It was an overcast day at the graveside when we laid my wife’s mother down. The sky was the color of Quickrete. And it was hot. Grown men had sweat marks on the seats of their Sunday trousers. Ladies were fanning themselves.
Welcome to a funeral in South Alabama at high noon.
I led my wife beneath the tent while she clutched my arm tightly. I released her, kissed her forehead, and stood behind the casket, willing myself not to cry.
I had one official job today. To sing. I was supposed to sing three hymns. My friend, Aaron, drove all the way from Montgomery to accompany me on fiddle. And I was already choking up before things began.
Anyone who knows anything about singing knows that you can not sing if you are crying. Your throat closes up and you sound like a frog with laryngitis.
When I glanced at the mass of good people standing around the tent, things weren’t looking good for me. My chin began to wobble. My vision went blurry.
“Pull yourself together,” I was muttering quietly.
The preacher was in good voice. Brother Andy brought a Methodist message that made your heart feel good and sore at the same time. If there has ever been a funeral homily delivered with more humility and grace, it happened somewhere in Galilee.
Then it was my turn. The preacher gave me The Nod. The fiddle began playing. And it was time. The moment of truth.
I cleared my throat.
I opened my mouth and did my level best to sing “Amazing Grace” without messing up. And in this moment, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I ever sang at a funeral.
I was 10 years old. It was my grandfather’s funeral. My mother had wanted all six verses of “Amazing Grace.” Six long, arduous, hard-to-learn verses. She gave me one week to memorize them.
This was no small feat for a child. I practiced for seven solid days by keeping a tally sheet beside my bed. Every time I read through all the verses, I would make a mark on the notepad.
By the day of the funeral I had recited John Newton’s beloved hymn nearly 1,400 times. I still break into cold sweats whenever I see that old red hymnal.
But it worked. I sang before my granddaddy’s casket, which was draped in an American flag, and watched my father cry on the front row as I sang.
My father wore a full suit that day. He was a blue-collar man with sunburned skin and toughened hands, I’d never seen him in a suit. When I got to the fourth verse, my father quietly sang the song with me.
He knew all the words.
My father died shortly thereafter, and I would sing those same six verses at his funeral.
I’m a middle-aged man now, but somehow, in my heart I will forever be that little boy singing before his weeping father. At least that’s how I felt today—like a boy in grown-up clothes.
I was not ready for my mother-in-law to die. My wife and I took care of this woman, our lives were built around her needs. We ate meals with her. We sat with her. We did her grocery shopping.
When her COPD got bad, we connected her oxygen and reminded her to breathe. When my wife’s mother had appointments, we were the chauffeurs. We listened to her stories. We held her coffee mug while she sipped. We were holding her hands as she died.
And we learned a lot, too. In the time we helped take care of my wife’s mother, I can honestly say we got a crash course in caregiving.
My wife learned to tend to every human need. We learned to cook her favorite meals, to administer meds, to lift her frail body into the restroom. We learned how to remind her that she looked “mah-velous” even on days when she didn’t think so.
This is what I was thinking while I sang.
I was thinking about how life travels so fast it makes your face burn and your neck hurt. I was thinking about how I’m not unlike that little boy in the Salvation Army khakis who sang at his grandfather’s homegoing.
When I rounded the fourth verse this afternoon, I felt it happen. The dam burst. The tickle in my throat started small. Then it got a little bigger, until I had reached what we in the performance arts might call “The Point of No Return.”
My voice broke. A few hundred people watched me weep like an idiot before a casket. And, believe me, I should have been embarrassed by all this. But I wasn’t. Because immediately a powerful voice came from the front row that caused me to open my eyes.
My wife knew all the words.
orgillian - August 22, 2021 7:20 am
I’m getting close to what you and your wife just went through – Dad’s 89 and had a stroke about 3 months ago and Mom’s 86 and the dementia has its good and bad days with her. Thank you for graciously and gracefully describing what will likely be the future for many of us.
Christina - August 22, 2021 7:24 am
You love well Sean! Mother Mary would be so moved by your tears and know that all the “internet people” miss her too!
