Man wrote own obituary to lighten load for S.C. family

COLUMBIA -- Marcus McDonald knew his time was short. He had lung cancer. His condition was deteriorating this fall.

So, McDonald, looking to spare his family the stress, picked out his own casket, made all his funeral arrangements and started writing his obituary Sept. 14 to spread the word of Jesus Christ, share his love for his wife and four daughters -- and share his laid-back style of humor.

"I am writing this obituary, while still alive ... so my family doesn't have to go through this," he wrote in the obit published in The State on Saturday, two days after he died. He was 58.

"My funeral will be held Monday at 2 p.m. ... at Faith Presbyterian Church with interment immediately thereafter in Bush River Road Memorial Gardens. Sorry to have you driving all over the place from the church to the cemetery, but it's my funeral and I don't want to hear any excuses for not staying for the interment!"

McDonald's oldest daughter, Mandy McDonald of Mount Pleasant, was laughing and crying when she first read it Friday, she said.

Referring to her, he wrote- "I can't wait till you get up here. Man, all these people laugh 'forever' (git it?) at a good joke or ruse. You gonna feel like a star in Heaven. ... I do."

She said, "He was the greatest man in the world. To know him was to love him. Period."

McDonald, who lived at Lake Murray in Irmo, was an elder and a deacon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Ballentine. He grew up in Greenville, the youngest of three, so poor at one time that he and his siblings had to share one pair of shoes.

He graduated in 1967 from J.L. Mann High School in Greenville, where he played varsity football. McDonald was forever grateful when a Greenville church gave him a scholarship to attend USC, where he graduated in 1972.

He founded McDonald Enterprises on Jamil Road, which sells janitorial and architectural furniture. He sold his company to his nephew in April.

McDonald described himself as a "simple man that did not like change (or socks) very much."

Heather Hill of Irmo, a friend for 30 years, described him as vivacious, bold and matter-of-fact. He enjoyed skiing, water-skiing, playing horseshoes and family vacations to the beach.

Central to his life was Christianity, Hill said. "Bottom line is he wants the world to know who Jesus is," Hill said.

His family members and friends used to enjoy watching him walk up to people he never met at stores and restaurants and leave them laughing hysterically. "There was no stranger to him, period," Mandy McDonald said.

Brent Caughman, general manager of Caughman-Harman Funeral Homes, said it's not uncommon for people to write their own obituaries. He estimates one in four people write their own, but most follow the standard format funeral homes suggest.

It can be difficult for families to scramble to put together an obituary within 24 to 48 hours of a loved one's death, while making funeral arrangements and dealing with stress, he said.

"The more that's done ahead of time, the easier it is," Caughman said. "We don't anticipate dying tomorrow, but we really don't know what the future's gonna hold for us."

Carolyn Milford Gilbert, founder of the Dallas-based International Association of Obituarists, said people should try to have fun writing obituaries. Often they are the only written record about a person's life, she said. They are important for historical, family and genealogical purposes, she said.

Some people who write their own use it as an opportunity to mention a long-running joke they've had with someone or make a political statement, like taking a crack at the current administration, she said. "It should really reflect the life of a person," she said. "Not the fact that he died."

McDonald wanted to get the last word, say something special about his daughters and make his funeral "a joyous occasion," Mandy McDonald said.

He also left each of his daughters a Bible, with notes jotted throughout, specific to them.

Toward the end of his obituary he wrote: "For those of you that read this and come to my funeral, I thank you on behalf of my family because that's who you are doing it for; I ain't gone be there ... I'm in heaven, thank God!

"If you can't make it, visitation will be at Caughman-Harman Funeral Home on Bush River Road from 5-7 p.m. (today) ... so drop by but don't dress up for me. See, my invitation is like Jesus' invitation to salvation to you. ... Come as you are (and a smiley face goes right there)!"