One of my primary goals as a mom was to give my girls a love of reading and to instill in their minds and in their hearts a deep appreciation for books. My older daughter was born with her face in a book, so I cannot take any credit for accomplishing that goal with her. My younger daughter was born with a super-charged turbo engine, making sitting still for long periods of time impossible. Mack had so much energy to burn that on weekday evenings, I often found it necessary to take her and a stopwatch out to the sidewalk in front of our house and then dare her to beat her record sprint to the end of our block and back. Only when all of her energy was exhausted could she sit still at the dining room table long enough to eat her dinner. So obviously, spending quiet time with a good book was of little interest to a toddler thundering through life at the speed of light.

For Mack, books were no competition for the backyard fort, the scooter, the bike, or the basketball hoop. Therefore, I concentrated my efforts to make her a reader after the sun went down and after much of her energy for the day was already expended. Whereas her sister had sat with me for hours with piles of books, word flashcards, and workbooks, I had to teach Mack on the run. I sat on the floor of her bedroom, holding the same flash cards that had enthralled Savannah. I would yell out words and definitions; and as Mack would dash by me bouncing a big playground ball or chasing a Nerf football she had flung across the room, I worked to improve her vocabulary. Maybe she was too wild to read just yet, but perhaps I could teach the child some new words. Mostly, she ignored me; but sometimes she would pause, violently poke a flashcard with her finger, and scream out the word it contained.

This vivacious little kid had to be mostly exhausted before she would train her eyes on actual book. But there were times when she finally tuckered out at the end of the day or when she was feeling warm and cuddly after her evening bath, that she would tolerate a short story if I read quickly enough and turned the pages fast enough. Although I deemed it a far too infrequent activity, I did get some precious, snuggly reading time with my Macko when she was very small. I was also heartened when I would tiptoe into Mack’s room at night and find her asleep with an open book. As I paused to breathe in those sweet scenes of my crazy girl passed out with a book, I secretly hoped that the stories within those pages were seeping into her dreams. I quietly wished that those pages were becoming comfortably familiar. And I confidently anticipated the day that those books would become at least as important to her as basketballs.falling asleep reading 3

It probably happened more gradually than I remember it, but at some point when Mack was in fifth or sixth grade I noticed that she was reading a book I had purchased for her many months beforehand, that she was now packing books for car rides and trips, and that she was demanding her own copies of the Harry Potter books that her sister had already collected. Mack may have been a late bloomer where reading was concerned, but by the time she reached high school, books became more important to her than basketballs. Not only had she become an avid reader and a passionate lover of books, but she had also became a vocal proponent of the books she loved. She enjoyed talking with friends about the books she was reading, and when she encountered a lack of enthusiasm from them, it only steeled her resolve. One night I overheard Mack discussing with her high school boyfriend Abhinav the strong female character that Stieg Larsson had written in The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo. Although Abhi seemed uninterested and was reluctant, he left our house that night with Mack’s copy of the book. But he did read that book for Mack, and he had to admit to her later that not only had he enjoyed it, but he had appreciated it, too. This pleased Mack a great deal, more than I suspect she ever revealed to him. She was generous with her books and always happy to share her favorites with friends. Two of Mack’s dearest friends now cherish the last books that she had lent to them. Brytani has Mack’s copy of Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Kailey has The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the very same copy that Mack loaned to Abhi.

This past week, with the publication of my new book, a biography of Mary Lincoln, I have thought a great deal about Mack and how satisfying it is to know that books were a joy in her life. I am reminded about how proud Mack was when I published my first book about antebellum juries, even though she relentlessly teased about how stuffy and scholarly it was. falling asleep reading 2When I had asked Mack to pose with that jury book, she gave me what is now one of my most favorite photos. I also recall with a smile how much Mack inspired my work on my second book. She was so filled up with excitement and intellectual curiosity as she was blossoming into a scholar during her sophomore year of college, and I was enjoying beyond words Mack’s discussions with me over the books she was reading in her courses. I was in awe of her growing intellectual talent for analysis and her critical eye; and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me. As I worked on my book, Mack and I chatted frequently about it, and she provided a great deal of comic relief when I needed it most. Checking in periodically, she would ask me, “Is Mary dead yet?” I’d laugh and tell her no, that the Lincolns were still in Springfield, or the Civil War had only just started. When I finally finished the first draft of the book, I burst into tears—relieved, I suppose, that the hard work was ended—and called Mack to tell her that Mary was dead. She responded, “Mom, why in the hell are you crying? You should be celebrating Mary’s death with a Guinness or two, instead.”

