The Suburb Woman
Posted on September 7th, 2016

Mutual friends posted an obituary on Facebook. A wife, a mother, a daughter, and friend who loved animals, lip smackers, beach vacations and caring for the homeless had died. Prayer was requested for Robert Black, a respected chef and restauranteur, daughter Hanna and son Jude.

My heart broke for them. As I sat with Mike our last days together, the beautifully written tribute prompted me to do what I had delayed… plan a funeral, write an obituary and produce a memorial video.

Following Mike’s funeral, people naturally went back to their lives. I put on a face. I counted the minutes between tears, then hours. I just wanted to sleep. I answered, “How are you?” with, “I’m fine.” Sitting in the ashes of what had been my dreams… I needed a lifeline. I wondered if I could breathe in two weeks, much less two years.

That’s when I uncharacteristically sent a message to Robert, whom I’d never met, but shared a few mutual friends and the grief of losing a spouse… “Does it get better?” I asked. I was so desperate for a glimpse of relief. I wanted to recall the message as soon as I hit send.

A few days passed when a reply came: “I wasn't sure how to answer. First, thanks for reaching out to me. Just knowing there are others who have to work through something like this makes me not feel so alone. I'm very sorry to hear about your husband. I'm also very sorry to know you and your kids are working through this. It's been a month to the day for me. I can tell you while my days have gotten easier, evenings have not. I struggle the most when I'm alone with my thoughts. I don't know if you're up for it, but I would be happy to meet you for coffee or just some conversation. Like you, I have plenty of support from family and close friends, but none that know what it's like. Many blessings, Robert.”

We met on a Sunday afternoon in July. To talk to someone without the worry of hurting them was a respite from being “strong.” Robert and I shared about our kids, the trauma of death sharply etched in our memory, the guilt of thinking we could’ve done more, and the dark chasm of loneliness.

We shared and cried for two hours in an empty restaurant. Thankful for the impromptu “support group,” we made plans to try and visit every couple of weeks.

There was safety in spending time with someone who had the same plans for the rest of his life as I did – never fall in love, never marry. As far as I was concerned, that part of my life was over. We both still faithfully wore our wedding rings.

But over the course of the fall – casual dinners and a chance meeting at an event – we discovered while our hearts were severely wounded, they were open to healing. As a result of the great loss we’d experienced and out of concern for our children, we were blatantly honest about what we liked, disliked, as well as compromises we wouldn’t make when considering the possibility, we were becoming more than friends.

We shared the same values, with honesty and being a good person at the top. Over dinners, we also discovered so many similarities in our stories: Jami, his late wife, and I both had daughters when we married; our wedding anniversaries were separated by only one day – Oct. 27 and Oct. 28; we had sons born three years apart who loved Minecraft and Doctor Who; and we shared an immense love for family. He grew up without a dad and intimately understood how that feels for Sam.

LifeChurch’s Pastor Craig Groeschel shared a message that resonated deeply with me: “When God is going to do something wonderful, He always starts with a hardship; but when God is going to do something amazing, He starts with an impossibility.”

A year ago, every sunrise burned. I couldn’t escape the pain and the helpless, hopeless feelings that continually flooded my heart. The thought of being social, much less dating again, was impossible. Finding joy, friendship, adoration, trust and comfort with how broken hearted, exhausted and frightened I felt – well, it was incomprehensible.

Robert and I concluded, given enough time, we could've finished the fortresses we were building around our hearts and been fully capable of living the rest of our lives alone. So, in God’s divine wisdom we met early while emotions were raw, strength was limited, and filters were gone. We cut through formalities. And as a result of our friendship and growing relationship, over many months we worked through complex feelings that accompany the loss of a spouse that might’ve just stayed locked away.

I know there are those that think this is too soon. There were times during my life I made the same judgement of people without having walked in their shoes. But what we’ve discovered is our story and love doesn’t diminish the love or the memory of those we’ve lost… Our love for Mike and Jami are forever woven into the fabric of our hearts, our lives and the lives of our children. We kept our vows. They will never be forgotten and it’s special that we’re both able to openly share memories of our late spouses with our children.

