More Hugs

Today is National Hug Day, and although these ubiquitous national days often make my eyes roll, this one is perfectly Mack appropriate. Mack hugged her people with rib-breaking enthusiasm, and there was no escape when her long arms gathered you in for a squeeze. So in honor of Mack on this National Hug Day, I want to encourage you all to offer up your best Big Mack hug to someone you love; and to celebrate the day and to honor my world champion hugger, I offer this repost of a blog I wrote back in November 2014…

Hugs

If you were a person in Mack’s life, you knew that you were going to get hugs. Lots of hugs. From big bear hugs to hand hugs,* Mack hugged not only her own family members and her closest friends, but also her teachers, her coaches, and even some people she was just getting to know. She hugged you for pictures, she snuck up on you to hug you, and there was no escape from her strong grip if she decided you needed one of her famous Big Mack squeezes. Mack was not a big talker, and she was never verbally effusive with her emotions. Instead, she chose to love people by physically embracing them. Mack was full of love and delight for the people who were special to her. But Mack’s hugs were more about her wish to make those she hugged feel unconditionally loved and accepted than they were about showing her own affection.

Mack’s hugs became legendary, especially among all of her various adopted moms. At Mack’s memorial service, one of those special women (Sonya, a basketball mom and good friend) told me that she always looked forward to getting settled in at the basketball games, because she knew that even if she had just seen her the night before, Mack would run up the bleachers and give her a huge hug as if she hadn’t seen her in months. Another adopted mom (Ellen, who raised one of Mack’s oldest friends) wrote to me about how much she loved those hugs, referring to Mack as “the human Great Dane who thought she was a lap puppy.”

Mack was, indeed, a bit like a big happy puppy dog. So many photographs of her with friends reveal her inner marshmallow. She loved people hard, and she hugged them harder. Sometimes she hugged me so hard, she squeezed the air right out of my lungs. If I had a bad day, a bear hug from my Mack could make all of my worries melt away. Often, she would wrap her long arms around my shoulders, pull my head onto her chest, rest her chin on the top of my head, pat my back and say, “momma knows, momma knows.” She was being goofy and ridiculous, but she was also showing love and tenderness in her own unique way…with a Big Mack hug. God, I just loved those hugs. I cannot imagine how I will get through the rest of my life without them; and I would sell my soul to the devil for just one more.

 *Mack invented hand hugs sometime in high school. Basically, a hand hug is when two people press their palms together and wrap their own thumbs around the other person’s hand. It was just one of many silly rituals that Mack created to bond with teammates, be close with friends without being too gushy about it, and to give people around her an excuse to smile, laugh, and to be close to one another.

The hugging starting early with my Macko…

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Mack in pink is scooping up a couple of kindergarten friends here and Elyse (in the middle) was a life-long victim of Mack’s bear hugs.

Teammates were easy targets for Mack’s hugs. Mack offered her hugs in celebration of big wins and in consolation when the losses came hard…

Mack loved to wrap her arms around her “big” Sissy…

And she loved her Papa Bear…

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And here Mack is huggin’ on a football opponent…

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ha ha…just kidding (but what an awesome tackle, right?)

Mack was particularly fond of hugging those she called her “small, huggable people” and here she is with two of her favorites…

Kimber, Mack’s friend and special teammate (Mack and Kimber formed the battery of the SHS softball team), offered this lovely “hand hug” tribute to Mack on Mack’s birthday last year…

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Check out the previous Hugs blog for more photos of Mack squeezing the puddin’ out of the people she loved: https://macksmommabear.com/2014/11/24/hugs/

But when you’re done, go hug someone to pieces. That would be the best way to honor Mack on National Hug Day!

Mack’s Best Friends: Justice

By the time Mack was ten and fully immersed in competitive basketball, she knew every player her own age and she was very aware of all of the best older players in the region. At tournaments, she enjoyed watching elite older players, and on the drive home she talked about them, analyzing their shooting styles, ball-handling skills, and prospects for playing at the college level. But after one tournament in the summer of 2006, in Bloomington, Illinois, it was a younger player who caught Mack’s attention; and all the way home she could not stop talking about her. Mack was in awe of this younger player partly because her approach to the game was so different. Mack was a pure point guard, a methodical executor of an offensive game plan and a skilled passer, who was more tickled by a slick assist than by hitting her own deep, three-point shot. In contrast, this younger player demanded the ball, relied on her athletic instincts, and was fast and fearless; and Mack respected her athleticism and full-throttle style. But mostly, Mack connected with this player’s joyful exuberance, as she saw a kid who shared her own passion for basketball and for life. Mack not only wanted to play ball with this player, but she wanted to make her a friend, too.