Sheri russell - August 22, 2021 7:41 am
Please know how moving your words are today. Thank you for sharing yourself and your feelings.
Brenda - August 22, 2021 7:47 am
Sean prayer’s of healing blessings for you and your wife as you are walking this painful journey. Thank you for sharing your precious loving moments of amazing grace. Keeping you in my daily prayer’s. Peace be with you. 🙏
Martha Black - August 22, 2021 8:55 am
God rest & bless both your weary hearts & bear you up a to a place of peace and truly amazing Grace. You have my heart, prayers & sincere affection. May you both rest & renew your strength.
Laura W - August 22, 2021 9:38 am
This took me right back to trying to sing the hymns at both mom and dad’s memorial services. You can’t sing and cry, you are so right.
Karen Lovelady-Liebnau - August 22, 2021 10:11 am
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” Thank you Sean. You took me back to the time I sang this at my mother’s funeral, with my niece accompanying on flute, and her husband on bass, all the while with her stories flowing through my mind, and washing over my heart like lapping waves on the seashore. I’ve come to know Mother Mary through your stories and I believe I can hear her say, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. Thank you Sean.”
Lucretia Jones - August 22, 2021 10:22 am
May each of you find comfort and peace in your mourning. Thank you for this journey, I shall return many times for the strength and support it gives me.
Cynthia Harmon - August 22, 2021 10:27 am
God’s many blessings and my prayers to you and Jaime in this hard time. It will be hard for quite a while, but I’m sure I’m not the only one praying. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. Find a good place to rest and renew your strength. Our love is with you.
Ernie Kelly - August 22, 2021 10:34 am
Wow. Tissue companies must be your biggest sponsors. Blessings and prayers to you and Jamie.
Leslie in NC - August 22, 2021 10:41 am
May blessed peace & rest for your weary souls find you and Jamie now, after all the heartbreaking events of late. Hold your memories close and each other closer. You are loved.
Darryl Murray - August 22, 2021 10:43 am
So sweet. God bless you both.
Joan Moore - August 22, 2021 10:48 am
“And Grace will lead me home.” Beautifully and lovingly done.
Pat Patton - August 22, 2021 11:02 am
My husband died suddenly and all I could think of was please have someone sing Amazing Grace at the funeral. I wish I could sing but I’ve listened to that song many times since. Loved hearing about Mother Mary’s homecoming day.
Heidi - August 22, 2021 11:08 am
I know Mother Mary appreciated your song and tears. She raised a good, strong, kind woman, just like herself. A helpmate in good times and bad. You and Jamie will get through this grief filled time and have all those wonderful memories of Mother Mary. Sending love & comfort to you both.
Beryl - August 22, 2021 11:27 am
Al Cato - August 22, 2021 11:30 am
I sit here with tears running down my face reading your tribute to Mother Mary. Thank you and Jaime for allowing us to be a part of your family and this journey. It has been an honor. God Bless you, Jaime and family.
Tammy Rouse - August 22, 2021 11:36 am
God bless you both. I agree with others. It took me back to my grandparents services and you just can’t sing and cry. Hugs and love to you and your family.
Betty Lowery - August 22, 2021 11:39 am
God bless you both. I’m crying now. Sending you both so much love.
Ann Anderson - August 22, 2021 11:43 am
Now, I’m crying! 😭😭😭 Love to you and your wife….
Jaye Slaton - August 22, 2021 11:45 am
That column made a middle aged man who lost his Father 3 years ago cry. He too loved Breton and spent many days on Belleville Ave. Thanks Sean and bless the whole family!
Anita Johnson - August 22, 2021 12:02 pm
What a beautiful lesson. You “preached” an amazing lesson yourself, that of love and caring. Your examples will never be forgotten. People will forget what the minister said, but never how much you and your wife cared. Bless your hearts.
Rhonda - August 22, 2021 12:03 pm
She loved you too Sean. She loved you too.
chris - August 22, 2021 12:06 pm
touching….she will always be with you. Our hearts ache for your family
Dee Jordan - August 22, 2021 12:11 pm
This is your most powerful story to date. You’re a great writer and an even better man.