We see the concept of time much differently too. You always think you have enough time to plan that trip, take that walk, write that letter, make that call… The 16 years Robert spent with Jami and the 14 years I spent with Mike seem like a vapor. We thought we had the rest of our lives. So, we’ve learned to make the time now for what matters most and to choose the important over the urgent when schedules are busy. We don’t need more time to be more sure we were meant to be together.

Robert took me to dinner at Signature Grill (Edmond, OK)  in August. The only other time we had dined there we were just friends. I wanted to be upfront the first time we met there as to why I was uncomfortable – I still felt married and it felt wrong to be one-on-one with another man. Robert assuaged my fears by ensuring me the thought of dating or being in a relationship was only possible in “an alternate universe.”

Yet, here we are, in that impossibility of an alternate universe… where at the end of an amazing meal, Robert gave me a handwritten written card, shared moving words from his heart, then pulled a ring from his pocket as he dropped to one knee. I said, “Yes!” over and over.

We are the sum parts of our life experiences and the people who have played a role. This was not the story Robert and I started out writing for ours or our children’s lives. We are not in each other’s lives because someone died. We are here because of a God that is so big we can’t begin to comprehend His plans. It is a beautiful gift to love someone so deeply again.

I’ve learned the human soul is capable of immense love. The writings of a woman in her 30s whose husband died in a plane crash and found herself falling in love and remarrying said it best:  “Love is not mutually exclusive and human beings are not replaceable. I’m not moving on – I’m moving forward. I’m writing beautiful new chapters with a man who has the emotional capacity and understanding to be the man that came after… And there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Robert understands. He says I’m complex, not complicated and allows me to feel the myriad of emotions that still happen at times. He has the comfort to do the same. I could’ve never imagined the blessing of a second chapter with a man as good, thoughtful, kind and loving as him. 

And I can’t wait to spend what I hope is the rest of my life with the man who came after... Robert Black.

Posted on June 15th, 2016

When I started writing this post, it was about death.

Last spring, I was standing on metaphorical train tracks as a runaway locomotive bared down on my family. The light was blinding and the horn was deafening. Impact was inevitable. The painful aftermath was sharp, deep and left permanent scars.

As this monumental day – June 15 – approached, I swear I could hear the train again. I realized I needed to be raw and release painful memories from the recesses of my healing heart. 

The mental images of the last month, the last week, the last day of Michael’s life, might be more vivid now because shock and exhaustion kept me in a haze a year ago. I couldn’t process it at the time. Instead, I focused on attending to him and memorizing all that I could. I wanted to hold on to all “the lasts” tightly. I tried to slow time, stay awake, be present.

I remember the last time I took Michael outside to watch Sam jump in the pool, to see the flowers. The last time I fed him breakfast, shaved his face, saw his smile, heard him laugh. The last time I saw his eyes, held his hand, and heard his heart beat. All were bittersweet.

I remember the helplessness as I dutifully selected a cemetery plot, a coffin, a church and planned a funeral all while he slept at home.

I can still hear his last breath. I remember how peaceful he looked when his fight was won. 

I remember the last time Michael left the house. It was 9:17 a.m. His body was wheeled out the front door, past the larkspur and pink roses, down the sidewalk and into the van. I sat on the porch long after he left. I felt vacant as the rest of the world kept spinning while mine stopped.

I remember sleeping for hours and wishing I could comfort my kids. I was unable to answer Sam’s constant question, “why did dad have to die?” I couldn’t soothe their shattered hearts. I could only hold them.

I remember standing in the closet looking at all of Michael’s clothes, shoes, ties, belts, pocket change, lapel pin, business cards, wallet and collections of memories feeling empty, lost. I remember the painful task of picking out the one suit, the one tie, the one shirt and the pair of shoes to dress him in one last time.

I remember friends and family, the music, the cards, the flowers, the hugs, the calls, the food. I smiled at the sliver of a moon and the presence of Jupiter in the west at twilight as I walked out of the funeral home following visitation. 

