00:02:00] felt such a new podcaster that I didn't know if I would be able to have the skills to be able to.
Speak with Ashley about her story, even though I desperately wanted, because I was fixated by what she had created with this children's book and the message behind it and the work that she was trying to do in the world to help children and adults with their grief and coming through trauma.
But a funny thing happened.
Despite my apprehension, I still reached out to Ashley and said, I would love her to be on the podcast. I sent that email, but that email.
ended up in Ashley's spam folder. And she never saw it until a few months later, by which time I Id started to feel a little bit more accomplished as a podcast interviewer. And by the time she reached back out to me, I was ready to listen to her story. And I'm so grateful that there was that almost divine.
Interruption into the order of [00:03:00] how this story would come to be shared with you. My listeners,
There is so much amazing content in this episode but I'm going to let those nuggets. Drop in your consciousness the way they did for me the first time I heard them. And then I'll be back at the end of today's episode
whether you have experienced. Sudden death, trauma, or grief on any level or not. I'm sure you will find something beautiful to take from today's episode. Enjoy.
[00:04:00] Beth: [00:04:10] Okay. So welcome everybody to the Visualise You Show. I'm joined today by the lovely Dr. Ashley Wellman. Ashley thank you for joining us today.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:04:19] Thank you so much for having me.
Beth: [00:04:21] Let me just tell our listeners a little bit about you. Ashley is a criminologist specializing in trauma and victimization with this plus academic publication about homicide and sexual assault survivors.
She serves as a media expert, television commentator, and as an advocate for families impacted by violence. After her own tragedy, she added author to the list launching her own small business with the creation of her first children's book, The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons, my Friend, Fresno, I'm so looking forward to finding more out about this book, but above all her greatest role is being mother to her beautiful six-year-old Reagan.
And can I just check? Is Reagan still six?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:04:59] She [00:05:00] is still six. Yes. Yeah. She's May 15th. So she's.
Beth: [00:05:03] don't want to get ages.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:05:04] Not much for her, especially she's six and a half, she'd tell you for
Beth: [00:05:07] So Reagan six and a half everybody. Okay. So Ashley, welcome to the show. And can you just tell us about your kind of life and career journey today?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:05:15] so it's very interesting because when you hear that someone's a criminologist. I think people really struggle to say, what is that? And they think that they go to the CSI kind of concept that this is going to be someone who arrives on the scene after a crime. But really, I'm an academic, I'm a scholar kind of behind the scenes who tries to understand how and why certain crimes happen.
And for me specifically, I went through my education. I got my PhD at the University of Florida in 2011. And while I was there, my heart was really drawn to homicide. And that's what I wanted to study. But no one at the university studied homicide. And so they teased me like, why are you even here at this university?
And I thought, it’s one of the best in the country. And so that's [00:06:00] number one. But I ended up going to the cold case, homicide unit and Alachua County, where I was studying. And I said, Hey guys, you're the expert. Would you allow me to work alongside you as a graduate student and go through some of your cold cases and work with you.
And at first of course, they were like, no, because academics have a reputation, but we just bonded. And so they said, of course you can come. And they let me come every week. I went multiple times a week and worked through their cold cases. And my heart said, I'm going to understand why these cases go cold.
That journey shifted when a mother walked in and she said, I want to know what the expletive happened to my daughter. And the detective said, Ashley can talk to you. And that's where you see the victimology is part of me come into play because I had never worked alongside a survivor of violent crime.
To my knowledge, even though we all exist amongst survivors and [00:07:00] I didn't know what to say. And after about a four-hour conversation, she said, I didn't really come here for any specific answer. I came so that someone would listen to my story and remember my daughter. And that's where I literally said, okay, I have this platform, I'm going to start to share these stories of these families.
And that's the journey I've been on since, as an academic. Working alongside the incredibly resilient, the incredibly strong surviving family members of homicide and sexual assault. So as a campus advocate, I've served as a campus advocate before for sexual assault survivors. And so both male and female survivors on campus.
And it’s been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life.
Beth: [00:07:40] so is it literally like a light bulb went off when you had that conversation with that woman.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:07:44] I did. I went home. Cause as a scientist, you're trained that there's, these numbers are important in all of these things, but when I heard her story. I thought this is the good stuff. This is what people need to know. If I ask you, what's your grief, like on a scale of one to 10 and you say a six, what [00:08:00] does that mean?
But if you tell me your story, there's so much richness and knowledge to discover in somebody's personal story, which is, you're a podcast or you get this right.
Beth: [00:08:09] I light up, I love that side of
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:08:10] Yes. And so I went home that night and I started researching. I said, I'm just going to learn about the family.
So I'm better prepared. There wasn't anything out there. And so I thought what an underrepresented group of victims, we forget about the victims’ families. Honestly, we forget about the offender's families as well. When we look in the criminal justice system, we always focus on the offender and in a homicide, the victims deceased.
And so they get forgotten as well. But these families are this second-tier group of victims that we don't talk about. And so I said, I'm going to give them a voice. And that's what I've been doing for the last 11 years of my career.
Beth: [00:08:48] And that's amazing. Do you still do that then?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:08:49] I do. I'm currently still a professor. I do research with the families and with sexual assault survivors as well.
I dabble in other fun things. Like we just did a slasher film paper and, some other things [00:09:00] to have a distraction for a bit, but I do, and I think I will forever be an advocate, even if I end up shifting my identity and career completely. I think I will always be an advocate because it's what makes me feel grounded and purposeful in the work that I do. And so I think I've become a better woman for being an advocate for others. And so I think that's always going to be something that is the core of who I am.
