For all of us who loved her, the sky is cloudier, the sun is less bright, and the world is far too quiet. With tears we have paved the winding road of this grueling, twelve-month journey without her. Along the path, we have tripped over anger, stumbled on sorrow, and struggled for air to breathe. Yet between stretches of hard travel through grief, we have taken respite from it by finding ways to keep Mack with us. Some great deeds as well as simple gestures have offered us rest for our weary and broken hearts, have given us strength to make it around each uncertain bend in the road, paid tribute to Mack’s beautiful spirit, and honored Mack’s significance in our lives.
During my journey of grief over these last 365 days, I have been buoyed by the abiding love of family, by the patience and kindness of friends, and by the constructive therapy of writing. I found solace in the beautiful and fitting memorial service for Mack, I drew strength from heartfelt tributes from her family members and friends, and I continue to take comfort in the photos and stories about Mack posted on social media. The tattoo on my wrist honors Mack’s name and will endure until my own death, an endowed scholarship will give meaning to Mack’s life in perpetuity, and an elegant brass plaque on granite in a peaceful spot near the Lincoln Tomb will mark the place where Mack will rest easy for all eternity. These great deeds and simple gestures have not lessened the reality of my terrible loss, but they have eased my journey. They have not kept all of the bitter tears and deep sorrow at bay, but they have provided me the strength I need to survive my terrible loss. Most importantly, they have shown me that despite Mack’s short time in the world, she made an inspirational and everlasting impression on the lives of the people who loved her.
Memorial Service in Springfield:
Nearly 600 people gathered in the gymnasium at Springfield High School on Sunday, October 12, for our public goodbye to Mack. It was a dreadful day for all of us, but it was also a respite from our private sorrow. The purple balloons, the giant picture boards, Mack’s high school softball teammates presenting her jersey, and eulogies by her second father, her favorite teacher, and her best friends broke our hearts but also lifted our spirits. There was great comfort in being there with so many other people who loved Mack. The dear friends who made this beautiful memorial service possible gave us all an amazing gift: the public time we needed to cry together, to acknowledge our terrible loss together, and to celebrate Mack’s life together.
Social media has offered all of us a forum to share our personal stories about Mack, to post our favorite pictures with her, and to draw strength from knowing we were not alone in our grief. In the first terrible weeks without Mack, there were hundreds of tributes on Facebook and Twitter, and there was a deluge of photos, short notes, and longer homages. The daily posts have now ceased, but there is still a regular hum of activity on Mack’s page, as people add reminiscences, express loneliness caused by Mack’s absence from their lives, and, even sometimes, continue to talk to her. Say what you will of the vagaries of Facebook, but for me it is a positive presence, a helpful friend, and a portal to Mack’s beautiful collection of people.
Just hours after losing Mack, I was compelled to write about my loss. This memorial blog has given voice to the emotions that threatened to drown me. Writing shined a light on the path of my journey through the dark days, and I have been lucky and thankful to find some grace along the way. The blog captures my sorrow, but it also seeks to capture my girl; and in capturing my girl, it has led me to smiles and laughter I desperately need. The writing helps me and, it turns out, the writing helps others (especially Mack’s grandparents); and this is a most wonderful and unexpected gift that I am happy to bestow upon the people who feel Mack’s absence as keenly as I do.
Writing is a powerful remedy for grief, and I am grateful that others have picked up their pens to honor our incomparable Mack. Kevin edited a beautiful volume of Mack’s writing and has given us all a sweet and personal keepsake. But this fall, Truman State University will accession a copy of Mack: Her Life and Words (http://mackmcd.yolasite.com/) into the collections of the Pickler Memorial Library, which will preserve Mack’s words at the campus she loved. And as the following elegantly penned eulogies attest, writing can, indeed, set us free.
Truman State Tribute: http://tmn.truman.edu/blog/editorial/editor-remembers-mackenzie-mcdermott/
Kailey’s beautiful blog post: http://kaileytrieger.weebly.com/blog/in-loving-memory-of-mackenzie-mcdermott
Justice’s heartwarming eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9e2NIGnbww
Sometimes, it is a simple gesture that warms our hearts and keeps Mack close. In November, just weeks after Mack’s death, some of her golfing buddies (who played for a rival high school) wore Mack ribbons in Mack’s high school colors during their appearance in the state tournament. A favorite Mack mom made memorial t-shirts, and a younger softball teammate wrote her nickname for Mack on the catcher’s mitt that Mack had bequeathed to her. A lifelong friend and golf teammate adorned her golf bag with ribbons honoring Mack, and I and at least two other people who loved Mack, got tattoos to commemorate the imprint Mack made upon our hearts. (https://macksmommabear.com/2015/04/22/permanent-mack/).
Mack was cremated in Spain, but even upon the return of her remains to the United States, we made no plans for interment. As some time passed, however, and some of the shock wore off, we decided that interment and a permanent marker were important to us. Oak Ridge Cemetery, the beautiful and tranquil home of the Lincoln Tomb, was our immediate and contented choice. Springfield is Mack’s hometown, and the historical significance of Oak Ridge strikes a peaceful chord in my historical sensibilities. We have chosen a grassy spot under a gigantic and gnarled old tree that keeps watch over a quiet grassy area with old and new headstones. A marker in bronze with a lovely shamrock will note Mack’s existence in the world, all of us who need it will have a physical place to commune with Mack’s spirit, and the historian in me is grateful that Mack will belong to the ages near Mr. Lincoln.
The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship at Truman State University:
Most of my attempts to survive this unbearable loss have been small gestures that bring me welcome, albeit limited, peace. But the endowment of a scholarship in Mack’s honor is the best great deed we have accomplished since Mack’s passing. I take credit for the idea, and Mack’s father did all of the initial work with Truman State to make it happen. But it took a Mack-sized community of people to make an endowed memorial scholarship a reality. In just two short months, the annual scholarship for creative writers was fully endowed, and in August we honored our first scholarship recipient (https://macksmommabear.com/2014/12/09/honoring-mack/; https://macksmommabear.com/2015/08/15/magical-medicine/). The generosity and love of more than one hundred donors made this great deed possible. I am so grateful for the power of that generosity and love to bring us all some peace. And I stand in awe of the beautiful girl whose life inspired it all.
One year ago today, we lost our incomparable Mack.
Here we now stand with one year of life without Mack behind us. Every holiday. Every month. Every season. We have survived the lonely and sorrowful road through them all. Now we have some experience—however bitter, however hard—to understand something of the grief we have endured in losing Mack and to recognize the difficulties we yet face in our efforts to adjust to a world without her. And through all of our great deeds and simple gestures, we will continue to appreciate the time we spent with Mack, to cherish the memories we made with her, and to draw strength from the love she gave us and the love we have for her…always.