And I remember standing at his grave that warm summer day, watching his earthly home lowered into the ground, tossing dirt and one rose with the casket, bewildered by the finality of never seeing him again. I remember monster waves of sadness rolling through my heart over and over with every sun rise for weeks on end.

That’s what June 15, 2015, has reminded me of… pain, sadness and death. 

The toughest part of the first year and passing the day of death, I’m finding, is it’s hard to celebrate the life of the one you love. Some people like to call it a, “Heavenly Birthday.” Maybe so. I haven’t felt that way. And I’ve struggled with how to honor this day for the first time for my kids and I without making it about how Michael Dickinson died, but how he lived.

I’ve only dreamed about him twice. Both times he was still sick and it left me feeling sad. I did feel God’s comfort through the presence of a scissortail in the days and weeks following his death. 

God has been so merciful by opening my heart to love again, blessing our lives with friends and new relationships, and wiping our tears with smiles and laughter. I’m excited about planning a future and what life still holds for my family and I. It doesn’t mean, however, that Michael isn’t loved and missed. We openly talk about special memories, fun times and even our sadness. 

However, I’ve had to rely completely on my faith in, “that which is unseen,” to believe his soul is alive and in the presence of God and not in the cemetery where I buried him a year ago. It’s hard not feel like I’ve betrayed him, at times, by living.

Until yesterday morning… When an unexplainable moment in my car warmed my heart and confirmed he is very alive and very well.

For those who didn’t personally know Michael… He wore a suit and tie every day, shined his shoes every morning, was the epitome of professionalism, articulate, cultured and polished. But he was every bit a Healdton, Okla. boy when it came to Willie Nelson. He didn’t listen to country music past circa 1970s, but Willie was king. There are friends who say, when they hear Willie, they talk about Michael, or, when they talk about Michael they listen to Willie. 

As far as I go… I love music. I communicate through music. It is definitely my love language. I love all kinds of genres and have meticulously created playlists I listen to in my car, at home, and in the office almost continually. I love Willie, but he hasn’t been in my current lineup for reasons explained above. 

Yesterday I reflected as I woke that June 14, 2015, was Michael’s last full day on earth. We celebrated Sam’s birthday early (his isn’t until July 25th) as well as Father’s Day. There were a few friends over and we had cake and ice cream while opening gifts. By nightfall, we realized he was dying. As the sun rose June 15, 2015, he was gone. 

When I turned my car on yesterday, for no explainable reason, the song that came on was Willie Nelson singing Amazing Grace from an album I’ve never heard of called, The Troublemaker. It only took a few measures for me to realize it was all Michael. As I listened more intently to the words than I ever have before, an incredibly warm feeling came over me. There was no more poignant way to tell me he was very much alive and very much with God. I swear I heard his laugh when it hit me.

So, today isn’t about death for me anymore. It’s about life. 

It’s about grace and the precious gift we’re given to make the most of each day. Michael was a warrior up until God called his soul home. He was passionate about life. He was a dedicated father, loving husband, adoring grandfather, loyal friend and the utmost professional. Life wasn’t always perfect and neither was he. In fact, the meaningful part about the song is not just Willie singing, but Michael’s favorite saying when he shared his faith or taught Sunday School was, “I’m the wretch the song talks about.” 

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see."

As we have witnessed on the news recently and experienced in our own lives… death doesn’t discriminate. It takes babies, mamas, daddies, old, beautiful, righteous, addicted, wealthy, homeless, successful and everything in between. 

There aren’t too many gifts cancer or death leaves in its wake, but it does put an entirely new value on time and how you choose to spend it. Too much about life can keep us looking back or planning ahead. Life is where you are, friend. It is a dear and precious gift. 

Our days are too precious to hold grudges, to live in regret, to pass judgements, to not forgive, or to isolate yourself. I don’t honor Michael’s life by stopping mine at the point his heart stopped. I’ve come to realize having loved and lost can enable you to be open to loving even more than you ever thought possible.