Beth: [00:09:23] And did you always want to go into criminology? what was your kind of TV program of choice.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:09:27] back then. It was the old school unsolved mysteries, and some of those different shows, the true crime shows I would actually watch with my dad, even when I was very young. I had this affinity for true crime. Now, when I went to college, my advisor said you don't want to do that. And they told me to actually specialize in something different.
And so I got my major in college was public relations. And I ended up being an event planner for a couple years, working at Barnes and noble, which comes full circle. But I was the community relations manager doing book [00:10:00] signings and author parties and those types of things.
And then I started working with law enforcement for a book drive. And I said, I should have studied what I loved. And I did. I went back and got my master's and PhD, after that.
Beth: [00:10:11] I'm so glad that happened. But this happens all the times where I teach you told me not to take, I think it was philosophy. I really wanted to do philosophy. You can imagine the kind of interviews that I do, that would be something that would really resonate with me. And that the teacher at the open day was like, nah, you don't want to do that.
And I was like, all okay.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:10:26] we listen to people. But the great thing is that life allows us to change and pivot, which we'll talk about later in the show, but I'm so grateful for that. I think as we get older, we lose the permission. We give ourselves to be willing, to be flexible and change, but in those changes is the magic.
So I'm glad we eventually don't listen, we get smarter eventually.
Beth: [00:10:45] So how’d you get from criminologists to writing a book?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:10:49] When I was, on this path of academia, that, that was really my major focus. I was dual mom, wife, and scholar. And [00:11:00] so we were so blessed with Reagan, very easy to conceive. We, we were grateful for that.
And so as I'm pursuing this, the success in academia, I'm getting speaking gigs around the world and I'm, on TV and I'm doing all of this. I got tenure, which is the Holy grail of academia. But at the same time in my personal life, we had struggled with baby number two, and we had suffered multiple miscarriages.
And anyone who's listening who has a partner or themselves has gone through a miscarriage. It really changes you. And each miscarriage shifted me. My perspective of life, even more. And it, each was very different. And so while I was growing and exceeding and excelling in my career, my personal life, I was really struggling because I had this amazing husband, this beautiful baby.
And yet the loss of each of those babies was really costing me personally. And so my husband buddy was so great. He said, Ash, I know everything's, like [00:12:00] you're doing well at work, but you're really unhappy. What if we made a change? What if we are just, he's I don't care if you want to be a barista, which has always been a secret dream of mine to own my own coffee shop, but that's not in the plans right now, not today.
He said, I don't care if you want to do that. We could literally skit on and get a tiny home and travel. I don't care, but I need my wife back and Reagan needs the light back from you. And he was right. So I got a therapist and I also started looking for a new job because I really did think a change of scenery would do us good.
I met up with a group of people who had, said, listen, Ashley, if you step away from this tenure track job, which is career suicide, mind you for anyone who's listening. If you take the chance and you step away from this tenure track job, you can start at this new institution with us, which is an amazing institution as an instructor.
You only need a master's degree to be an instructor, but they said, if you give it up, you could work your way back up into a tenure track position. This is easy peasy so I thought, of course I could, I'm, I've [00:13:00] done well. So I'm not really concerned about, stepping down because I can go back up.
And so we did, we made a really big career and life move. We moved to Texas and I thought, okay, this is it. We're starting over. We're going to dream big together. And. The day before I started my new job back in 2018, my husband actually died in our home, in front of my daughter and I, he collapsed and had at later we learned that he had a pulmonary embolism.
And what had happened was I ran downstairs, and he wasn't breathing. He had fallen and he was shaking on the floor. And I remember Reagan just screaming, please save my dad, please save my dad. Please save my dad. And I didn't know what to do, except call nine one one. And so they came, they told me he was okay.
Because he had a heartbeat and as long as he kept his heart heartbeat that he was going to be okay. And by the time we left the condo on the way to the emergency room, he did not have a heartbeat. They tried for about 60 minutes to resuscitate [00:14:00] him. And at four 30 on August 12th, 2018, they pronounced him dead.
And so here I am in a new city, I'm standing over my best friend. Wondering, what in the hell am I doing? You're like, what is this? It wasn't real life. It felt like I was in the middle of a movie and I remember they wanted to take his body away. And I said, where are you taking him? They're like, we’re going to clean him up and we're going to bring him back to you.
And I remember how scared I was about that because it didn't seem like I, I walked in fighting for his life and I'm walking out alone, and it seems so. Impossible to think about. And then my brain went another place and it said like, why me? Why did you leave me when he's such a good dad? He was such a good man.
And I kissed him goodbye. I remember, like apologizing to him that I couldn't save him. And I kissed him goodbye. And I said, I don't know how, but I promise you, I'm going [00:15:00] to make a magical life for your daughter. And., I left him then. And I went home, and I went to Barnes and noble actually.
And I got every book that I could think of for bereavement for a child. And I find my way home and I have to tell Reagan that her dad died, and it was horrific. There were months of just waiting for her dad and begging for her dad, while I'm grieving the loss of my best friend as well. And I thought one night in the darkness, I'm sitting in the condo where he had died.
And I thought to myself, how do I escape this nightmare is what it felt like. And I knew that I had to buck up and do something because I had a little girl watching me and she needed me badly to find a way to do exactly what I had promised him to create some type of magic. So a friend of mine said, Ashley, look at that picture of Reagan, he had seen a picture of Reagan dancing with her best friend, Fresno, who is an opposable skeleton.
And he said it is the [00:16:00] weirdest most disturbing picture, but it's also beautiful because he said society tells her she should be terrified of this. Skeleton. And she's two in the picture and he says, she's not scared of him at all. She sees kindness and friendship and excitement. And so he said, you need to step back from what you're doing, because I had really wanted to throw myself back into my job.