James Inman - August 22, 2021 12:13 pm
God’s comfort to y’all Sean, Mrs Jamie
Charles Vianey - August 22, 2021 12:14 pm
Thank you for sharing your journey with Mother Mary during her last days with you. You and Jamie have honored her and shown others how to love. You honor the many caregivers who tool selflessly for loved ones who can no longer care for themselves but who deserve dignity. You use your voice well.
Janette Anderson - August 22, 2021 12:15 pm
BEAUTIFUL … truly HEAVENLY❤🙏
Janet W. - August 22, 2021 12:20 pm
Brenda said it so well. May your hearts and minds be filled to overflowing with sweet memories.
Jan - August 22, 2021 12:25 pm
Your ability to communicate life and all the emotions life entails is amazing. I thank you for sharing life and especially your own life and the life of your precious family with us all. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Jamie. May God bless you and keep you always!
Jean - August 22, 2021 12:29 pm
I think that was a fitting tribute to Mary. You showed everyone there you loved that precious woman.. Now you have me crying. God bless you and keep her sweet memories in your heart.
Peggy Thompson - August 22, 2021 12:30 pm
Don Gardner, Jr - August 22, 2021 12:31 pm
My parents are 86 and 81 and I am approaching the same point where you and Jamie have just been. Thank you for sharing these stories. I am sure they will prepare me a little better for the day when I have to deal with this as well.
Melanie - August 22, 2021 12:52 pm
You did good Sean. Real good. ❤️
Lander - August 22, 2021 12:58 pm
“Just as I am,” and just as you should be. Thank goodness for strong wives.
Trish Ezell - August 22, 2021 1:02 pm
My heart cracked a little reading that. 💔. And yes, I’ve been to a funeral in Crestview, Florida in summer….whew!
Nancy Crews - August 22, 2021 1:07 pm
❤your writing. There is always someone who knows the words close by.
Marcia De Graaf - August 22, 2021 1:19 pm
Beautiful, Sean. And you’re right…you can’t sing and cry 😪🙏🏻
Heather Miller - August 22, 2021 1:26 pm
I have always looked forward to your daily writings, and including us in your writings about mother Mary has been a journey of anticipation, not for humor, but for inclusion in a diary from your heart. I have been where you are now: child, independent human for many years, parent, caretaker, and escort out of life. My heart and tears go to you and Jamie. You are a united front, knowing all the words to love.
whatscookingintheville - August 22, 2021 1:27 pm
My goodness man, you are an amazing writer! I cry when I read anything you have written! I just discovered you a few days ago and have read all the stories you have written since Mother Mary’s passing and a few from before! God has truly blessed you with a gift! Can’t wait to read more that you shave written!
Margaret E Odell - August 22, 2021 1:29 pm
Sean, I’ve been where you and Jaime are and I know how hard it has been for you both. Thank you for sharing your last days with Mother Mary. You and Jaime gave your best when Mary needed you most. Now it’s time to give that love to each other. I pray you can find some rest yourselves. Peace be with you both.😥🙏🙏🙏
Stacey Wallace - August 22, 2021 1:35 pm
God bless you and Jamie. You have an amazing heart.
Paul McCutchen - August 22, 2021 1:36 pm
It was one of you best today. It is hard was hard to read when I have to keep wiping the tears. May you find some closure.
Dorothy Bartow - August 22, 2021 1:38 pm
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Helen De Prima - August 22, 2021 1:39 pm
We didn’t have music at my aunt’s funeral, but if we had, it would have been “My Old Kentucky Home” — all the verses.
Teri Easterling - August 22, 2021 1:59 pm
Blessings of amazing grace to the family! 🙏🏻💝
Cindy R - August 22, 2021 2:06 pm
Blessings to you friend. I love your honesty and ability to convey real life….And Grace will lead you home.
Teresa Tindle - August 22, 2021 2:06 pm
Oh my Shawn. I am moved to tears……..
Teresa Tindle - August 22, 2021 2:08 pm
I spelled your name as I did, because my sons name is Shawn. I hope I did not offed you. I can’t stoop crying.
