The Happiest and Most Enduring of Memorials

There is a smart, joyful, and kooky young woman at Truman State University for whom writing is an essential activity of life. She is also a devoted fan of sleeping, eating, and steering clear of spiders. Oh, and her name starts with an “M” and she is witty and adores absurdity. Sound familiar? Uncanny, indeed, but in all of these wonderful ways, she truly is just like our Mack. So I am beyond charmed and delighted to announce that Marisa Gearin—a senior, creative writing major from St. Louis—is the second recipient of the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship. Kudos to the Truman State Foundation for finding yet another Mack-like spirit on which to bestow the award that honors her life.

Even before official word from the Truman State Foundation, I received a welcome holiday gift in December in the form of Marisa’s handwritten, thank you note. marisaIn the message, penned in a slightly larger, but scratch-style writing quite similar to Mack’s own, she exuded passion in her descriptions of her writing and in sharing her aspirations for her life beyond college. Like Mack’s sister Savannah, she hopes to live and teach abroad after graduation. The scholarship will help ease the costs of her final year at Truman and will help her save money for graduate school, as well. Marisa writes poetry and short fiction and has been involved with the Truman slam poetry team TruSlam (check out her Mack-perfect, spider-hating poem at She has published work in the Truman publications Windfall and Monitor and is the author of a collection of short stories entitled Egg Teeth: Realist Fiction for Young Minds. The back cover of Marisa’s book would have earned critical acclaim from Mack, tickling her funny bone and eliciting her classic crooked smile and a hearty Mack cackle.



In my heart, I am starting to think that Mack herself might be intervening in the selection of these scholarship recipients, whispering in the ears of the judges, telling jokes to bend them toward the most Mack-appropriate of the candidates. In my head, I know that Mack would be pleased to make this little, annual difference in the life of a student writer. Knowing that it would please Mack so well adds another depth of meaning in the enormity of this scholarship to my emotional wellbeing and my search for solace in a world without her.

Mack’s scholarship began as a simple gesture of grieving parents to honor a beloved child. The scholarship has become a living memorial to Mack’s beautiful life and spirit and to the joy and meaning she brought into our lives. The scholarship at its core is for and about Mack. But it is also about the amazing student writers it benefits; first Megan, now Marisa, and all of those amazing student writers yet to come. Mack’s scholarship is also about the donors who have made it possible. The power to confer this $1,000 annual award lives within the love and generosity of all of the amazing human beings who have helped endow the scholarship in perpetuity. I am still overwhelmed by the contributions that provided the initial endowment way back in December 2014 and by the donations that continue to flow in support of building the endowment for even greater impact.

I have said it before, but I can never say it enough, and so I am saying it once again. Thank you for loving Mack and for supporting this scholarship in her honor. What could possibly be more gratifying than helping a passionate, student writer like Marisa Gearin pay for college? What could possibly be a more fitting way to honor our Mack, whose joy for life brought so much joy into our own? And what could possibly bring a grieving mother more solace than a legacy that preserves her child’s spirit in the present and connects her legacy to the future? This scholarship really is the happiest and most enduring of memorials; a living, breathing tribute to a beautiful life well lived, to the promise of lives yet lived, and to the gratitude and love within the living hearts that Mack left behind her.


The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship Fund
(for creative writing students)
Truman State University Foundation
205 McClain Hall, Kirksville, MO 63501

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A Thanksgiving Tradition for Mack

Thanksgiving is a perfect American holiday because it is a holiday for all Americans, it transcends religious and cultural divides, it encourages gratitude, it focuses on the family table, and it celebrates food. For all of those reasons, Mack loved Thanksgiving, but mostly she loved it for the food. Every year as we drove to my sister’s house for our annual family feast, Mack would say something like: “Thanksgiving is da best, because I can eat three plates of noodles and no one will judge me.” (I can certainly attest that Mack could definitely put down some noodles!). Sharing a meal with Mack was delightful, because her love and appreciation for food was infectious; and Mack’s enthusiasm for food and her joy of eating always enriched our Thanksgiving dinners together. All holidays without Mack are difficult, but I feel her absence more keenly when food is the focus, and so Thanksgivings without her will always be particularly sad days for me.

In bracing myself last year for my first Thanksgiving without Mack, I wrote a blog about Mack’s love of food and her unique philosophy of eating. At most every meal she ever ate, Mack saved a perfect last bite for the end. It was a bite that epitomized the best qualities of the meal. A bite for which she would close her eyes to more deeply savor the food she had just enjoyed. A bite that would linger on her tongue and remain in her brain. Since writing that Thanksgiving blog, I have frequently finished a meal with a Mack-perfect last bite. It is a small and quiet way to honor my girl, but it is also a reminder to me to stop for a moment to appreciate the simple joy of good food. Thanksgiving is a holiday of food and of gratitude, and so it was a Mack-perfect holiday; and a Mack-perfect last bite is a perfect holiday tradition that I will always observe. So go break bread with your families. Go gorge yourselves on noodles (no one will judge you and Mack will definitely approve). And then, end the meal with a perfect last bite to savor, to appreciate, and to remember.

