Missing Mack

It has been a rough month. No lies. Like amusement park rides, emotional roller coasters make me nauseous, and March has jarred my body, unsettled my mind, and bounced my spirit up, down, and sideways. I spent most of the days of this month, sometimes hours at a time, keenly missing my Mack, missing life around me, and mostly missing any level of strength to cope with my sorrow. Passing a second of Mack’s birthdays without her, giving the most important professional presentation of my life at Ford’s Theatre just two days later, making my first visit to Mack’s grave at Oak Ridge Cemetery, and then marking the fifteen-year anniversary of my father’s death on the same day as a McDermott family dinner in Mack’s honor really beat the crap out of me. March has punched me hard in the gut; and right now rainy April never looked so good.

But I am not writing today to remain submerged within my sea of sorrows. Rather, I am writing today to settle my stomach, to put March 2016 in my past, and to set my sights on a happier spring. I want to leave behind this emotionally challenging and spiritually draining month by sharing the blessing of a new family tradition of which my sweet, spicy and always hungry Mack would heartily approve. Mack’s cousin Jacquie, the eldest McDermott cousin, had the idea last year to plan a Mack Day Dinner, and so we gathered for Thai food, Mack’s favorite cuisine, on her first missed birthday, on March 17, 2015. Then, on March 26, 2016, at the King & I Thai restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, twenty-six McDermotts made the Mack Day Dinner an annual tradition. From the belly of our sorrows, a beautiful new family tradition is born. A tradition in which we can all miss Mack together. A tradition that will keep us connected to Mack’s spirit. A tradition that will keep us connected to each other. And a tradition that tethers the past, the present, and the future.

Missing my Mack…



March 26, 2016

Missing my dad (here with Mack)…baby Mack and Dad

But thankful for a new tradition…


Mackenzie Kathleen is (Still) Here

I woke up early on St. Patrick’s Day in 1994. Oh, about 5 a.m., I believe. Kevin was still asleep. Savannah was still asleep, no doubt cuddled under her covers with her teddy bear Pickles. Whiskers, our striped orange cat, was still curled up next to my head on the pillow. But my big belly was wide awake, and as I drew a deep breath through that first contraction, I smiled. My second baby girl was on her way, and she was going to be a little Irish lass. I positioned myself comfortably upon all of my extra pillows and stayed quiet and still for the next hour, resting my eyes, breathing deeply, and remaining calm. Second babies were easier, and this one was going to arrive with a minimum of fuss, I just knew it. I spent that precious time alone thinking of this new little girl that I would soon meet. There was such love and joy in my heart for her already and there were so many beautiful mysteries in front of me about how she would look, what would be the character of her heart and the quality of her mind, and how her life would unfold.

When the alarm clock signaled the real beginning of the day, I set in motion my plan for a normal weekday morning, at least until Savannah was delivered to her kindergarten classroom and I was on my way to the hospital. Still calm, but increasingly excited, I showered and dressed, helped Savannah prepare for her school day, alerted my obstetrician, and called my mother to begin her journey to Springfield. When we deposited a nervous little Savannah at Dubois Elementary, ensuring her we that would call the school just as soon as her sister arrived, I viewed within the sparkle of my firstborn’s hazel eyes the love already overflowing for her long-awaited little sister. By ten that morning, I was settled in at St. John’s Hospital, and after a visit from the most popular anesthesiologist in the maternity ward (epidurals are the way to go, my friends) and a relatively easy delivery, we announced to the world: Mackenzie Kathleen is here!

brand new Macko

On that first day of my new baby’s life, I knew nothing of who she was in her heart, what talents she might possess, or how special her spirit was to be. I could not then divine that she was charming, funny, and athletic. I did not then know that her palate was awaiting sour candies and spicy Thai food. I had no inkling that she would have a passion for popular culture, for lazy afternoons, and for writing. I was, as yet, unaware that her heart was bursting to make its mark on a bevy of best friends. I did not even yet know that she was Mack. On that first day of her life, she was Mackenzie Kathleen, our lucky little leprechaun, the final piece of our McDermott family puzzle. On that first day, she was just a sweet and perfect baby daughter and an eagerly awaited and immediately beloved little sister; and our hearts were full of unconditional love no matter what the future would hold for her or for us.

Now, of course, twenty-two years later, I know exactly the heart, mind, and character of Mackenzie Kathleen, our Irish girl who jigged and giggled her way through our twenty years together. I am so thankful for those years, immeasurably grateful for my time with her. It was an honor to call her my daughter, and it was the greatest of joys to be her Momma Bear. I am proud of the kid she was and of the young woman she became. She enriched my life in so many ways, some of which I have been able to articulate within the essays of this blog and others for which there is no earthy way to adequately measure or to appropriately define.

Now, on this day, twenty-two years later, I am bitter in the loss of Mack’s beautiful life. I understand all too well that melancholy milestones like a birthday have the power to subdue all of the strength within me. I have sadly accepted the eternal existence of a mother’s grief. But I have also learned that there is help for me through the hours of these cruel landmarks of life without Mack. Help grown from a tiny baby girl born on March 17, 1994. Help in the form of a tall and leggy, freckled, Irish lass with the light of a million stars around her and the laughter of an angel within her. Because Mack is with me in my heart. She occupies my memories. Her spirit and good cheer is ever in the air that I breathe. Because Mackenzie Kathleen is still here. Mack is still here. And I am all the better for it.