That player’s name was Justice; and little did she know in the summer of 2006 that she was in Mack’s sights, hand-picked for Mack’s impressive collection of best friends. But when Justice arrived at Franklin Middle School as a seventh grader in the fall of 2007, Mack—the big, confident eighth grader—immediately scooped up the new kid in her long arms and “collected” her right away. Justice probably did not know what had hit her; and it took about two minutes before those crazy girls became two peas in a pod. Mack made friends effortlessly, but I never saw such a fast and easy friendship as the one between Mack and Justice. They were soul sisters from the start and had more fun than any two girls in the history of American middle school. Together they were loud and joyful, took advantage of every second to breathe in and experience the world around them, and left a trail of mischief and merriment in their wake. Some of my favorite life moments were spent driving between our house and Justice’s house on the opposite side of Springfield with those high-spirited and noisy girls in my backseat.

In that first magical year as friends, Mack and Justice were still very different basketball players, but that was about the only real difference between them. They were both confident and mentally tough, cheerful, unfazed by popularity and preteen drama, smart but lazy students, witty and sarcastic. In the hallways at school, on the volleyball, basketball, and track teams, and after school and on weekends, Mack and Justice were joined at the hip. Justice became a part of Mack’s eighth-grade friend circle, and Mack spent time with Justice’s group of seventh grade friends as well. And, finally, those girls got to play some basketball together—at Franklin basketball practices (although Coach Bitner would not let them guard one another because they giggled way too much) and on a winning Gus Macker team one summer.

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Mack, Mariah, Corrine, and Justice

But most of the growing-up memories Mack and Justice made together had absolutely nothing to do with sports. They teased and pushed one another, looked out for each other, and accepted each other unconditionally. They were just kids together, acting like fools, making messes, and laughing…so much laughing…loud, hysterical laughing. I could fill a dozen or more blogs with Mack-and-Justice stories, but I will now offer three that reveal something of the nature of the relationship between these special kids.

Good-natured teasing: One weekday evening as I was preparing dinner, Mack came rumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen. She called for my attention, turned around, and bent over slightly, sticking out her rear end. She pointed to her butt, wrinkled up her brow, and asked: “Is my butt big?” I chuckled and told her that she had inherited some booty from my side of the family. Mack smiled and said, “Dang, I guess Justice is right. Today she was behind me going up the stairs between classes and super loud she yelled ‘Mack! You got some cakes!!’” Mack and I then laughed our big asses off; and Mack forever acknowledged that she did, indeed, have some cakes. It was a favorite expression she employed whenever she was shopping for a new pair of American Eagle jeans. Mack and Justice were always able to engage in such teasing, and I always admired that about them.

Well-placed loyalties: After just one year of attending school together at Franklin, Mack went to Springfield High School; and a year later, Justice went to rival Southeast High School across town. They competed against each other in basketball, and they each embraced the ferocious spirit of their respective schools. Mack was a true Senator. Justice was a true Spartan. And those girls talked a whole lot of smack to each other. But even though they were competitors and lived their school rivalries, they remained fierce supporters of one another, often cheering for each other from the bleachers when they were not in direct competition. They had only been school chums for one year, but their friendship not only survived the school separation, it grew stronger during their high school years. One year at the boys’ basketball City Tournament (which is a huge deal for school spirit and town sports’ rivalries in Springfield, just so you know), Mack made a “dangerous” decision to sit in the Southeast section with her friend. When I questioned her intent, Mack said something like: “City is so much fun, and I just gotta do one with J.C.” Justice provided a Spartan blue t-shirt and Mack joined the Blue Crew on one of the three nights of the tourney, only to be caught “blue” handed yuckin’ it up with Justice in a photo that was posted on the school district website. Some people were appalled that Mack would cross that line, and her basketball coach was horrified by the photo, but when Mack saw it, she shrugged her shoulders and without any tone of apology at all, she said: “oops.”traitor

Friends for Life: Mack and Justice worked hard to spend as much time together as they could over the years. Justice was a frequent weekend guest in our home, Mack hung out in Justice’s basement during the summer, and they included each other in various outings with their own friend groups.  Yet sometimes their busy teenager lives interfered, and weeks might pass between face-to-face visits; and then Mack would get lonely for Justice (or vice versa) and say, “I need me some Justice time.” What always amazed me about those girls is that no matter the distance, no matter the time, together they were always at ease. It was as if no time had ever passed at all. Even after Mack went off to Truman State, we moved to St. Louis, and Justice went to college in Kansas City, the girls enjoyed an easy and comfortable friendship that never faded. They really were two peas in a pod. They were life friends. They were sisters.

