A Dad’s Lasting Wisdom to His Family: Use Your Own Unique Gifts by Mary Pat King
There’s no easy tip for writing your dad’s obituary. It’s as painful as it sounds.
My dad is a 68-year-old living his last chapter in hospice at a wonderful memory care home called Arden Courts. He is in the final stage of frontotemporal dementia, a rare brain disease that attacks your executive function, ability to communicate, memory and ultimately results in death. We have no idea what caused it. We only know that his healthy body and brilliant mind have been destroyed by it, and so have the retirement dreams he and my mom had together of playing golf, traveling and enjoying grandkids.
About five years ago, before he was too sick to participate in the conversation, my mom and dad called a family meeting to make a plan. In my dad’s strong, deliberate, CEO-style, he gave us one final piece of wisdom: "Use your unique gifts to get us through this."
My sisters and I embraced his words immediately and assigned roles. That was the best thing we could’ve done – and it’s the only tip I can give you if your family is coping with a loved one’s terminal illness.
During all the tough decisions and sudden turns in this journey, we kept our lanes clear by refocusing on our unique gifts: my mom as wife, caregiver and patient advocate; my older sister as financial planner; my younger sister as our mom’s emotional support. Me? I’m comfortably in the middle where I was born to be – researching, organizing, communicating – keeping the plans in motion. This is my most natural role – but it’s not my unique gift.
My unique gift is writing. I write the poems. I write the lyrics*. I write the family obits. This last task on the 5-year plan is mine to complete – and we all know it. But still, I’ve been stuck like a child in this corner of life pouting at the chore ahead. I don’t want to check this box! I don’t want to meet this deadline! Looming is the reality that I have no choice – his timeline is not mine to drive.
So tonight, I stared at my dad’s multi-page resume and easily began to see the portrait of his character and the many ways he exemplified his alma mater’s motto, “greatness meets goodness.” His story began pouring onto the page with so many milestones to celebrate, so many accomplishments to honor.
In the midst of writing his obituary, I noticed my pain soothe into a peaceful realization: my dad was using his unique gifts to get us through this all along. His wisdom, his goodness, his undying faith and, most admirably, his acceptance of God’s will – all of these unique gifts leave his enduring imprint on our hearts and in our minds.
True to form, in the process of dying, my dad taught us one of the greatest lessons for living: unique gifts persevere. Use them.
*Eyes Like Stained Glass. Lyrics by Mary Pat King. Composed and performed by Jonathon Wells.
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