That is what I knew I was good at. So I, I said, okay. He said, you need to step back and give yourself a little break. Why don't you write creatively a children's book about this picture? And so I did, I started in, and at night when I would put her to sleep, instead of just sitting in the silence, I started writing and I started seeing colors and feeling this kind of energy again, that I didn't know was possible after the death of Buddy.
And so that was happening. And in the meantime, I'm back at work thinking, this is great. I'm back at work. I know that I'm good at work. This is my safe zone, right? Everything else in my life is falling apart, but [00:17:00] school is my place. So they announced that a tenure track job is open.
When I get back from bereavement leave, I'm like, this is the last promise that Buddy and I had really set out to do together. We wanted a home. We wanted my daughter in this performing arts school, and we wanted this tenure track job. Here it is. I've gotten our home. I got her into the school and this job comes open.
And I had no idea, but a very small group of my colleagues were, had decided that I quote was no longer the woman they fell in love with, and that I wasn't qualified for an entry-level position. And so I did not receive, even the ability to interview for this position and. My other colleagues were shocked.
I was devastated is an understatement. And I remember sitting at the kitchen counter hysterical, saying this is all I had left. This is all I had left was the one thing I knew I was good at. Even motherhood. I had questioned like, why me? This is not the [00:18:00] person you wanted to leave behind. But my job was my definition of who I was.
Yes. And when that felt like it got pulled away, I said who am I? Then I feel lost. Who am I? And that's when the same friend who told me to write. He said, he gave me a couple months, just sit in that. But then finally, when he said, I'm just going to have to call it Ash, you got to stop.
They cost you your career. You were right. But they don't get to define who you are unless you let them. And you're letting them. And so he said, it's up to you to dig deep. You've done it before you got to dig deep, and you've got to rewrite who you want to be because you get to do that. And then I thought, dammit, that is a, it's a very hard task.
This is another task I really have to do for myself. And so I did, I started backtracking and thinking, okay, you cannot. Lose all of the things you've accomplished, that's there. But you definitely have the ability to dream bigger [00:19:00] than you give yourself credit for. And so that's where I said maybe this little children's book, that was a way to heal.
Is a way to thrive and to fulfill a promise. I had made all these promises and I think that was part of when I lost that job opportunity. I felt like I couldn't fulfill that last promise to buddy. And a friend said, Ashley, you fulfilled promises beyond. Measure like beyond what you thought you owed him.
And it was permission to say maybe that promise is gone, but I'm creating all of these promises that an angel really is just rejoicing going. Yes, this is why you were left behind because you're a great mother. You're a great woman. And so I've just had to reposition in my head.
What defines me, what we owe to the people around us. And that's now, I said, maybe I'm going to be an entrepreneur and children's book author. And yes, why not? Because we're allowed to do anything. I tell Reagan that all the time, you can be whatever you want. And yet I really thought all that I was a scholar.
And the thing is I will forever be a scholar. I don't lose [00:20:00] that. But I don't have to only be defined by that. And so I've just given myself permission.
Beth: [00:20:05] Oh, wow. First of all, thank you for sharing that story. And it was difficult to recount that and just being so honest and open. About that there's so much to unpack in all of everything that you've just said that I think from is that you're Amish, you're like on this journey of losses with your babies and your husband, and then this job that you had come to define who you were. Sometimes when I, speak to some of the clients and people that I work with, sometimes I almost see ask what's the opposite of that.
What's the opposite of lost and not obvious in your art circumstances? That's. Found or to find that thing that is going to illuminate this situation and make it better. And I think that's sometimes a good way of getting our mindset out of those difficult challenges that way we're going through, but that must've just been, that journey of what you've been through just must've been, the strength that you must have needed to get through that period,
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:20:58] I had more strength than [00:21:00] I knew, and that's exactly right. I think that we, think I can't handle anything else. I've said this so many times, and then I go up here, it comes. And the reality is I think you're right. I think it's a mindset. I remember right after he died, lying in bed.
And thinking, okay, my life is no longer the same and I have two options I can shut down or I can fight. And I knew that I had not only his blessing to fight, but he would also have expected nothing less. But then I had a four-year-old who was looking at me to say, what's allowed, what's appropriate. What's our future look like?
And so I made a commitment. You've got to remember, I studied grief loss and trauma. And here I am, and I felt helpless. And so I had to step back and say, what have I done for other families? What do I recommend to other families? And I hope that it was good advice because I need it now. And so I did, I went through the hard steps of repositioning this tragedy in our lives [00:22:00] by things like getting us both professional help.
Making sure that I grieved with Reagan. And independently from her because she needed permission to see what grief looks like. And unfortunately, it's not the nice path that everybody talks about. There are these stages, it's a cluster. It is a mess. And I think it's a lifelong journey. Grief is and society is not used to talking about death.
They're not used to talking about grief. They there's a timeframe. You are allowed to be vulnerable. And then. The old use expected to show back up. And so for me, I said, she's going to see me cry. She's going to see me be angry and she's going to see me laugh. And dream, she's going to see all of it because I want her to know, even if I'm not feeling the exact same thing, she's feeling that I'm a safe place and that while the rest of the world's going to be very uncomfortable with our [00:23:00] story.
That we don't have to be. I met its that same kind of message that the book talks about this dancing with skeletons, right? We're going to dance with everything that is uncomfortable and scary. And once you decide to dance with it, it's not as scary anymore. And so we've really been trying on that journey together, which I think has been a huge blessing.
Beth: [00:23:18] Yeah. And there's something in that kind of that darkness and light and the whole skeleton and young girl dancing, just it's those dichotomies of life but it’s there. And we should be talking about it and we should. Be able to embrace those experiences and share it with other people.
