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A Daughter's Final Gift / Nick Ehrhardt

A Daughter's Final Gift

Writing an obituary is tough, even for the most experienced writer. Capturing the essence of a life, no matter how "ordinary" that life may appear to be, is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. But when the subject is your own mother, this already daunting challenge takes on even greater importance. This is the situation Susan Spencer-Wendel found herself in when her mother, Theodora "Tee" Spencer, died in March. Spencer-Wendel, the author of Until I Say Good-Bye, was facing her own impending death from ALS and died this week from the disease. In her mother's obituary, Spencer-Wendel painted a picture of a vibrant, charming woman as well as the fear and pain of a person living with terminal cancer.

She describes her mother as a beauty, noting that "her face was gilded in cheekbones, with almond eyes that smoked without makeup" and that she was often likened to Sophia Loren. Spencer-Wendel enumerates her mother's civic accomplishments, including the founding of the Palm Beach Zoo with "just one monkey."

Spencer-Wendel's account darkens in 2011, with her mother's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the surgeries that nearly killed her trying to remove the disease. She chronicles her mother's transformation from a vivacious, outgoing social butterfly to an agoraphobic recluse afraid to share her prognosis with friends. Tee's final years were brightened by her grandchildren and the success of Spencer-Wendel's own memoir. Finally, after years of treatment, Tee Spencer went into hospice care and died in March, sleeping near her oldest daughter, Stephanie.

Tee Spencer never made headlines in life, but as her obituary shows, her life was an extraordinary story. The entirety of the obituary is online at, as is her online Guest Book.

Visit to see the obituary and Guest Book for Susan Spencer-Wendel.