Karen - August 22, 2021 2:13 pm
Pulitzer . with a tight throat and sobs.
flkatmom - August 22, 2021 2:21 pm
May Almighty God Bless you and Jamie. There is no greater act of compassion & love than to help someone on on this, their final earthly journey. To care for them when they have one foot in this world and the other in the next. God Bless you both.
You did good Sean, for your Grandfather, your Father and our beloved Miss Mary.
Debbie - August 22, 2021 2:22 pm
Thank you. ❤️
Sara Edi Boyd - August 22, 2021 2:26 pm
Beautiful story Sean
Bill Harris - August 22, 2021 2:28 pm
Thank you Sean. God bless you and your wife.
Te - August 22, 2021 2:34 pm
I avoid funerals and recall attending only two or three in my life, for people I barely knew. My memories about funerals are from movies. I have no experiences of either death of a relative or funerals. My parents died unexpectedly in their sleep, in nursing homes. My brother had them cremated. My father’s were scattered in the swamp with remarks no one else should hear, appropriate to the conflictive life he lived. Mother was not much better: scattered in an unknown lake. I think about my own death from time to time since I’m pushing 80. I’d like a haka, but that seems unlikely. I want Pink Floyd and the theme from Star Trek and the Gyuoto monks to be played. I want my body donated to a medical teaching facility as one of the best preserved 100 yr old they’ve ever seen!
So I envy you the family, the tears, the connections, the poignancy, the depth of grief and the love that makes all that possible. Pay attention to each moment; they will be so precious. Be thankful you have them, because you’re one of the lucky ones.
throughmyeyesusa - August 23, 2021 5:46 pm
Many of us envy Sean the depth of love & emotion he expresses in his stories. Few have either his gift of expression or perfect families.
As for you, for all of us soon-to-be-octogenarians, why should you not have exactly the celebratory send off you desire? Put it in your Will!
Sending love & prayers, CS
Judy Smith - August 22, 2021 3:01 pm
Thank you for your graceful amazing words which touched my soul. How very blessed your Mother-in-law was to have you in her life. My prayers and thoughts to you and your family. My husband of 52 swift years passed last October after 8 long years of dementia. That last day as he lay on the hospital bed I sang Amazing Grace to him. Just him and me and that reassuring song. He could not sing so he gave me one long fading look and simply nodded his head. That was Amazing Grace and forever love.
Pam Ewers - August 22, 2021 3:01 pm
I am so sorry for the loss of your mother in law & your wifes momma. May god wrap his arms around you both and hold on through this grieving… Please know I cried while reading this blog today. My thoughts and prayers are for you and your wife….
Ann - August 22, 2021 3:21 pm
Robyn - August 22, 2021 3:29 pm
Dear Sean…m weeping right along with ya. Much love, Robyn
Dianne Shafer - August 22, 2021 3:34 pm
Just when I thought you couldn’t bring tears to my eyes with your heartfelt farewell to your Mother Mary, you did it again today with your quiet, humble prayer of praise to your helpmate, your strength, your fortress–your wife. God is smiling down upon you today, Sean Dietrich. Feel His loving arms around the two of you?
Kim Kennedy - August 22, 2021 4:00 pm
Agree. Wish I had written your response.
Penn Wells - August 22, 2021 3:41 pm
I can’t imagine… and never have been… performing, when it’s a relative or a person you are close to. We are more than just fans, you have made us part of your family and each of us has been with you and Jamie and Mary, in our own way, each step of the journey. Peace, brother.
Annie - August 22, 2021 4:17 pm
Losing someone you love so deeply hurts so bad and you cannot imagine life without them. Somehow we manage and life goes on. The sadness we feel lessens but the hurt is always in our heart. We will forever miss them and we laugh when someone tells a story about them. They are eternal in our hearts.
Vicky - August 22, 2021 4:25 pm
What a beautiful send-off for Mother Mary. Her two favorites singing to send her off and each helping each other out, just as you will continue to do in the months and years without her. Thank you for loving her so well and for being there for each other.