And possibly most importantly, we should be as passionate about and committed to building bank accounts of memories, love, forgiveness, hope and happiness as we are businesses, money and material possessions. 

So, today, June 15, 2016, I celebrate not only Michael lives and was a powerful part of mine and Grace’s life for 13 years as well as gave us the sweet gift of Samuel Hatfield Dickinson. But, that God has used the imperfections, the pain and the joy in our life over the past few years to bring us to the place we are today. 

I have hope.
I choose life.
I feel love.
I am blessed.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace that brought me safe this far
and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures."

Posted on June 1st, 2016

As redbuds bloom and tulips turn their heads toward the sun, it’s bittersweet to think of the difference a year makes. It’s spring – literally and figuratively. After months of being quiet and reflecting, I feel a deep burden to write more honestly about my journey with God, grief and guilt.

Last year, fear was my constant companion. I saw spring as an ending. It was the end of a life I cherished with a man and family I dearly loved. There was no joy for us as the world bloomed because Michael was quickly fading.

Despite everything I said I believed at that time, I doubted God. I was mad. I was devastated. I made futile attempts to cut deals with Him, such as, “God, if you will just heal him, I will…” But mostly, I just felt abandoned. 

Everything seemed like such a waste. A waste of a man with so much to give to the world – now unable to talk, to see, confused by simple instructions and confined to a chair. A waste of all the time investing in a marriage, a life, future plans that were not to be, all of which was compounded by the helplessness of watching my children lose their innocence without the ability to intercede. In March 2015, I wrote: “It’s as if we are standing on railroad tracks with a locomotive barreling toward us. I can't stop it or move, so I'm constantly bracing for impact.”

It’s difficult to think anything good could come out having your heart being blown through your chest when you hold the lifeless body of the one you vowed to love and cherish the rest of your life. The primal cry from the depths of my heart when death came is something I will never forget.  

In the ensuing days following the funeral I watched sunsets daily from Michael’s grave, sat in the darkness at night staring at his photo, read and re-read letters he wrote to me, smelled his clothes in the closet, and even at times, prayed the world would end. I was never alone, yet, I never felt more alone. Did I really believe there was a God and a Heaven? And if there was, where was He?

I began two “offline” journals. One, written directly to Michael. The first entry was the day he died. 

June 15, 2015

You went to Heaven this morning.
I’m broken, lost, empty, alone.
I kissed you over and over.
I miss you.
For the first time since we met, you’re unreachable.
Our son is devastated. Grace is crushed.
I look toward where you’ve always been and the chair is empty.
I’m living my worst nightmare – I’m in a world you’re not in.

A little more than a week later I began a faith journal of sorts. It was a desperate attempt to work out whether God abandoned me or if I was the one who abandoned Him. I wrote to God…

June 26, 2015

When will you comfort me?
I am profoundly sad.
The truth is what I need most.
Give me understanding.
Strengthen me.
Be gracious to me.
Direct me.
Turn my heart.
Turn my eyes.

On June 30, 2015, I wrote and prayed this Psalms (31:10, 14-15):

I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Misery has drained my strength; I am wasting from within. But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying You are my God! My future is in your hands!

I wanted to wholeheartedly believe. I just couldn’t.

Contrast that with my entry to Michael on the same date…

June is gone and so are you… I think I smiled more than I cried today when I talked about you. 
I count the hours throughout the day – they go so slow. I like the days best where I sleep. I’m seeking God’s will. It’s my only hope for peace in all this. I wish I could be with you.

One day at a time sounds trite, but it’s true. God began opening doors before I even knew they were there. Through the journaling, sleepless nights, questions and tears – He slowly softened my heart. So many years I “served” God out of fear, obligation and pride. But, I didn’t truly know Him, love him, believe Him like I thought I did. It’s not always a priority to build a relationship with God when the world seems right. Now, I was desperate. And as a parent holds a heartbroken child – I started to feel God everywhere.  