So it's an amazing thing that you're doing with the book. There's always something about this. Normally when I speak to people on the podcast, they’ve had one particular pivot or maybe a series of pivots that have maybe been life choices. But your story seems to be almost like this quick succession of going to make this conscious pivot, I'm going to leave.
This job and move to a new city with my husband and my daughter. Am I going to do this? And then tragedy happens that pushes you down a completely different [00:24:00] path where the different skills and things that were happening to get you through those different transitions.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:24:05] There's power in choice. There's power in choice. But then we do have these life moments where it feels like I didn't not only do I not choose this, but this has destroyed every plan and every hope that I had for my journey, but are there skills, I think. It was trusting here’s the luxury I had when I consciously decided to leave a successful career and start again, it was a choice with a partner and there was so much strength in that because there were times when I first met buddy, I wasn't as confident as.
I appear and I really questioned, what’s my ability, what could I do? And he was the greatest cheerleader. And so there was comfort in having a partner to look at it and say, I can do this. I should do this. And I'm going to do this for my family. And there was a lot [00:25:00] of conscious decisions going into that, but then when he died, I felt more of a helplessness.
I was alone in a lot of the decisions I had to make. Then the career loss, I think a lot of that had to do with uncomfortability around grief and this kind of discomfort where people just aren't comfortable with someone who's the widow now in the room. But those things, it felt like I got stripped and the skill became rebuilding that confidence and.
Learning to treat myself with grace and kindness. Like I treat my child and that sounds silly, but I had been so hard on myself about, you weren't good enough and you weren't valuable enough. And what does that mean? And I had never, before had to really rewrite in my head the truth of what was in front of me, because for so long, things had been.
Either I could bounce it off of my partner or it was going well. The miscarriages were something that, that I did the same. I had to change from thinking that was my fault [00:26:00] or that I had done something wrong to more of, you know what, that's not the correct timing right now. We're going to try again when we get to Texas, we'll try it again.
So I do. I think it was digging deep and being vulnerable and saying, I have to fight to rebuild myself. And that was different than saying, Oh, I have this conscious choice and this empowerment of. Change. I picked to leave the successful career. I was grasping for anything. When I felt like everything I had built had been lost, it wasn't a choice to leave.
It was lost. And yeah, I think it was the kindness and vulnerability and grace for myself, which I still practice, try to practice every day of you're doing the best you can. And what do you want today to look like?
Beth: [00:26:43] And so you, you've got this amazing friend and who was able to, pull you out of that mindset that you're wearing. And I'm aware it's nice to have a friend like that. Sometimes we would just want to hear the truth of the situation and pull us away from a circumstance or a little rabbit hole that way we're heading down.
So [00:27:00] he suggested this idea to you. And you just went with it. You just thought,
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:27:04] Yeah, because remember, I, so I was on my own doing all of this and as much as friends and family were reaching out and phenomenal, I have amazing angels around the country who really dropped everything to fight, to make sure that Reagan and I had a foundation and people to love us, but this friend, there's just something really special about him.
He knew buddy. He loved him. You know what I mean? And there was this idea where he saw in me things I didn't see. And he's so comfortable with grief and loss in his own life and having multiple experiences with public and big time, grief, and loss that he got it. And he was comfortable with moments where we'd go grab a glass of wine and I'd start crying in a wine bar, and he'd like, look at the bartender.
She's fine. And let me just, cry and be mad. And, he let me, People who are grieving, don't always act in his perfect manner or like themselves or these kinds of things. There was never a moment where he like doubted or questioned, [00:28:00] what are you doing or who are you? He just knew he understood the process.
And so I think there was power in that for him to be a support person, because a lot of people don't have that experience. But I also think he saw buddy's death, the loss of this career, all of these things as. Opportunities for me is say, you don't get to be that person anymore. But that also means because you aren't like you're broken at the bottom.
That means any piece you want to put, start building that now, any, anything it's like Lego box. It was like, I was literally just, I had been torn down, whatever I had been as a Lego figure, was completely turned down and put in the box and I got to start with a blank slate of saying now, today, what do I want to build?
And he knew I was capable of things. I didn't know I was capable of. And so once he saw that, that spark of magic with the Fresno book, we started writing a teen ghost novel together and starting to do all of these things. And he's made it a business, [00:29:00] do this. And so it was almost like I needed the permission from someone to say, Ash, you still get to have a beautiful life.
And I had made the promise to make a magical life for Reagan when I kissed buddy goodbye, but I don't think I really understood that. That means I get to have a magical life too. And there was so much. Relief. I think the day, I really remember talking to somebody and saying, I got to create this magical life for Reagan.
And then I said, Ashley, then that requires you to believe you deserve it too. And so since then, I think it's just, it is it's those constant mindset shifts and realizations. It is unlocking all of these magical things that our mind can be this prison for, or it can be this way for us to really dream and get to a place we want to be.
Beth: [00:29:45] Yeah, I really like that. I think whenever things do crumble around us, that is an opportunity to rebuild, like you say, and we don't always get those opportunities. And if you can find the light in that situation and give yourself that permission to rebuild [00:30:00] something. Positive and more amazing than then you have to grab it.
So I'm so pleased that you had that friend, and he was able to do that. So I was going to ask it, at what point did you know that this could turn into a business, but you've said your friend was, that was a guy who said again, there's a business there,
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:30:17] Yeah, I think when I was broken at my lowest, and here I am, it was like compounding losses. And so that last career loss, it just felt, I literally felt rock bottom and I didn't bother to ask can this get worse because I had learned in my past sure it can. Absolutely. But
I just remember.
Thinking something has to change because I'm breaking down my mental health, my physical health, grief manifests itself physically as well. And so I was grieving not only the miscarriages, because remember now I don't have the opportunity to fix that scenario. Like my partner's not there, so we're not going to have that second baby.