The publication of my new book has summoned clashing emotions with which I am struggling to cope. I am proud and excited about the book, but I am miserable knowing that Mack will never read it. Celebrating my first important achievement without her is devastating, and I yearn for a picture of Mack posing with Mary Lincoln, providing me with another perfect snapshot of her humorous take on the world. I wish I would have expressed in words how important that her support and good humor were to me, and I wish I could tell her now that she was an inspiration to me. Instead, I must focus on the fact that I am grateful that books became an important bond between us. I must focus on how honored I am that such an amazing young woman was supportive and proud of my accomplishments. And most importantly, I must focus on the simple truth that no matter how much longer I live and no matter how many books I write, Mack will always inspire me.

Sitting still for Grandma Marie…

falling asleep reading 4

A very random sampling of a few of Mack’s favorite books…

Brave Potatoes

Something Queer is Going On

And the Relatives Came

Sheep in a Jeep

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

The Harry Potter series

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

Anything by Augusten Burroughs

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The book that Mack took to read on the plane to Spain:

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas

Extra Note:

Mack’s close friend Kailey keeps her borrowed copy of A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo on her night stand at the University of North Carolina, where she is a student.reading-Kailey 2

Artifacts and Treasures

When my girls were little, I praised them for their artistic talents and proudly displayed their artwork on the refrigerator or on the dining room table. However, when room was necessary for the newest masterpieces, I generally threw away the old ones. I was careful to avoid the eyes of sweet little witnesses when I crammed drawings, paintings, or crafts deep into the kitchen garbage, but I was not emotionally attached to a great deal of the art that the little dears created. Yet while I was not the kind of mother who kept everything, I did store away a few particularly precious items, and now those humble artifacts possess new and deeper significance in my life.

In December 2012, we moved out of our old, roomy Springfield house, where for nineteen years Kevin and I raised the girls and a large pack of animals, and we settled into a smaller, open loft in downtown St. Louis. We left most of our belongings behind, divesting ourselves of two decades worth of crap; but I arrived in St. Louis with about a dozen huge Rubbermaid tubs stuffed with family treasures—like photographs, keepsakes, and those extant childhood art projects. Since then, I have been working to organize it all into a proper McDermott Family Archive.

4th Grade School Picture

When Mackenzie passed away, my family archival work became all the more urgent to me, and I focused my attention on organizing the Mack part of the archive. I was desperate to make sure that I had saved every little thing that mattered. I needed to make certain that I still had items like Mack’s 8th Grade Basketball MVP trophy, all twelve of her high school varsity letters, and the board she broke in Tae Kwon Do. Searching through these mementos of her life is painful, terrifying, joyful, and absolutely imperative. In doing this work, I am transported right back to my life with her, to our shared laughter, to our travels, to my perpetual perch on the bleachers, watching her life unfold. In rediscovering, touching, and organizing in acid-free, archival boxes these tangible mementos of Mack’s happy childhood, I have found myself smiling, laughing, and crying over items like finger-paint hand prints, school report cards, first-day-of-school photos, and those precious few crafts that escaped the kitchen garbage.

