Living Through Loss of Wife and Mom is ‘Long Game’ for Family

Going on four years since the death of his wife of 21 years, Ann, to melanoma at age 47, Dave Dickey of Edina, MN, will tell you he is doing well. With an asterisk.

Their kids are good—two daughters, two sons. “Somehow, they’re fed, they get to school, they have wonderful friendships … they just have amazing bright lights,” Dave said. He is also grateful for work he enjoys, close family and friends, and coming to terms with over-reliance on take-out. (Ann cooked; Dave doesn’t.)

But this is not the life Dave imagined. “I hope I haven’t sounded like everything is great, because I don’t think it is,” he said. “You’re forever changed by losing a spouse, your business partner, the mother of your children. I want to be honest about that; it is completely life-changing.”

This seismic change started out small when, in June 2014, Ann felt a bump high on the back of her neck, where she pulled her hair into a ponytail. Thinking it was a tick, she had one of the kids pluck it out. The spot never really healed, but Ann figured it was a function of a humid summer and a location that was rubbed by the back edge of her ball-cap and ponytail holders.

In mid-September, she noticed the bump had scabbed over. With a routine dermatologist check already booked for December—a lifetime outdoors as a championship golfer turned coach made Ann careful about her skin—she went about her busy life.

On the morning of Nov. 2, though, the bump was noticeably larger, and her younger son told her it looked “gross.” She was able to get a clinic appointment that afternoon, where the doctor removed what he hoped was a blood blister from incomplete tick removal. Instead, it was melanoma.

And just like that, scans, surgeries, blood work, radiation, chemo, clinical trials and 80-mile drives back-and-forth to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, became part of the Dickey Family story. But what was already part of the story—faith, family and friends—became even more prominent.

Dave Dickey, with kids Katie and Jack, seated, and Josh and Elizabeth, standing. In the years since Ann’s death in 2017, grief still comes in waves. Dave said, “You never really know when it is going to show up. It can bring you to your knees. Other times it just affects you.”

In her first CaringBridge Journal entry, Ann wrote, “I feel so richly blessed … I can feel your love and I can feel your prayers. You are the strongest team/community/family/warriors anyone could ask for, and I am humbled.”

The community came to be called “Annie’s Army.” At first it was a sign-up sheet to make meals and drive the kids to activities, for which the Dickeys were immensely grateful. “Thinking back, it really was quite amazing the way that a community showed up for our family,” Dave said. “We were very, very fortunate.”

But as the cancer kept encroaching, Ann’s needs and approach to support shifted. Although she never really got a reprieve, she remained incredibly active and engaged until the very end. Along the way, Ann created a “sporting mission” for her army: She wanted more girls to learn to play golf.

The game had brought Ann such joy—and frustration, too, because, after all, it’s golf. As a student, she led her Edina High School team to a state championship in 1988. And in 2017, three months before her death, Ann helped coach the state-championship team on which her older daughter was co-captain.

On behalf of Ann, her army donated to make high school girls’ golf at Edina a no-cut sport and established a league for young girls. “Golf is a lifelong sport that suffers from scarcity of courses and privilege,” Dave said. “If we can get girls to golf early on, they’re exposed to a wonderful sport and a wonderful way to build relationships. Ann thought it would be a fun way for young girls to get acquainted with a game she loved so much.”

While grateful for a legacy of youth development in golf and swimming, too, Ann wondered whether she had done enough. In her last CaringBridge post, three weeks before her passing on Sept. 13, 2017, she wrote, “When I start looking back at what I have done with my life, I wrestle with questions that really make me think.” Had she worked, coached, supported and loved enough? Had she made a difference?

Dave has four points of proof that his wife made a magnificent difference: Katie (21), Elizabeth (19), Jack (16) and Josh (14). “They miss their Mom. They knew she was incredibly special,” he said. “We are all broken, but healing is never-ending.”

On the most recent anniversary of her passing, Dave put his thoughts into words for their kids, choosing some relevant, wonderful stories about Ann’s love as a mom and some “fatherly lessons” he believes Ann would have echoed:

“Live your life. We all know it’s precious and oftentimes too short, so live it.

“I have a faith. Yours will be there when you need it.

“Call your Dad. He might be able to help.”

As Dave and the kids find their paths toward healing, Ann’s strong faith and the support of the Dickey Family’s amazing community have been comforts. Grief is the souvenir of great love, Dave said. But love always wins.

  • Tricia Fletcher

    Wow! “Grief is the souvenir of great love.” What a great, and insightful thought!

    Stay strong, my brother-in-Christ. Keep being the best parent to those kids that you can be!