Sue Rhodus - August 22, 2021 4:30 pm
I can’t say anymore than what has been said. I just am glad to be made aware of human goodness in our world today. ❤
Anne Arthur - August 22, 2021 4:31 pm
Amazing Grace, all the way through. Mother Mary is certainly very proud of you both.
Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with us. Your writing is amazing too.
Carol ROTHWELL - August 22, 2021 4:35 pm
She heard you both and is smiling down on you !
God bless you for how you cared and loved her ❤️
I love you both. 🙏❤️
Susie, as well - August 22, 2021 5:02 pm
Oh Sean. You were not “weeping like an idiot before a casket.” You were weeping like a weary and mourning son. I was weeping right along with you ever since the part about your father singing with you as a child. Bless you all.
Barbara Van vranken - August 22, 2021 5:04 pm
Beautiful ~ thank you❤️
Linda Moon - August 22, 2021 5:10 pm
You sang for your father. You sang for Mother Mary. Weeping is not idiotic, there by a casket. I’m glad you were not embarrassed, Sean. And, I’m also glad and not surprised that your wife opened your eyes with powerful words from that hymn. She, your wife, knows so very much…especially now. I am blessed to know Jamie, and I love her.
Catherine Mazuroski - August 22, 2021 5:41 pm
Sending love and prayers to you and your wife. 💕🐾
Janice D - Silverhill, AL - August 22, 2021 6:02 pm
You & Jamie are shining stars in this world today. Love & prayers to you both ❤️🙏
Cindy Peterson - August 22, 2021 6:43 pm
God bless both you and your wife. Mother Mary send off with both Amazing Grace and your tears is the best possible send off.
outlawman2 - August 22, 2021 6:54 pm
One word: Beautiful. Rest In Peace, Mother Mary.
Fran E Jackson - August 22, 2021 7:13 pm
I lost my son several months ago to a Brain Aneurysm. I am between lost and in a dense fog. Your words in “I’m Not Dead” and these last several posts have helped me more than anything anyone has said or anything that I “ve read.. I will never be able to voice my gratitude or thanks for what you have given me during this horrific time.
Tracy - August 23, 2021 12:19 pm
I’m so very sorry, Fran.
throughmyeyesusa - August 23, 2021 5:36 pm
Remembering you in prayer as well, Fran, & hoping the healing that Sean’s writing has begun will develop into a lasting peace.
Gayle Wilson - August 22, 2021 7:16 pm
Bless you and Jamie for caregiving Mother Mary. Not only were you a caregiver to her, she was a caregiver to you. The stories that you wrote about Mother Mary were her gift to you and to all of your readers. She made us laugh, cry, and remember there is still good in the world. You wrote the words, she lived the life. For you, Jamie and Mother Mary, I am forever thankful.
Jackie - August 22, 2021 7:22 pm
God bless you both❤️
Sarah - August 22, 2021 7:37 pm
I don’t know how you write so beautifully and bravely about some of the rawest feelings we have as humans. I hope it is equally beneficial to you as it is to your readers.
I pray that you and your family will feel God’s peace as you grieve.
Chasity Davis Ritter - August 22, 2021 7:42 pm
I still have leaky eyes for you. I know how hard it is to sing those songs when your throat is closing up but you want so badly to sing anyway. I’ve never done it from your side standing up front facing out to the crowd but I’ve tried vainly to sing along from viewers side through tears. God bless you and Jamie always for the loving, caring, giving souls you are.
Cathy - August 22, 2021 7:52 pm
What a love story. Not many men have that deep love for their mother in law. What a gift that is for Jamie. The grief journey is physically and emotionally painful. I believe that if you are a believer, God won’t let you live in that pain forever. Eventually you get to the other side of the river of grief. Yet there are days when you feel as if you are swimming across that river and you feel as though you are drowning. You and Jamie are swimming together and I know that you will make it to the other side. It is wonderful that you have each other. I will pray for both of you to stay strong as you swim to the other side. You two are wonderful❤️🙏🏻
Connie Cagle - August 22, 2021 8:00 pm
So very special!!
Thelma - August 22, 2021 8:02 pm
Great Story Sean we have all of your books and we read and collect your Stories in the Alfa Neighbors Magazine And Your commercials We Love Them All.