So I was grieving that I was grieving his death. I was grieving being a single parent I'm grieving this career. And when I [00:31:00] was just that low, I thought, if I'm going to get healthy again, it's not going to be in this environment. Or at least not where my entire identity is tied to this environment. I have to create something new.
And I had told families that. In my research. One of the things you'll always see is that old life is no longer there, but it doesn't mean you stop living or that there's not a new life that's brewing. And so I would constantly encourage families. What's a new tradition. What's a new hobby. What's something new that you get to do that isn't necessarily tied to your lost loved one because.
Someone had said to me, actually, after buddy died, you're not the woman we fell in love with. This was the excuse that was used. That, and I fought that really hard until I had to step back and say, but you're not, you're still all the things that you were, but you're not the same woman.
This tragic event happened, and you're allowed to morph and grow. I grew, I didn't. Become a worst woman. I just grew [00:32:00] as a woman. And so I do think it was, I think it was the permission from a friend and the guidance from a friend, but I also think it was me reminding myself that I didn't have the luxury of the old life I wanted or the future that I had expected.
And so with that, it's saying, okay, then to be healthy and happy. I think you need to redefine what you want and if it's new, then there's freedom. And not having to say buddy's missing from the scenario. You know what I mean? Because he'll forever be this energy in my soul because he changed my life so much, but I also don't want to necessarily keep living in this life where he's missing constantly.
I need to rebuild something that's mine and lets me dream different.
Beth: [00:32:41] Wow. Okay. I normally ask what's this thing that's been calling you throughout all of this time, but I think circumstance will thrust upon you, but also, you've got this rich experience of working with people before all of this happened. So do you feel like there was something leading up to this time in your life when you look back on it?
Cause [00:33:00] it's difficult looking forward, but when you look back, do you see.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:33:02] Oh, this divine path. Yes. There is not a doubt in my mind that the strength I felt when I held a mother's hand, who told me about losing her child or a wife who held my hand and told me about her husband who was killed in her arms. Do you know what I mean? These moments that had already defined my soul.
I think we're setting me up on this path to say, Ash, you've watched people survive the unthinkable. You've seen people find hope and joy. You've seen people rebuild their families and life, and you've seen them do it with such dignity and grace and in spite of right. And because of the trauma. And I think I had the skills that many people don't have to know exactly what to do in these moments. And I relied on the strength I had seen and witnessed. In fact, some of the survivors that I've worked with in the past are still friends of mine. There we communicate, we talk all the [00:34:00] time. And one of the mothers who.
Her son had been killed. She and I had formed a very strong friendship and she was one of the ones who knew exactly when and how to check on me. She knew it and she knew; grief doesn't go away after three months. And that there's moments where she seen me thrive, maybe on social media and she would check in and she said, Hey, I know it looks pretty, but I've been there.
And are you like, are you struggling with anything? Do you want to talk about anything? And it was just very nice to know. That my research, the connections I had made, all of these things, I really do think found me in a place where I had, I don't know, it's this power or this energy that I said, I can do this too.
I can do this too. And then I believe that being a scholar, being a teacher, being an educator, being an advocate. All of that is a very important part of my business model. It's I want little ones now to feel empowered and to feel this self-acceptance and love and inclusion. And so I'm taking [00:35:00] many of the skills that I've had.
Look, even my Barnes and noble background, it's all.
Beth: [00:35:04] thought you've already probably twigged that already.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:35:05] Yeah, that's already there. And so I have the connections with that and then, I, people ask me yeah, a lot here. My dear friends, because I work with some great human, but they're like, do you regret coming here?
Because the promises that were not fulfilled and for the loss of what happened. And I said today, I can look absolutely not. I was exactly where I needed to be with the people I needed to be with. Even the ones that have now broken my heart. They were in my life for a very important reason and were there when I needed the most.
And so I think there's a phase, but I'm glad that, that career brought me here. Cause now I would've never met, my friend who encouraged me, I would have never had the amazing friends and family around me that we've constructed here. And so this is now the home place of my friend Fresno.
And that would have never been something that had happened if I weren’t in this location with the people that were around me.
Beth: [00:35:57] And I think there's something about the [00:36:00] intertwineness of lives. So as well as all of your past experiences helping you to this point is the experiences of the women that you worked with. Who'd lost ones who knew to check in on you. It's like it works both ways and it's this ball of string kind of thing of all the circumstances that you can't really explain, but it just makes sense that something is happening to allow us to play out this path out.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:36:23] Yeah, it's not just my story. There are so many characters that have been perfectly placed in that story, whether they're from my childhood and stepped up big time, whether they're from each location I've ever been a scholar at, or whether it's my research participants. It's crazy how all of the right.
Characters fell into place.
Beth: [00:36:42] Yeah. Okay. That's mind blowing, isn't it? It's just there. It's just amazing how life unfolds. So one of the things that I like to ask guests is about our superpowers. So I'd love to hear what your superpowers. But then I'd also love to know, if this is okay with you, what Reagan's superpowers are, what Buddy’s superpowers [00:37:00] were and what Fresno superpowers, because they're all part of your journey.
And I really think it'd be quite special to do something around that today. So
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:37:08] Yeah, my superpowers. I think I am a fighter. I think I don't shut down. I will not stop, so I break, but I'm not broken. And I always say I don't care what life hands at. Me. My feet are going to hit the floor the next day. And I'm. to be ok. And so I think that desire to always find good to always look for a light, even when it's real dark for several days, I will never stop looking for a reason to. Smile. A reason to love a reason to touch somebody else's life and to allow myself to be changed by other people around me. I've always been like that. I've always wanted to connect with people. I've always wanted to make people smile. And I think the older I'm getting the more permission I'm giving myself to be vulnerable, which to many people is viewed as a weakness.