Lá breithe shona duit, Mackenzie Kathleen. Happy Birthday, Mack. You continue to be an exquisite force of nature in the lives of us all.

Project Mack

Mack was a joyous and inspirational presence in the lives of her family members and her friends, and each one of us who loved her struggles to cope with the reality of life without her. To keep Mack with us, her family members, her friends, and I have set up a scholarship in her name, blogged about her life, published her writing, written touching eulogies, used social media to share photos and memories, gotten tattoos, and kept Mack alive in our hearts as we each strive in our own way to carry on with as much grace, hope, and Mack humor as we can possibly muster. The outpouring of love for Mack has buoyed me in my sea of sorrow, and the brilliant and beautiful ways that people pay tribute to the memory of my darling girl gives me strength to keep my head above the water.

Mack’s spirit lives in every beat of our hearts, and to observe her birthday this month I want to recognize one particularly extraordinary effort to share Mack’s spirit and to take her heart out into the world. Founded by Mack’s best friend Justice, Project Mack is based on the principle that individual people can make a difference in the lives of their friends, can influence the character of their communities, and can have an impact on the world. Through this very human project, Justice pays tribute to her friendship with Mack and draws inspiration from Mack’s personal philosophy. Because Mack loved life, was a devoted friend, always kept an open mind, maintained a cool and calm demeanor, and giggled every single day of her life, Project Mack wants to inspire others to “Enjoy Life. Be a Good Friend. Try Something New. Relax. Laugh.” And, most importantly, to “Live a Life of Impact.”

Project Mack

Through inspirational messages, multimedia, and monthly Big Mack Challenges, Project Mack is getting started in Kansas City, where Justice attends the University of Missouri, KC. Whether it’s delivering lunches to a homeless shelter, presenting flowers to nurses, passing out treat bags to students on campus, hanging out with young children at a community center, or hosting a bake sale to raise money for a friend who was facing a serious surgery, Project Mack is taking random acts of kindness to a whole new level. Justice not only channels Mack’s spirit in the effort, but she shares her own gentle nature, her own kind heart, and her energy and enthusiasm to make an impact in the world, as well. I am, simply, in awe.

Mack Madness

At Project Mack, this month is March Mackness and here are Justice’s three new Big Mack Challenges (taken from www.projectmack.com):

  1. Celebrate Mack Day! Out of every #BIGMACKCHALLENGE thus far, this probably is my favorite. Mackenzie, who is the heart and soul of #PROJECTMACK, would have turned 22 this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Mackenzie loved to have a good time and loved the fact she was born on St. Patty’s. It just wouldn’t be right not to celebrate her birthday, so that’s just what we want everyone to do! This #BIGMACKCHALLENGE is simple, go out and celebrate St. Patty’s day and more important Mack’s birthday. Even if you didn’t know Mack, go out and have a great time in her memory. Since she can’t celebrate her birthday, we should do it for her. Then post a picture and tag us in it! #projectmack.
  1. Big Trash Clean up: Our environment is something we really need to start taking better care of. So with this #BIGMACKCHALLENGE we want you to go out and pick up trash and litter. Try and get your teams, family, and classmates, involved! You can even make a community service event out of it. Pollution is something we take way too lightly and we need to take more responsibility for how we treat the earth. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. Don’t forget to post your stories and tag us in it!
  1. Treats for Teachers: Teachers are the back bone of our education system. I don’t think people realize how important they really are. And on top of that, they don’t get even half of the appreciation they honestly deserve. So with this month’s #BIGMACKCHALLENGE we want you to in some way say thank you to those who teach. There are tons of ways to say thank you, so don’t be afraid to get creative. And those college students who are home on Spring Break, maybe stop by and say hi to an old teacher. There are endless possibilities!

Project Mack is pretty freaking amazing, right?!! So, here and now, I am taking up that first Big Mack Challenge by encouraging you all to celebrate Mack’s birthday and March Mackness by connecting with Project Mack. Joining this big and bold movement to embrace our humanity, to be grateful for the people in our communities, and to be a source of positive light and energy in the world is a perfect way to celebrate Mack’s birthday. It’s better than a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” More original than chocolate cake with buttercream frosting and sprinkles. And way grander than a mug of green beer. There is no better way to party on Mack Day than to support Project Mack and one remarkable young woman’s effort to cherish the memory of her best friend by living “a life of impact” and inspiring others to do the same.

Please visit Project Mack at: http://www.projectmack.com/. Don’t miss the entertaining monthly videos that shows Project Mack at work.

Like Project Mack on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/projectmackk/?fref=ts

Stay connected on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Project_Mack?lang=en (#Projectmack)

And if you need to be reminded about why Mack cherished her friendship with Justice, check out this blog from January:  https://macksmommabear.com/2015/12/03/macks-best-friends-justice/

Mack and JC 2