Sorting through items from one of those bins, I unpacked one object that threw me hard into a paroxysm of sobbing, buckling my knees, and leaving me in a gooey puddle in the middle of my closet floor. I cuddled that item in my arms and, if I were a religious woman, I would have thanked God that this perfect, exquisite masterpiece made by the precious hands of my ten-year-old Macko ended up in one of those dozen Rubbermaid bins and not in my kitchen trash. Orchestrated by an artistically creative fourth-grade teacher at Dubois Elementary School, this little item was my 2004 Mother’s Day present. For this project, Mack had dutifully colorized seven photocopies of her 4th grade school photo, including one in which she gave herself some bright red lips. She had then carefully arranged those Warhol-esk images around the perimeter of a common clay pot, securing them all with a clear varnish. At the center of this careful arrangement of photos she placed her Mother’s Day ode to me:


You have been like a coach to me

You have taught me everything I know

You are like a football player

You are really cool

but tough

I couldn’t have it any better

I love you very much

How close had this little flower pot come to landing in my kitchen garbage? Had those words meant as much to me then as they mean to me right now? Was I really like a coach to her? She was wrong about the “tough” part. I am exhibiting no toughness now, as a cradle this priceless gift and cry like a baby. I have suffered much pain over the loss of my baby girl, and I have cried many, many tears. But one thing I have not let myself do is to have regrets about how I conducted myself as Mack’s momma bear. But keeping those doubts from forcing their way into my sanity has been a difficult and art 2

Laying my eyes upon this little artifact and knowing that Mack viewed me as an important presence in her world sets me free. It was her teacher who had organized the artistic part of the gift, but it was Mack who provided the words that I need to hear now, sobbing on the floor of my closet. I am sure that when I received this gift in 2004, I was touched, said “aw,” and scooped up Mack and showered her with kisses. But today, her poem on this beautiful clay pot transcends the original sentiments of the humble, handmade gift it was nearly eleven years ago. Now it has the power to quiet my doubts. Now it is Mack telling me that I “done good,” as she would say. Now it is not merely a family artifact; it is a simple, but magical treasure.

playing catch/kindergarten drawing

 foot letter


When my girls were growing up, we were a football family. The NFL dominated our big-screen TV during football season, and we attended several games in St. Louis, San Diego, and Indianapolis. Mack played tackle football for three years and flag football for two, and the rest of us delighted in watching her play. We participated in a Pratt family football pool, and we all owned NFL apparel. Even Savannah, who did not embrace the game with Mackenzie’s high-energy enthusiasm, requested a Miami Dolphins winter coat for Christmas one year. And although Kevin had the least amount of interest in the game, he genuinely liked cheering for the Rams after they moved to St. Louis.

In Springfield, we lived between Chicago Bear and St. Louis Ram territories, but Mack became a devoted Packers fan. She did not, I assure you, get this Packer thing from her momma, as I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for thirty-five years. I am not really sure why Mack chose Green Bay. Perhaps it was something simple; perhaps the color green tickled the Irish in her. For Halloween in kindergarten, she asked for a Packer uniform, so her interest in the team definitely started by the time she was five. Perhaps it was even earlier than that, because the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997, and we hosted a party that year. Yes, I guess that Super Bowl was likely the start of her green and gold fandom, now that I think about it. On Sundays during football season, Mack and I would watch our respective teams, tuning to the Packers at noon and then focusing on my west-coast Chargers at 3. We wore our own team’s colors, but we always cheered for each other’s teams. I cherished those cold, winter Sundays, curled up with my knowledgeable and rabid little football fanatic.


Mack grew up loving those Packers and the indomitable Brett Favre, and as soon as she was able to choose her own number in sports, it was always number 4 for her beloved quarterback. When she got a Build-a-Bear for her birthday one year, she dressed her in a football uniform and christened her Brett. She counted a Packer winter coat in her vast collection of Packer apparel, and she wore one favorite Green Bay sweatshirt for ten years…long after she had outgrown it! She often sported a braided Green Bay necklace, possessed one of those crazy foam-cheese-wedge hats, and loudly protested whenever sports announcers failed to recognize the talents of wide receiver Donald Driver, her second favorite player. As well, my sweet little girl became an impressive, and often foul-mouthed, trash talker; and her enthusiastic celebrations following a Green Bay victory, especially when enjoyed in the company of a forlorn Chicago Bears fan, rivaled the jubilant qualities of the Lambeau Leap.

