Eulogy for Mark McDonough – for Funeral Service 1/13/12
We loved Mark and we are going to miss him a lot. We take comfort from knowing that he has completed his mission here on earth and returned to his Father in Heaven.
I would like to share with you some reminiscences about his life. I was Mark’s guardian for most of his life. He lived with me for 17 years, from the age of 7 until he was 24. He was there because he was wanted. He spent the last 10 years of his life at the Institute of Professional Practice. He was there because he was wanted.
In between those times, as he bounced around between different adult residential and day programs, because he could be difficult to care for, he was not always where he was wanted. He knew when he was wanted and when he wasn’t, and he had some dark years because of that. I am thankful for these last 10 years when Mark was again where he was wanted.
Mark was born with autism. His disability was actually a lot more complicated than that one word, and at times he had real difficulty controlling his emotions and behavior, and making contact with reality. The religious perspective in our Church is that people born with disabilities may have chosen them before they came to earth, because they were tough enough to complete their mission here with those disabilities. Mark shared that perspective, and he did complete his mission. He didn’t overcome all of his disabilities, no one could, but he overcame many of them, and by the end of his life, you could honestly say that he was really a nice guy.
Working with Mark successfully, relating to him, teaching him, forming a bond with him, was a lot like playing a musical instrument – a complicated one, not just a piano, but more like a harpsichord or maybe even a pipe organ. You had to be good at it. Some people could do it, and some couldn’t. But if you could, he was always a fascinating person, and he was a lot of fun to be with.
Mark never forgot anything. He could tell you the name of the cab driver who took him to school once when he was 5 years old. He grouped things in his memory by emotional impact rather than chronologically. If you realized that, he actually made a lot of sense when you talked with him.
He was a talented artist. When he was younger, he had an easel and a complete set of art supplies. Those went with him when he moved into the adult system, but were eventually lost. My wife and I were looking for another easel for him for his birthday next month.
To appreciate his art, you again had to know his style. Mark was very parsimonious with his drawing paper. He would make drawings one on top of the other, many of them, all on the same sheet. If you teased them apart, they were very good drawings. I am not sure why he started stacking them up that way; I don’t recall that we ever had a shortage of drawing paper when he lived with me, but he started doing that when he was very young. Occasionally, if you could get him to give you a sheet when it just had the first drawing on it, his art work was worth putting on display, and we often did that.
Mark appreciated music. When he was a child, we got him an autoharp on the recommendation of a music therapist, and he would sometimes play some of his own songs. He was a connoisseur of Barry Manilow and Jim Croce. I got him what I think was the last Barry Manilow album he didn’t already own for Christmas. He also liked Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash. He probably picked up his liking for Croce, Diamond, and Cash from me, but Barry Manilow was entirely his own choice.
When Mark came to live with me as a 7 year old, he could talk, but he was almost entirely echolalic. That means that he would echo back anything you said to him, but that was usually all he could say. He had almost no functional speech at all, no way to communicate his own thoughts or wants or needs. But our family included another young man who was non-verbal, who I was also guardian for, and whom I had taught American Sign Language. That was Patrick, who became Mark’s foster brother. They lived together for the 17 years Mark was with me, and they were very close. Patrick is here today to say goodbye to Mark.
Living with Patrick, Mark also became interested in signing, so I taught him American Sign Language too. Today, this is a standard method in the armamentarium of Special Education, but in the 1970’s, it was heresy. It was considered tantamount to abuse to use sign language with a hearing child with speech problems. Do people remember that? The orthodoxy in speech and language therapy at that time was that signing would retard children’s speech acquisition. It was not done. I am not much for orthodoxy, so I did it anyway. Mark learned signing quickly, and he was not echolalic at all in sign language! It was his breakthrough. Eventually, by pairing his signs with words, he learned functional speech. And as you know, he ultimately became quite articulate.
Orthodox methods didn’t work well with Mark in many ways. He was always his own man. The orthodox method in special needs for transitions, especially for big events, is to give lots and lots and lots of advance notice. That was always disastrous for Mark. He would become anxious about the pending event, be it a visit, a dance (by the way, he was a good dancer), a restaurant trip, whatever, obsess about how he was going to behave, and ultimately lose control. But if a big event just happened, without advance warning, he was fine. The folks at IPP learned that. Lots of people before them, who tried to work with Mark and who were not willing to accept that breach of orthodoxy, were not successful with him.
Mark, as a child, loved Mr. Rogers. Remember him? He was a children’s television guru, and he was pretty good. I think Mark learned most of his moral code from Mr. Rogers. He had all of the Mr. Rogers books, and never stopped asking for another one.
Mark wanted a digital watch this last Christmas. I got him an analog one. I always did that, because it took me almost a year to teach him to tell time on a round clock face, and I was always afraid he would lose that skill. I guess I should have gotten him what he really wanted.
I have other regrets for things undone, gifts ungiven, words unsaid, and. time that should have been spent with him. A lot of us probably do. That opportunity is gone for the time being. But we know Mark is in a good place, that he has been welcomed back by his Father in Heaven, and that we will eventually see him again. I bear my testimony to you that the Savior lives and is there for all of us, that the Atonement and the Plan of Salvation are real, and I leave this farewell to Mark with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.