    That is the BEST way you can honor Ann! I know she had/has all of the faith in the world in you and I am certain that gave her peace in those last few weeks.

    May God bless you on the rest of your life’s journey and may you each find peace and understanding in all of this. [virtual long hug] Tricia

  • Mark Kageyama

    I have stage 4 cancer myself, so I have come to grips with so many things. Ty for you for sharing your story. Its amazing how many people are willing to help IF you asked for it. Ask and you shall receive! God Bless you and your journey moving forward!

  • Jerry harris

    What do I do for mom losing her mind dad just died he did e art thing for her except breath to which put her more mentally disabled here at home 8 taken care dad cal 911 every weekend and he ‘ve from at y seam I can’t find help mom said why is she still liveing

  • Beth Butler

    I always say an extra prayer when I think of Dave and his 4 kids in MN. And it is so so true….”Grief is the souvenir of great love.” I tell that to myself and my sister when we miss our parents…..Her legacy did touch so many….her lessons to continue to live…even in suffering…you all too…have pressed forward…but know her memories give you comfort…in those missing moments…GOD BLESS you ALL!!! Peace..Beth Butler

  • Ed & Berrie Lounsberry

    Dave & Family,
    Your journey has inspired us…Ann was a lovely person & she would be proud of how you have managed to continue living full lives, each one of you! May God bless you all with his love, peace & joy. Your family radiates Ann’s big heart & bright smile!
    Ed & Berrie❤️

  • Mark Bailey

    Wow. What a wonderful post! The way you and the kids have navigated through all of this is so inspiring. Dave, what a great husband and dad you are. God bless all of you and please know that you are in a lot of people’s prayers.

  • T. Windahl

    What a beautiful and meaningful post!!
    I’m so grateful to have met Ann and shared a couple coffee times with her. What a special person she was!! I will always remember her, and I continue to pray for your beautiful family weekly. God bless all of you!!

  • Liz Otteson

    What a beautiful look at the journey of grieving Ann and living out her legacy. She certainly did enough (and more!), with so much love, joy, and faith. Sending big love and big hugs to all the Dickeys and Forrests! Love wins. Ann lives on in our hearts.

  • Deb Traun

    Thank you Dave and family, for sharing and showing us what “love” looks like; the full spectrum.
    I miss Ann; I am a healthier person today having known her.
    Truly, Love Wins !!!!

  • Cheryl Dowell

    Dave, I think of you & Ann often and they are always sweet memories of a time when you guys lived here in Louisville and we all worked together! Those were some great times. Ann was one of a kind! Such a sweet, caring person. I will hold onto those wonderful memories of her forever. Much love and prayers to you sweet Dave and to your beautiful family. I see Ann’s kind eyes in each of your children. Love always…

  • Karen Bickel

    Prayers for you and your family. Ann was one of my mentors in life that I looked up too. She was very Special.

  • Kevin Casey

    Beautifully writing about a beautiful woman gone too soon, and a beautiful legacy left, family and all.

  • Kelli & Steve Pricco

    Great story; we miss Ann and remember her often.
    Love to you and the kids,
    Kelli & Steve

  • Amy Tuchenhagen

    Beautiful! Love wins! Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. Many fond memories with Ann bring me joy.

  • Maureen

    Love always wins. And don’t push off calling your dad or mom!

  • Jane

    Truly such a powerful message. Doug and I think of you all and Ann all the time. Her gift of an amazing mother will live on forever. You all, as are we, are blessed to have had her in our lives. Sending hugs!

  • Jane Stewart

    Love your comment, Grief is the souvenir of great love. “To leave in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
    Thomas Campbell.

  • Mary Esser

    Beautiful words. Dave. Thank you for sharing. As part of the 1988 Edina Girls golf team, I can attest to her strong leadership. Her love of the game was contagious and brought out the best in all of us. Her bright light lives on in her beautiful family and love does truly win!

  • Robin Savageau

    Thank you for bringing me back here, to remember Ann. A person who made giant and tiny differences in the lives of every person she met. And thank you for giving us a chance to see Dave and his story, his love for family, and his impactful example of parenting with grit and with grace.

  • Jenny George

    What a beautiful article about an amazing family! You guys are all so special!

  • Tina Bohrer

    Ann still living on in our hearts. Love to all the Dickeys.

  • Jerry Kenline

    A beautiful article.
    She was a doll!
    With love,

  • Denise Poole

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing. I hope you feel the love and a big hug coming from Chicago.

  • Vic Ippolito

    David- I love you even more!

  • Nick Mehring

    Very inspiring story of healing!