Patricia McMorrow | 03.16.21
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.
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.