Kevin, Savannah, and I all thought it was quite adorable that our little Macko loved football so much, and I was not even a little mad that she had chosen the Packers over my Chargers. Hell, I was just thrilled she wasn’t a Raiders fan! However, the members of the Chicago McDermott clan—blinded by their love for the Bears and their sad level of comfort with games in which no touchdowns are scored—were far less accepting. At McDermott family events, especially at Christmas as the Packers were soaring into the playoffs and the Bears were struggling for their third or fourth win of the season, Mack delighted in extolling the virtues of her team’s Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. She would then ask her grandpa, her uncles, and many of her cousins how it felt to never have their own quality quarterback to love, and she would press them for answers as to why they threw away their devotion on the bad-news Bears.

When Mack reached high school, typical teenager activities and her three varsity sports crowded out football. Yet she remained a Green Bay fan for life. “Mack for the Pack,” she always said. Occasionally, she would still sit down to watch a big Packer game or an NFL playoff game with her momma bear. She also continued to keep up with her team’s roster and their wins and losses, and she never tired of poking fun at her misguided Chicago Bear kin. At summer outings at the family cabin in central Wisconsin, Mack always packed (pun intended) Green Bay apparel, happy to play the role of an annoying cheese-head. When the mischievous cabin neighbor, a fun-loving Wisconsin native, installed a large Packer logo on the way-up, tip-top peak of the McDermott cabin—far out of the reach of a common, household ladder—Mack offered him her hearty congratulations for carrying out such a fantastic, diabolical plan. Every single time Mack saw that logo on the McDermott cabin, she would laugh and laugh, acknowledging that it was, without a single doubt, one of her favorite things in all of the world.

Mack never asked that I try to find two elusive and expensive tickets to a game at Lambeau Field, and I do not recall her even suggesting that we try to see them in a visiting stadium. Once when she was very little, we visited Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Packer Hall of Fame; and we watched a Packer practice, peering through a chain-link fence to catch of a glimpse of Brett Favre. I have some great pictures of that trip, including a blurry one in which Mack is kicking a football on a little-kid’s gridiron, surrounded by cardboard cutouts of Packer players. But despite that trip to the Packer Holy Land, I can tell you that I very much regret never taking her to see her Packers play.

No doubt, Mack would probably tell me it did not matter then, and that it does not matter now. What mattered was that football and the Packers were just two of those trivial but enjoyable things she loved. I also think she would say that embracing football was about having fun and sharing a passion with her momma bear; and that loving the Packers made her unique in our family and gave her a weapon with which to expose the angry vein on the forehead of her Grandpa Bill, whom she loved to tease but always adored.

Partly because my team failed to reach the playoffs, but mostly because Green Bay was Mack’s team, I am going to cheer my heart out for the Packers this weekend and, hopefully, in the Super Bowl as well. Rooting for Mack’s Pack, I will reflect on all of those special Sundays on the couch with her, and perhaps those sweet memories will carry me through another difficult day without her. I will close my eyes and picture Mack’s grown-up self all stuffed into that favorite little-kid Green Bay sweatshirt. I will hear her singing: “bum bum bum…bada…bum bum bum… GO…PACK…GO!” And maybe for good measure, I’ll prepare some Mack-quality trash-talking to throw at her grandpa as well.

Now come on, Aaron Rodgers, bring us two more victories this lonely football season. Go…Pack…Go!!! (

That favorite sweatshirt…

packers2  packers3

My favorite number 4ever…


Frisky and Macko

I had the privilege and the great fun to have two full-time comedians in my personal life: my dad and my younger daughter. Both Jim and Mack enjoyed life, made the absolute most of each day, and soaked up every ounce of sunshine that came their way. But the rarest human quality shared by this goofy pair was the ability to see humor and fun in the most unlikely of places. When these two characters found humor or manufactured their own, they both laughed from way down deep in their bellies and their souls. While their childlike demeanor sometimes had the capacity to annoy more serious members of their peer group or family circle (like me), mostly, their good cheer was welcome and infectious.