For inspiration from Mack’s perfect-last-bite philosophy, please read last year’s Thanksgiving blog: I think you will see that Mack’s joyous approach to food was, indeed, an inspiration. Love and cheers to you all and my best good wishes that your perfect last bites this Thanksgiving will be memorable.

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McDermott Family Cheers in Ireland, 2002. (Mack is reppin’ the Yankees in her motherland).


The Perfect Last Bite

On the eve of Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to share this particular story about Mack. It is yet another one of those quirky things about her that I have often referred to as a Mackism or described as “so Mack-like” or as a “Mack-thing.” But it is, more importantly, one of her personality characteristics that should inspire us all as we look forward to the bounty of food we will enjoy on Thanksgiving Day.

One of the greatest joys in Mack’s life was food. She loved junk foods like Funyuns and painfully sour candies, but she also craved fresh fruits and vegetables. She adored a greasy American bacon-cheeseburger with fries, but she needed a steady diet of ethnic cuisine as well. She was obsessed with bacon, Korean Choco-Pies (thank you, Jackie, for feeding that obsession!), mangoes, sushi, Arizona iced-tea in the big green can, and curry fried rice, to name just a few of her favorites. But no matter what she ate, she always took time to reflect upon the food she was shoveling into her mouth, to slow down when it was almost devoured, and to take time to savor it in the end.

Many kids are picky eaters, and most do not give a second thought to the food they eat. With the exception of tomatoes, peanut butter and turkey, Mack was not finicky. In fact, from about the age of two when she already had an affinity for spicy salsa, she possessed a sophisticated palate beyond her years. Most uniquely, however, she was a kid who appreciated food, always thanked me for cooking, and spent a large percentage of the little talking she did do on discussing the food she was going to eat, the food she was eating and the food she was planning to eat.

On a daily basis, Mack also engaged in an eating ritual uniquely her own and one that beautifully illustrates her uncommon appreciation for food. When she was quite young, she started a ritual that became a daily routine in her life: as she was eating, she always planned for a perfect last bite. If she was devouring a bag of Warheads, she made certain her favorite flavor was the last one. If she was enjoying a plate of pad see ew, she moved an exacting ratio of the various ingredients of the dish to the side of the plate to save for the very end. If she was warming herself with a big bowl of my homemade broccoli-cheese soup, she made absolutely certain that there was a big, fluffy floweret of broccoli for the final spoonful. And when it was time for her perfectly designed last bite, she cleansed her palate and consumed it slowly and with much delight.

Rarely did Mack discuss this ritual or draw attention to it, but it became obvious to people who dined with her on a regular basis. Occasionally, I would prepare my own perfect last bite if we were sharing a particularly good meal; but it remained, mostly, a Mack-thing. In honor of Mackenzie, however, I am not only going to take up her perfect last-bite religion on Thanksgiving this year, but I am also going to make a concerted effort to make it a regular part of my life. I do not know why I did not adopt it before, because saving a perfect last bite makes so much sense. I do not know why I thought of it only as another goofy Mackism, because, you know what, Mack’s respect and appreciation for food should have inspired me a long, long time ago.

Mack never presumed to tell people how they should live their lives, so it is not surprising that she never proselytized her perfect, last-bite ideology. But unlike Mack, her mother is far less shy about conveying her opinions to others. So even though Mack might find it unseemly, I am going to urge everyone at my table this Thanksgiving to think about a perfect last bite as they eat through all of the dishes before them. I am going to ask them all to prepare and to slowly savor a perfect last bite.

And I am going to take the proselytizing one step further by imploring all of you to be a little more Mack-like tomorrow. To slow down, at least a little, at the end of the meal. To pause a moment to appreciate the good food. And, most importantly, to savor and to take particular delight in your own perfect last bite.

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P.S. One of Mack’s best friends, Jackie Pascoe added the following message and a picture of Mack contemplating a perfect last bite…

“This was definitely a Mack-thing. I remember Mack doing this all the time whenever we’d get sushi; she’d save the last piece of her favorite roll for her last bite, and it even encouraged me to do the same. Mackenzie would even be her goofy self before her last bite (as shown in picture below). And yes, Mack could not get enough of those choco-pies but I definitely enjoyed watching her eyes light up whenever I would bring her one or even a box of them.”

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