As I read my posts and journal entries I can see the progression I couldn't see in the midst of the storm. I wrote only the following words on Sept. 1, 2015, from 19th century pastor Charles Spurgeon in my faith journal that resonates today…

"Don’t you know day dawns after night, showers displace drought and spring and summer follow winter? Then, have HOPE! Hope forever, for God will not fail you."

God did not fail me, despite my disbelief.

He comforted me through Bible readings, books, church, people and prayer. He still does. He changed my heart and my priorities. I no longer view the world or problems the way I did before. A friend shared God was working faster in some areas in my life than others to make himself so obviously known I couldn’t deny Him. Maybe my heart was truly closed off that much.

In November, I wrote for the last time in Michael’s journal. The words captured what I’ve wrestled with and still do – the guilt associated with my disbelief, grief and survivor’s guilt:

Nov. 10, 2015

Passed our anniversary and approaching five months and the holidays. I don’t feel you around much anymore, but I’m hopeful you’re well. 

I feel guilty for living and being able to love again. It doesn’t replace you, but I’m happy. That is a miracle… I’ve cleaned out the closet and I’m getting ready to remodel. I need the house to be different, the space to be new. I’m still sad when I think of you being so sick and the way you died. But, you have taught me how gracefully it can be done. 

When I read back I remember all the feelings and emotions, but I also see how far I’ve come. While I may not feel you near, I do know God is, and my life is not finished. 

I will never forget you. Your work here was finished, your legacy is big, and your memory will always live on in our lives through the love we now carry forward. 

Goodnight Michael. 

My pastor asked the question from a series titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense:" What if the scene of our greatest disappointment was the setting for our greatest moment? He used the illustration of Lazarus’s story – how with God, a waiting season is never a wasted season and God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.

Waiting is never wasted... It’s a paradigm shift for me. Waiting began on Sept. 27, 2013: Waiting on test results, waiting on radiation, waiting on chemotherapy, waiting on doctor appointments, waiting on planes, waiting on MRIs, and then, waiting on death. The time that passes after a terminal diagnosis is at a much different pace. Time passes quickly up to the point of death, then, it crawls – a day is a week, a week is a month and a month is a year. 

However, waiting is not wasted when spring comes forth from winter. The trees roots are a little deeper and the world comes alive anew and refreshed. 

It is difficult to bless and release the guilt of disbelief I carried in my heart for God through much of Michael’s illness; the guilt of being happy more than sad, seeing another spring… And yes, a measure of guilt for being in love with someone who knows my pain and walks the same path I do. That, in and of itself, could only be a gift from God.

But even as I wrestle with guilt and grief, I feel hope in the depths of my heart and soul. 

Hope that God truly answered my prayer of healing for Michael in his perfect way and will. 

Hope, that despite my actions, He didn’t or will never abandoned me.

And in surviving an experience I’d pictured to be unsurvivable – Hope that He isn’t finished with me yet.

Posted on December 20th, 2015

​Happy 60th Birthday in Heaven Michael... You are always with us and loved. We're not moving on, but moving forward. I'm filled with joy and sadness as I reflect that you are experiencing what Christmas is all about this milestone birthday - a baby boy who was born, lived and then died on a cross that we might have the gift of salvation and an eternity with God...

"...Celebrating a birthday reminds us of the goodness of life, and in this spirit we really need to celebrate people's birthdays every day by showing gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness and affection." -Henri Nouwen

​Michael Wayne Dickinson, of Edmond, Okla., defeated brain cancer while being held by his loving wife when he was welcomed into the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Monday, June 15, after a courageous and well-fought battle. 

He was born Dec. 20, 1955, to Harrell and Pearl Dickinson in Ardmore, Okla. and grew up in Healdton. Michael was always proud of his Southern Oklahoma roots and graduated with honors from Healdton High School in 1974. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Oklahoma State University and began his career with Peat Marwick (KPMG) in the Oklahoma City office upon graduation as well as received his license as a Certified Public Accountant.  