There were many, many reasons why his family and friends called my dad Frisky, because he had more energy than a classroom full of kindergarteners, always bouncing, cackling, teasing, and making a competitive game out of the most ridiculous activities. One time when we were visiting him in southern Missouri, where he had settled into quasi-retirement, he greeted my girls with one of those 100-count boxes of colorful, tubular popsicles. He immediately began encouraging Savannah and Mackenzie to consume them two or three at a time; but, of course, just eating them was not enough. At some point in our weekend visit, probably late into the night after hours and hours of playing cards and consuming horrifying quantities of Hostess Ding Dongs, Doritos, and Pepsi, he organized a tasting game out of those damn frozen treats. He sorted them out, prepared bundles of every color for each one of us, and then conducted a blind taste test. We were all charged with tasting each color—red, green, orange, yellow, and blue—and with reporting the flavor of each, while blindfolded for added drama, of course. Jim made a great deal of fanfare over the entire test, dragging it out and providing lively, running commentary, carefully recording the results and, in the end, declaring a winner. I have no memory of who won, but I can tell you that we all laughed and laughed and ate way too many popsicles. My kids always remembered that silly experience with their silly grandfather; and, I am certain, such interactions with my dad made a deep impact on my little Macko.

Unfortunately, my kids had little time to know my father, as he died too young in 2001. I adopted some of his humor, and I have a penchant for various childhood delights (like cartoons, Disneyland, merciless teasing, and popsicles), but I turned out to be far too serious by Jim Pratt standards. Therefore, I am pleased that he was able to see some of his sunny perspective and humor in Mack; and had he lived longer, he would have been happy and proud to see how much like him she would ultimately become. Because somehow, either through genetics or that short seven years that their lives overlapped, Mack got the silly, happy, laughing genes of my father. Whenever she was chuckling over stupid jokes, badly singing a ridiculous song she had composed on the fly, or compelling her family members or friends to participate with her in a Mackified handshake or a made-up game, she reminded me so much of him…those sparkling brown eyes, all those freckles and that impish sense of humor.

As I continue to reflect on Mack’s good life and celebrate her character and qualities, I have begun to see much more clearly the connections between these two important people in my life. My dad would have been seventy-one this week, and as has become my custom, I will on his birthday enjoy a Pepsi, a beverage for which his love was legendary. But this year, without Mack to share that Pepsi and swap some crazy Grandpa Jim stories, I want to tell one of Mack’s favorite tales. No doubt she enjoyed this one partly because it reflected so well on her football knowledge and her Irish luck, but also because it was one she vividly recalled and for which she possessed a tangible memento.

Jim Pratt preferred that his family members share his devotion to the NFL; but he required them to participate in the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool whether they loved football or not. While he let some family members, like my mother and my husband, mostly off the hook, all others were compelled to partake. Even girly little Savannah, who made her picks based upon the likability of the team mascots, enjoyed the fun. For years, my dad would call everyone up each week and record their picks in his Pratt Book of World Records (a ragged notebook smeared with the colorful felt-tip ink he always used). Bragging rights were the only reward for being a weekly or a season winner, yet we all trash-talked and fussed as if serious money was at stake. Mack was particularly good at the trash-talking, but she backed up her sass with an impressively accurate pick record. Not at all surprising, really, because she dutifully compared team records, assessed strengths of schedule, and evaluated injury reports before making those weekly picks; and her methods yielded frequent bragging rights.

In Week 7 of the 2000 NFL season, Mack did what no other person in the history of the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool had ever done. Not my dad. Not me. Not anyone. That week, four teams were idle, but twenty-eight teams played fourteen games. Mack did her homework, selected her winners, and on October 19, after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football, she had accurately picked every winner. My dad was over the moon. He went nuts. He believed this may have been the single best Pratt family accomplishment EVER, and he decided it deserved much more than bragging rights. So at Christmas that year at my sister’s house, he orchestrated a mini award ceremony in front of the Christmas tree. He delivered a rousing speech, attesting to Mack’s impressive skills and the unworthiness of the rest of us slugs to compete in the same league with her. And with a great deal of drama, he presented Mack with a plaque, professionally engraved, recording her astounding achievement.

Now I ask you, is it really any wonder why Mackenzie was the happy goof that she always was? I think not. No doubt Grandpa Frisky had an important role to play in that youthful spirit that made my Macko so fun and so unique.

Macks perfect award 02      Macks perfect award 01Macks perfect award

What?!! All this for ME?

