A Dad’s Lasting Wisdom to His Family: Use Your Own Unique Gifts by Mary Pat King

A Dad’s Lasting Wisdom to His Family: Use Your Own Unique Gifts

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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Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
This took my breath away, Mary Pat King . My heart breaks for you. My dad has always been my rock, and as he ages and deals with complicated health issues, and as my mother also experiences challenges, I see this day coming as well and I dread it. My sister, Kathy Ast-Kutzbach , are in the early stages of what you describe with your siblings. My heart goes out to you. Your song is beautiful and I have tears in my eyes as I let you know that you and your family are in my prayers. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post with us. You make such a difference in our community, and in this world. xoxo
Mary Pat King
My heart goes out to you - I feel like the beginning was the hardest to accept and navigate. But you know what? Having a sister (x2 for me) was the best part. Thank you and Donna so much for giving me the space to honor my parents and family the way my heart was yearning to! I feel like I keep writing the "30 Seconds More" entries! LOL Twitter's limit kills me. hahah! :)
Dieter Schmitz
Thanks Mary Pat King for your beautiful words. Composing - and delivering - my father's eulogy was the most challenging (and important) essay of my life.
Mary Pat King
Yes—exactly. Thank you! ❤️
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Mary Pat King : This is heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your unique gift with us. Your family is in my prayers right now.
Mary Pat King
Thanks so much Ann Marie!
Deborah Nygard
Hi Mary Pat. I am your sister’s friend, Debbie Nygard. I was deeply moved by your piece. I texted Beth about how proud your parents must be. You have all used your unique gifts through your dad’s inspiration. Thank you for sharing your gift.
Mary Pat King
Deborah, Thank you so much -- and thank you for reaching out to my sister. Support from friends like you has been priceless on this journey.
Jeni Hicks
Absolutely Beautiful! I love how insightful you are and use your unique gift! XOXO
Mary Pat King
Thanks friend! Love you!
Gina Valley
My heart hurts for you and your family, Mary Pat. My father was killed 2 years ago in an airplane accident, and writing his eulogy was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. He lived a beautiful life of service to everyone, but it was cut too short. Writing about how he lived, although excutiatingly painful, was cathartic, as well. I’m praying strength and peace for your whole family.
Mary Pat King
Oh Gina, that is so tragic. I'm so sorry you had such a sudden loss. While the years of anticipatory grief have been exhausting, I can't imagine not having the opportunity to have these months to mentally prepare for what's ahead. Your courage in writing his eulogy in the midst of such grief is amazing. Thank you for your prayers!
Treasure
This is very touching! Mary Pat, you and your family are beautiful, wonderful, unique and strong.
I lost my dad to prostrate cancer in 2011,I know how it feels to loose such a wonderful & special dad, my thoughts and prayers are with you, thanks for sharing.
Mary Pat King
Thank you, Treasure. My friend said that this is one of those clubs you never want to join. I think I'll always feel too young for this -- no matter how old I am. I'm sure you felt the same. Thanks again!
Kristan Wager
So beautifully written.
Kimberly Chu
Oh Mary, my heart aches for you. Thank you for writing this. It is beautiful. I am all teary. You sure do have unique gifts, and you are touching so many. Thank you for sharing your journey and for spreading your dad’s beautiful spirit. FTD is absolutely heart breaking. My mom is 63. I don’t know what the next months and years will bring, but connecting with you and others battling this disease somehow helps make the future a bit brighter. Thinking of you.

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