Sooo Sorry for the Loss Of Your Mother in Law. Hugs to you and your wife. 🙏🤗❤️🙏🤗❤️
Camilla - August 22, 2021 8:45 pm
Just beautiful. ❤️🙏
lois goland - August 22, 2021 9:33 pm
God bless you and your wonderful wife. Thoughts and prayers are sent to you both.
Bob Howard - August 22, 2021 9:58 pm
Most powerful! God Bless!
Laura McAliley - August 22, 2021 10:01 pm
God bless you and your wife, Sean. There’s not a whole lot more that I can say about this that would make it better, so I’ll just leave it at that. Sending love your way.
MAM - August 22, 2021 10:59 pm
And that’s how wives support husbands and vice versa. Good for Jamie! I always marvel that I managed to sing a song all the way through at my uncle’s funeral. He had always been like my second dad, after I lost my first. God is with you and Jamie and God was with me that day, as He is every day!
Susan Wold - August 23, 2021 12:41 am
I am so sorry, I cried with you Sean!
Debbie g - August 23, 2021 1:08 am
Sean and Jamie y’all were and are loved. And to mr Te. I and all of us love you too l
Kathy Coxwell - August 23, 2021 1:53 am
You did it well, Sean.
Karen Snyder - August 23, 2021 2:39 am
💕 You will probably never know the release you’ve given to many aching hearts these last few weeks, Sean. Every tear I’ve shed for you and Jamie and Mother Mary has also been a tear I had previously swallowed over losses in my own life. Thank you. Prayers continue as you learn to live differently. Hold those precious memories and stories of her close.
Judy Tayloe - August 23, 2021 2:58 am
Rest in Peace, Mother Mary.
Becky - August 23, 2021 2:59 am
Sounds like Miss Mary was definitely one of a kind. May she Rest In Peace. God Bleas you and Jamie
countrylifegal - August 23, 2021 5:29 am
WOW….absolutely beautiful!! May God Bless you and your wife for spreading this “Amazing Grace”. I include her, for without her you wouldn’t be writing! 🤗
Elizabeth LeDuc - August 23, 2021 11:40 am
This made me weep. Thank you for sharing. Rest In Peace and rise in glory.
Lydia - August 23, 2021 3:07 pm
Oh Sean,how truly awesome for people to actually SEE love. What a gift to all❤️
sholmes53 - August 23, 2021 3:21 pm
What a beautiful love story.
Jesse - August 23, 2021 5:20 pm
I went in the hospital a couple of years back, was going in for surgery, that the odds of surviving did not look good. I signed the paperwork in the gurney at the door to the OR, I told the surgeon that we were going to pray. He said something on the order of “people do that”. I started and my voice cracked, without hesitation my wife didn’t miss a beat and finished up for me. Truly blessed.
Gordon - August 23, 2021 5:35 pm
Our Heavenly Father was there with you, Sean. He gave you the fortitude and strength to carry on even during a very tough time. God be with you and your family.
Karen - August 23, 2021 5:53 pm
Keeping you and your wife in prayer. Sean, you are one in a million. Thank you for sharing this hard walk with us.
Sandra Jones - August 23, 2021 11:23 pm
This touched my heart. Thank you for sharing. Praying for you and your wife.
Brenda - August 24, 2021 5:48 pm
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 25, 2021 2:51 pm
Dorothy Johnson - August 26, 2021 2:06 pm
So sorry for your loss. Your sweet post brought a tear to my eye.
Kathy Vadeboncoeur - August 30, 2021 7:03 pm
Lord Son. I love you
Fred Frederick - September 20, 2021 7:01 pm
That ending was pure love
Lisa K Riley - December 30, 2021 2:01 am
We sang Amazing Grace at my husband’s funeral this November. We lost him 4 days after his 57th birthday. I fell apart somewhere after the third verse, and don’t you know, my best friend since 2nd grade slid out of the audience, came up beside me and held me up. She knew every last word.
Brenda Swann - December 30, 2021 3:15 am
God love you both. How blessed Mother Mary was to have you two.