The Suburb Woman
Amazing Grace - Year One
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."

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