Raising Mack took a great deal of energy, because she was such a mischievous toddler and an active kid; and it took all of my organizational skills and gas money to transport her to practices and games for the nine different sports she played over the course of sixteen years. But in other ways, she was so, so easy. She was happy and silly on the outside, and she was tranquil and wise on the inside. She rarely sassed or grumbled and never felt sorry for herself. She would frequently with amusement report on the preteen and teenager drama of her classmates, but she never engaged in any of it herself. She was even-keeled, humble and sweet. For a child however, one of her most surprising and admirable traits was her gratitude. She was one of the most appreciative children I’ve ever known.

With the exception of frequently exercising her talents as a professional lobbyist for new pets, Mack never begged for material objects, especially items we could not afford. She never needed the most expensive bike, or jeans or golf clubs. She was never compelled to keep up with her peers in the accumulation of stuff. Mack was content and thankful for what she had, and she always felt a little guilty if we splurged for something like a quality catcher’s mitt or a pair of her favorite Nike sneakers that were not on sale. She adored a few precious objects—like Spot the little stuffed dog, her old-fashioned Nintendo games, her Buffy the Vampire box set, and a miniature “Dr. Who” Tardus made by the hand of a college friend. But mostly, material objects were of little importance to her.

Yet from a very young age, Mack was a gracious receiver of gifts. She would enthusiastically unwrap them, beam brightly and offer genuine enjoyment and thankfulness. At birthdays and at Christmas she always wanted to assure me that I had chosen the perfect gifts and had wrapped them beautifully. For her, receiving a gift was about making her gift giver happy. Underneath that silly, little kid persona, Mack was in that way a wise old soul. Her effusive acceptance of gifts always made me smile, and I admired this subtle quality in her. She always exhibited surprise and excitement upon opening a gift; and frequently she teased about being unworthy of such abundance.

When Mack was selecting a college, she fell in love with Oberlin, an extraordinary little school with an extraordinary sticker price. She visited twice, was recruited by the basketball coach, made her application and crossed her fingers and toes for enough scholarship money to make it work. The scholarship was significant, but insufficient. It absolutely broke my heart and it put a pretty good crack in hers as well, but she accepted it with grace. Of course, in the end, that disappointment mattered not to Mack. She found a suitable second choice, an equally quirky and special liberal arts environment at Truman State University in northern Missouri. She did not dwell on what was not to be, instead she focused on what she had in front of her. I pined for Oberlin far longer than she did. Not only did Mack move on quickly from the dream of Oberlin, she also appreciated that even the far more affordable Truman was expensive. When she went off to college in the fall of 2012, we put our family on a tight budget so as to fund most of the expense along the way and to avoid oppressive student loans. Mack accepted this plan with enthusiasm, and her discipline to make it work was admirable. She dutifully followed her budget and never once complained. She always waited too long to ask for additional funds, she felt guilty when necessity required her to ask for money and she always exhibited sincere appreciation for all she received.

At times, I find myself wishing that Mack had been more demanding. Wishing that I had showered her with more of the things she might have enjoyed but for which she was too kind to ask. Wishing that I could have afforded to send her to Oberlin. Wishing that I would have spoiled her way more rotten than I did since, as it turned out, I had so little time to indulge her. But Mack did not sit around wishing for things that were not possible. She did not dwell on the past or worry about the future. She did what we all need to try harder to do: to live in the moment and to be content with what we have immediately in our midst and easily within our grasp.

What an amazing and sage kid she was. I knew it then. I know it better now. For Mack, the glass was always half full, not half empty. For Mack, the sky was partly sunny, not partly cloudy. For Mack, life was not about the quality or quantity of your material possessions. I am pretty certain that Mack would say to me now that her twenty years were, in her words, “all good.” And I’m pretty certain Mack would tell me now she had all she ever needed. I am trying hard to keep this in mind, and I am trying even harder to believe it.