In 1984, he moved his family to Ardmore, Okla. where he was the president of Michael W. Dickinson, CPA, Inc. for more than 15 years before joining The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in 2000 as Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer. Michael served as the president of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, president of the Ardmore Rotary Club, served on the board of directors of the Mercy Memorial Hospital of Southern Oklahoma, and as president of the Board of Education for Plainview Public Schools. His greatest joy in Ardmore was raising three sons and volunteering for many church and community activities.

In 2002, life took Michael back to Oklahoma City where he returned to public accounting. On Oct. 28, 2003, he married Lori Hatfield. He often told the story to friends that in meeting Lori his world emerged “in Technicolor.” Michael was invited to join the BancFirst family in January 2006 as senior vice president and trust officer in the Oklahoma City corporate offices. Michael and Lori became actively involved in the civic and arts community while raising Lori’s daughter Grace and welcoming a son, Samuel Hatfield Dickinson. 

Michael was a proud member of Class II of Leadership Oklahoma and the OKC Downtown Rotary Club 29. He served on the board of directors or executive committees of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Oklahoma City Allied Arts, Hewitt Mineral Corporation, OSU Foundation Board of Governors, OSU Alumni Association, OCU’s Meinders School of Business, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, Leadership Oklahoma and Oklahoma Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was Governor Frank Keating’s appointee to the Oklahoma DHS Commission and was the first president of the Oklahoma State Board of Juvenile Affairs. 

Michael’s passion was experiencing life to the fullest and never letting a moment pass to tell people he loved and appreciated them. Together Michael and Lori backpacked 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Maine; hiked from the north to south rim of the Grand Canyon twice (a feat he completed six times); climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine; and hiked across the White Mountains and Mount Washington in New Hampshire, to name a few. Michael also enjoyed hiking with friends the last 50 miles of Maine’s 100-mile wilderness and with his older sons on other sections of the AT and in El Paso. Michael and Lori loved to travel to Coronado Island, Taos/Santa Fe, New York City, and thought of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, as a second home and consider friends there their extended family. He was a voracious reader who had an insatiable desire to learn and loved the arts and all things Oklahoma State. 

Michael will be forever missed by his loving wife Lori, his son Samuel and daughter Grace, of the home; son John and daughter-in-law Miranda of Stillwater, Okla.; son Joseph and daughter-in-law Tisha of El Paso, Texas; and son Michael and daughter-in-law Terra, of Tunkhannock, Penn. He was the loving “Papa” of Natalie, Reagan, David and Macy Dickinson of El Paso, Texas, and Michael, Benaiah, Joyous and Elisabeth of Tunkhannock, Penn. He is survived by his father-in-law and mother-in-law Dan and Yvonne Hatfield of Norman, Okla., who provided extensive support with his care; brother-in-law and sister-in-law David and Lori Beth Hatfield and nephew Clay and niece Sarah of Stillwater, Okla.; his Aunt Sue and Uncle Duke Burnett of Wills Point, Texas; sister Sherri Johnson; numerous cousins across Oklahoma, Texas and California; and countless friends across the United States and Canada. His parents, Harrel and Pearl Dickinson, his grandparents, and several aunts and uncles preceded Michael in death. 

The family wishes to thank Dr. Brian Geister and numerous staff at the INTEGRIS Cancer Center of Oklahoma, Dr. Mark Gilbert with MD Anderson/National Institutes of Health Cancer Center, McCourtney Family Hospice, and the Rainbolt and BancFirst families for the care and compassion showed to Michael and the family during a difficult time.​

Posted on November 9th, 2015

​I think a lot about living and not just existing. I'm embracing love and hope. I'm taking chances without all the answers. I'm happy more than I'm sad. And I'm certain each day is gift even after the most difficult of months and the culmination of two years... I'm reading and thinking a lot lately before I write again - but something in Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies spoke to me last night... "We all wanted this because let's face it, it's so inspiring and such a relief when people find a way to bear the unbearable, when you can organize things in such a way that a tiny miracle appears to have taken place and that love has once again turn out to be bigger than fear and death and blindness.”