But to me it's been the [00:38:00] most freeing superpower I think is my vulnerability. And. That vulnerability has allowed me to touch people's lives and to be touched in return. So I think people will use that as a weapon for. In many circumstances, but I think I would take the risk of letting it be wielded as a weapon against me because of the beauty that, that vulnerability has allowed me.
And I ha I had a girl just reached out the other day and I had no idea she was watching; podcast talks I had done or any of the things that I was sharing. And she said, you've given me so much light when I didn't think I had it. And I thought that's it. Yeah. That's why we share.
And so I'd say my vulnerability and my fight.
Beth: [00:38:36] I love that. Let's talk about Reagan then since she's amazing. Six-and-a-half-year-old
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:38:42] she's great. She has wisdom is her superpower. She was thrust into a situation. I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy to, to witness and to lose her best friend. And yet she's been this constant kind. Strong resilient, little bean [00:39:00] who always has the right wisdom to give me whether it's been about the loss of her dad.
She'll remind me sometimes I'm sad and she'll put her hand on my heart and she's don't forget mom. And daddy's right here. Daddy's watching us or these kinds of things, but she's also whispered things to me about business or different ideas that I'm going to.
Who are you? She's this 80-year-old woman whispering wisdom to me, she'll say, mom, you've got to give yourself. Grace. It's beautiful because you made it and you've got to be okay with, how beautiful it is and I'm going, because I was crying about the book. Cause it, I, the, one of the colors was off or something.
She's mom, it’s so perfect because you made it and it's beautiful. You've got to trust that. And I went, who are you? So I think she has this ultimate wisdom. And then because of what she's been through, I tell her, I do not minimize the struggle. I let her know. This is unfair. This is hard. This is heavy.
This is really difficult, but I also remind her, don't forget that you will forever be more empathetic, more understanding, and a better human being because of what you've been through. And so I think her [00:40:00] empathy and her wisdom would be her superpower.
Beth: [00:40:03] no bless her. What an amazing little girl. And I think there's so many children are they're so good at getting through they’re so resilient and get us through some difficult situations sometimes. _____
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:40:13] So observant as well. She picks up on everything, even things I don't think, I don't think that she picks up on. And so I think that there's. Beauty in that. And there's humor in that, you know where I say, Oh, I didn't know you were listening. I didn't know that you had understood that.
Beth: [00:40:31] So there's so much wisdom in children and that they are so resilient. I think we don't give them enough credit for how resilient that can be and what the can teachers, I think we should listen out at the mouth of babes. We can
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:40:40] That's exactly right there is there's these, I think people speak through them. It's some really amazing things that come from her that have helped me as well.
Beth: [00:40:48] And then if we're able, could you tell us about Buddy and what his superpowers are?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:40:54] man. He was just an amazing person. It's great. When you talk about superpowers in him, Reagan actually called [00:41:00] him Superman. And so I remember, one of the images that allowed me to find peace was when he passed away in the hospital, instead of the imagery of that last scene, I remember re reframing it and thinking.
He's got the Superman Cape on. He's going to have an, and he's going to watch over us forever. He was the greatest cheerleader in the world. I think there's so much beauty and so on. Who unapologetically loves the people around him? And that was buddy. He, when I first met him, I said, tell me about yourself.
All he talked about was his family and how much he loved them. It wasn't about, he didn't define himself as a career, man. He didn't define himself as the athlete that everybody, he was a college athlete in multiple sports. He didn't define himself like that. Everybody else did. He defined himself as a lover of people and his family.
And when we got paired with him, you could tell his life was his girls. That was it. And it didn't matter what else was going on in his world. [00:42:00] He always knew when he closed that door, he was in his safe space with the girls that he loved. And so he was born to be a dad. He taught me so much about motherhood, about what it meant to believe in myself.
And so I think. His unapologetic, love and commitment to empowering the people in his life was his superpower. And I will forever be grateful for Superman sitting up in heaven. He's still cheering me on when I, when I doubt myself, I think about how proud he is. Of us, both of us and what he would yeah.
What he would want. I will tell you one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me was telling me he wanted me to love and live. And if anything ever happened to him, please do not let my life in. Do you know what I mean? Make sure that I continue to just dream big and love hard and work hard and do these things because he's like you deserve it.
We had our own losses with very close friends, right before he died, his best friend had passed away. And so I [00:43:00] think that had given us insight into. Talking and planning and making sure we gave each other permission for a life after each other. And so now I can almost, it almost feels that was divine as well, because I can just see him sitting up and having to be like, listen, we talked about this.
I want you to really rock and roll. And he will forever be that power inside of me, that energy inside of me, so unapologetic love. And in this ultimate ability to cheerlead, even in the darkest situations was his superpower.
Beth: [00:43:28] wow. He sounds like an amazing man and I'm sure all that wisdom has passed down to Reagan as well. But I think, the lesson that I heard in that as well, and for our listeners is that he didn't define himself by his career. All these societal labels placed upon us and he, he lived for life and love.
And I think we should all do that more. So thank you for sharing that.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:43:50] Yeah, of course. I think I, that's something that has allowed me to do that. It's giving myself the permission of remember Ash, that's not who you were. That's not who you are. It's qualities and great accomplishments you've done, [00:44:00] but that's not right who you are at your core.