Back Camera     all for me 2

A Mackenzie text from college…

asking for money

Be More Mack-Like

Of course, Mackenzie was always special to me; she was my funny little imp who daily filled my life with laughter and joy. Early on in her childhood, I recognized that she enjoyed the company of a small circle of adoring friends; I knew that the parents of her friends were crazy about her; and it was clear she was well-liked by many of her classmates, teammates, coaches and teachers. Yet until I lost her, I failed to fully comprehend the deep and lasting influence she made upon those who were lucky enough to know her. Watching nearly 600 people arrive at the memorial service in the Springfield High School gymnasium on October 12, 2014, I was overwhelmed by the number of mourners and comforted by the tremendous outpouring of love for my little girl. Despite living just twenty years, Mack made a lasting and deep imprint on more human hearts than most of us will with four times as many years to live.

Jack Stapleton, Mack’s high school golf coach and favorite teacher, closed his remarks at her memorial service by appealing to everyone assembled in that gym to be more “‘Mack-like,” by bringing joy to everything you do and becoming friends with everyone you meet in life.” There is no doubt in my aching heart that Mack lived life with the gusto of an exuberant ten-year-old, and her joyful approach to everything she did was infectious. There is also no doubt that even though Mack was somewhat shy around strangers, as soon as introductions were behind her, she scooped up people in those long arms and treated them with the same love and respect she would a long-lost friend.

Over the past three months, Jake’s entreaty has stuck with me; and I have thought quite a lot about what I can do in my own life to be more “Mack-like.” I do not generally make New Year’s resolutions, but as I face 2015 without Mack—one of my most important inspirations—I believe attempting to adopt for myself some of her best qualities will bring me some comfort. As well, emulating her will honor her life and help me to be a better person.

And so, in 2015, I promise to:

  1. Enjoy life: Mack set the bar very high on joy, but I am going to try my damnedest to make her proud. Mack lived in the moment, she did not let worries or the future interfere with the people, events or food staring her right in her freckled face. With Mack as my inspiration and the practice of some yoga, I am going to learn to delight in simple, silly pleasures, like a plate of piping-hot fried rice, a quiet conversation with a friend or an episode of a stupid sit-com.
  2. Be a good friend: I am likely incapable of competing with Mack for number of “best” friends, but I am going to be a better friend. I am going to work to be kinder, more patient and less judgmental; and I am going to look for opportunities to make new friends.
  3. Try something new: Mack was adventurous, always setting fear and doubt aside. When she decided to throw the discus and compete in high jump in middle school track, I was in awe of her willingness to take on two such new and foreign activities, both well outside of her team-sport comfort zone. This year I am going to try something new and foreign that will force me to step outside of my own comfort zone.
  4. Relax: Mack frequently scolded me for being too serious, so I am going to try to relax and see humor in things that previously would have angered or annoyed me. One time in our kitchen in Springfield, Mack knocked a carton of eggs off the counter. Two of the eggs were intact, but the others were annihilated on the ceramic tile floor. Both of us gasped, so our reactions started out the same way. However, at the very second that I started screaming that she should have been more careful, she began laughing, uncontrollably, commenting on how funny it was that the eggs on the floor looked like eggs cooked three ways: hard-boiled, fried and scrambled. I’ll need both Mack and the yoga for this one; but I assure you, the next time eggs fall off my counter, I’m going to laugh instead of yell.
  5. Laugh: Mack was so much fun; she laughed, chortled, snorted, giggled and guffawed constantly. She knew better than most that laughter is a wise tonic. I am dedicated most singularly to this final “resolution.” I will find humor wherever I can. I will laugh as often as I am capable.

In other words, I promise to be more “Mack-like.”

In life, Mack was an inspiration to me, and facing all of 2015 without her is going to be a monumental struggle. But I was one of the lucky people in the world upon whose heart she made a lasting and deep imprint. Mack will forever live in my heart, memories of her will always occupy my mind, and I am going to keep her perched upon my shoulder. From that vantage point, she will continue to inspire me every day to be more “Mack-like.” To enjoy life’s simple pleasures with the enthusiasm of a child. To be a good friend. To set fear aside and try new things. To be unflappable. And most of all, to laugh. Laugh. Laugh. And laugh some more.

on my shoulder

Enjoy life…


Be a being a good friend…

being a friend

Try something new…




And, laugh…