Beth: [00:44:03] And then less than let's talk about Fresno. Cause this is probably going out after Christmas, but it's Halloween, in a few days, I would imagine for instance, he's in his element right now is a Halloween around the corner.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:44:14] he is so happy, but I'll tell you, Fresno has got a great life, even when it's not Halloween. And the book is this year long, year-round story of friendship, compassion, empathy, inclusion. So definitely not just a Halloween celebration, but Fresno celebrating right now because. He can be out and about, and no one's going to judge him.
And that's the big message in the book, but Fresno superpower. Oh my goodness. One, he was that spark of magic in our lives. He's the one that inspired me alongside his best friend Reagan to actually write. So I would say, he’s got a lot of, inspirational powers that he has, but he's also, I think sensitive and, Able to escape judgment, but it's with the help of Reagan being able to [00:45:00] say it's okay if everybody.
Doesn't celebrate you, or you're not everybody's cup of tea because you're going to be the right groups, cup of tea. And what Fresno discovers along this journey with Reagan is that he's valuable, more valuable than he knew. And that if you keep trying, you don't give up. That you're going to find the place you're supposed to be.
And for him it was alongside his best friend Reagan. So I do think, I think it's that, willingness to continue to put yourself out there and to be, exposed even when you might be judged for it. That's definitely Fresno's, I've learned a lot from him because I think before all of this, I might not have been willing to be as vulnerable.
And yet Fresno, even when made fun of even when non-included, even when you know people are mean to him, he said, I'm going to keep trying, because I want to have the friendship. I want to have a life where I'm loved and happy. And he finds that in Regan.
Beth: [00:45:54] No. And those lessons, I think they apply to all different aspects of life. But I suppose bringing it [00:46:00] back to the listeners for the show, which are, maybe people wanting to start a business pivot in their careers or grow their business. There's something I read some of the things, in the book, new things don't have to be scary.
Our differences make us special and life is better when we're in it together. What an amazing message, not just for children, but I think for anybody who started out on whatever path they're on right now.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:46:20] It's really that ability to dance with the unknown, with the scary and saying it's okay. That it's scary. It's okay. That it's unknown that you feel uncertain, that you're scared. That's normal. And honestly, Fresno, someone said you're Fresno. And I said, am I? And they said, yeah, you were stripped of everything that you were, and you were just this little skeleton.
And then you start to say, okay, then how do I start to navigate my world again? And that's what Fresno does. So you can find yourself in Reagan because we've all been that. Support person, we've all been that person to be kind and supportive, but you can also find yourself in Fresno, this little bean who's starting again and wants to find safety and acceptance and love [00:47:00] and is willing to put himself out there and dance his way through it.
And it's a magical book. My prayer is that it really does give people this launch point to have. Difficult conversations about what scares you, what makes you unique and special and what makes the people who are different around us? Someone to be celebrated and not feared because unfortunately we do look at people who may be aren't the same as far as appearances, religion, sexuality, these different.
Things that set us apart from people. And what it should be doing is allowing us to say, I want to learn from them. I want that color in my life. I want, the richness and artistic abilities and all the things that come from people who aren't exactly like us. And that's the part that I'm really hoping hits home with.
A lot of people are that dance with the people and the things that scare you. And you'll find out that your life is really beautiful.
Beth: [00:47:53] that was quite exciting way to look at it as well. See what happens when we do that? So you're, you are a business now you've got your [00:48:00] books and you've got a bones boutique, and
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:48:03] it is. We opened the bone boutique. Yeah, we, so we did we, so when the book was getting worked on, it's funny because I started in October 2018. You and I are talking right now with October 2020, and the book has just come out. And so it's such a process and labor of love. And in that two years, First, let me shut up about my illustrator because he's amazing.
I got partnered with Zachary Thomas Kincade and he is Thomas Kinkaid nephew. Thomas Kincaid was the painter of light, one of the best-selling American artists of all time and a great artist. Zach is this beast of a visionary. He is just so talented. And when I got paired with him, he said, I'm an artist, not an illustrator.
And I said, I know that which is why I want you, because you'll see, as you open that book, it's just so visually stunning. I think the message is amazing and very impactful, [00:49:00] but it's visually a piece of art. And so I got partnered with him and as the process was taking a long time, I'm not a patient person.
I started thinking, okay, Yeah, God bless. That is not one of my superpowers. But as I was waiting, I started thinking this is opportunity in the wait and in the kind of delays and things like that. This is a point where I can make things happen. And so that's when I developed the plush doll.
And that's when I said, what if some of these illustrations became puzzles and an adult puzzle? And so I started actually creating a brand and ancillary products and all of these things. I wrote books two and three. So in the next year, hopefully you'll see Fresno's first Christmas and Fresno finds his heart coming down the pipeline.
And Zach and I have even partnered and talked about another series that would run with my friend Fresno alongside it. And it is crazy. This was a healing [00:50:00] project. It was a way for me to escape, silence and darkness. And now it really is this kind of injection of. Color opportunity and excitement in my life.
And so I am just so excited about how it's growing. It's starting small, it's one of those things where it's okay. That things start small. I think there's a way to find beauty in that too. The brand is establishing, I'm setting up who we want to be. And so I just cannot wait for your listeners and for people around the world to fall in love with Fresno.
Beth: [00:50:32] God. I'm sure there will. So as a young business now then, so what are you finding is working for you in terms of getting your message out there into the world?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:50:40] I think being so loud that people can't look away, and making sure your brand and, the message that you want to share for me, it's been saying I'm willing to allow my vulnerability to enter into my business. Not everybody uses that. I'm willing to do that because I think this is so much more than just a business endeavor for me.
It is a way to. Create a new [00:51:00] life and to create opportunities and joy for both myself and my little CEO, co-CEO Reagan. And so it's really, it's really been this exciting journey of saying, put yourself out there. Reach out to any groups you think you can, for me, there's a purpose to Fresno.
It's not just the business, there's a purpose of education and, assisting therapist and making sure grief, support groups have access to these materials. And I'm, I want it to have a reach and that, for me, it includes me saying this is how it's helped our life. This is how I think it can help other people's lives and making sure I'm developing the partnerships, really around the globe that can help me do that.
Beth: [00:51:39] How exciting. It's an amazing journey to be on. And
I think sometimes as business owners, we want to go from zero to a hundred miles an hour straight away. And actually there's real benefit in that journey of getting it right. You don't want to, make all these mistakes. So I think [00:52:00] it does take time, but I think it should take time if we're going to,
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:52:04] And it's okay. When you do make the mistakes. Yeah. That's right. And you got to give yourself permission to learn and to be able to say, I don't know, at all, asking for help, and expecting the unexpected. There's been so many delays and so many lessons learned and what it is its permission to say, you can try and if it doesn't work, just don't do that again.
It's not, it doesn't have to be so complex that. You feel, you made a mistake now your business is done, right? Everyone makes mistakes. And so it's really a learning process and giving yourself the permission to continue to fight for big things to happen. I used to say there's a lot of should that I should be doing. There's really just a lot of kids that I could be doing. I could be doing X, Y, and Z and whatever I get you today. Great. But we've got years ahead of us to make the real magic.
Beth: [00:52:54] So they show it's all about visualizing you. What do you see next for yourself and Fresno and Reagan in the [00:53:00] future?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:53:00] An ability to celebrate who I've become and not necessarily what I've been. So making sure that I give myself permission to say what's new, what's exciting. What do you really want and value out of life? Again, as a single mom, it's been really difficult to say, can you give up things that are quote, stable and dream?
And I think if I don't do that, then I can't ever look back and say Reagan, remember your mom did that. Your mom tried. And maybe I succeeded and maybe I didn't, but I'm building the confidence and the ability to say you deserve. The magic, you have the ability beyond what you know, so I'm pressed that to give yourself a chance.
And so I hope in the future, there's this moment where I say, I want to be free from what was, and I want to really look forward, fully into what could be.
Beth: [00:53:52] I'm so excited for your future and Reagan journey on this as well. where can people find out more about your books and the work [00:54:00] that you do?
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:54:00] Oh, my goodness. So there's two ways you can follow me. You can follow me as Dr. Ashley mom and the criminologist that's at www.ashleywellman.com or on Twitter at Dr. Ashley Wellman. But the exciting journey of my friend, Fresno is a way for people to really connect with us and join our skeleton crew. At www.my friend, fresno.com.
That's the exclusive place where you can buy the book and then you can also follow our journey on social media at my friend, Fresno.
Beth: [00:54:35] Amazing. And I'll put all of those details in the show notes for today's show. And we've also got a special discount code for anybody who would like to purchase the Fresno book of a pop that in the show notes as well. So thank you so much. For being on the show today, it's been lovely to hear your story, and on what you've been able to achieve out of, adversity.
And I'm sure a lot of listeners will get so much out of today's episode. So thank you for being here.
Dr Ashley Wellman: [00:54:58] Thank you so very much. I [00:55:00] encourage your listeners to dream big and never stop chasing the light. That is always there. Even when it feels really dark in our lives.
Wasn't that the most amazing interview I am so proud. I think this is one of the proudest episodes I've done to date Ashley's ability to navigate and show resilience. After a series of losses, the loss of her unborn babies, the loss of her jobs, the loss of her husband, the loss of her sense of identity when she was unable to apply for a job was overwhelming and inspiring.
And just so empowering. But that strength to recognize that other people don't get to define you unless you let them. So often we allow people to define who we are, but that's because we have given them our power in any given circumstance, we are able to take, hold of the reins and define ourselves the way that we want to be defined.
I also really loved what Ashley said about. You cannot lose all the things that you have [00:56:00] accomplished. And I think we forget this sometimes just because we lose a job, it does not mean we've lost all of the skills and experiences that came with that. Just because we've lost our husband or our partner or a child or a parent it doesn't mean we've lost the ability to love with the same magnitude as we did when they were here with us on earth. As Ashley puts it, there is power in choice. and, we get to choose every single second, how we live our lives. I really feel like Ashley was the first guest that I've had, who allowed me to have a conversation about that intertwineness of our lives, how people are placed on our path sometimes for a season, but sometimes for a lifetime or their lifetime, but that we are also helping them on their journeys.
It is no coincidence that Ashley worked at Barnes and noble and has got this events and PR background. It's no coincidence that she loved crime and unsolved murder programs, and that she loved to watch them with [00:57:00] her own father when she was a child. And it's no coincidence that Ashley worked with the families of homicide and sexual assault victims, and that she had already experienced this imprint on her soul that was allowing her to have the empathy and strength and resilience to get through her own tragedies.
It's no coincidence that Ashley had a picture of her. Two-year-old daughter dancing with a skeleton and her friend who inspired her to write a book. Her story just illuminates to me even more, how we're all interconnected and how all of these dots on our journey are the sum of where we are heading.
And if you look close enough, there'll be clues to where we are going in the future. It also really resonated with me what Ashley said about breaking and being vulnerable doesn't mean that you are broken. You can still rebuild yourself at any point in time. Wow. This was such an amazing episode. I am so grateful that Ashley was able to come onto the show and share her [00:58:00] story. And how we were able to have such a deep and meaningful conversation Please do go check out the show notes to find out more about Ashley and where you can pick up her wonderful book. The girl who dances with skeletons, my friend Fresno. And if you are experiencing grief loss, sudden death, if you have children who are going through their own losses or as an adult, and you just need that support. Please do go check out the book. I'm sure it will bring you a lot of light and love in a difficult situation until next time.