Many people we meet in life pass by us with little notice. Others play an important role for a time and then fade away. If we are lucky, we will know a few that grab onto our hearts and stay forever. Justice was one of those friends for Mack. Mack was one of those friends for Justice. And that is a beautiful thing.

p.s. I am so very grateful that Justice was a part of Mack’s life, and, in some ways, I now believe that Mack collected Justice not only for herself but for me as well. Justice’s spirit and strength at Mack’s memorial service brought me some solace in those terrible first days without Mack. Her random text messages over the past year have been precious to me, providing humor and support. And the way that she has chosen to honor her best friend by living a good and joyful life is an inspiration to me and should be an inspiration for us all.

Justice’s beautiful and funny eulogy to Mack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9e2NIGnbww

#Projectmack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKd5NWQm9ss

And some social media exchanges that make me smile:

justice bad grammarbest friendsIPad 2014 818 (2)justice calling out of the blue 1

Mack’s Best Friends

Mack always had a diverse and interesting array of friends. Due to her involvement in several competitive sports over the years and her participation on so many teams, she met a lot of different people, and she developed friendships within each of her different peer groups. She had her growing-up friends, her school chums, her basketball pals, her fellow golfers, and her softball girls, among others. She always opened her heart and her arms (for her famous hugs) to people with whom she interacted. Mack truly enjoyed popping in and out of her seasonal teams, and she did it with such ease and with a beautiful grace; but she also collected a very special group of remarkable people on whom she relied for deep and lasting friendship and true love and acceptance. And now I find that Mack’s amazing collection of best friends have become a crucial element of my own survival.

When Mack was growing up, she was so busy all of the time with her sports that her small amount of private time at home became very precious to her. As she got older, she guarded that time pretty fiercely, so I understood that the friends who spent time at our house were the people she held most dear. Mack always was a great judge of character, and the friends who spent family time with us were unique and extraordinary people. I enjoyed talking with them, getting to know them, laughing with them, and teasing them. When Mack had these friends at the house, I would occasionally plop down on the couch with them while they were watching their TV shows, sit on the kitchen counter for a spell when they were making cookies and an epic mess, or plop on the end of Mack’s bed while they were playing a video game. Right now, I could ramble on for days about how fun it was for me to play chauffeur for them before they could drive themselves. I loved listening to Mack and her friends laugh and sing together, and I never tired of hearing their chatter late into the night (even though I sometimes yelled at them to quiet it down). Mack never complained about my active interest in her friends; and, in fact, I believe she appreciated my wholehearted approval of the ones she chose to hold so close. She loved them, and she was glad that her Momma Bear loved them, too.

Every day I grieve the loss of my daughter, but my heart also breaks for those who called Mack “best friend.” In losing her, these remarkable young people she loved so well have lost not only a cherished friend, but a beloved sister. They have lost a non-judgmental confidant, a fierce and funny champion, and a bridesmaid. I have an overwhelming need to know that Mack’s best friends are safe and well, to keep in touch with them, to hear their memories and their stories about our lost girl, and to comfort them if I can. Facebook and email and text messages offer periodic and important connections that I cherish, but I have also found strength in seeing Mack’s best friends in person. Giving them one of Mack’s famous hugs brings me some solace. Over the past months, I have cherished a brief conversation with Justice after her college basketball game at Eastern Illinois University; I have had the pleasure of catching up with Maggie over drinks in Springfield and sharing a meal with Meagan before she left for Scotland; and I was the very grateful beneficiary of Ali and Jackie’s trip to St. Louis to see me.

Recently, I traveled to Chapel Hill for some research, and I shared some quality time with Kailey on the campus of the University of North Carolina, where she is a student. Kailey was studying abroad in France the same semester that Mack was in Spain; and these close childhood friends, softball buddies, and Glee aficionados had big plans for some European sightseeing together. But making new life memories abroad with a cherished hometown friend was not to be. Instead, Kailey had to grieve for Mack in France, without her family and Springfield friends around her; and missing Mack’s memorial service was heartbreaking for her. I hope that spending a little time with me helped her at least half as much as it helped me, because seeing her face and sharing a long walk, a hearty meal, and some sweet memories of Mack did me a whole hell of a lot of good.

There is something comforting, I suppose, in being in the presence of people who loved and respected Mack so very completely. But it is also true, I believe, that Mack would want me to keep her special and very best of friends close. They were inestimably important to her. They had her heart. She would want me to give them my heart as well. I can say with complete sincerity that holding them snug in my heart is going to be one of the easiest things I do as I move forward without Mack. Keeping them close will bring me much solace. And I hope that in knowing I hold them so dear, Mack’s best friends will have a little solace as well.

Here are some of my favorite photos of Mack and Kailey…

IPad 2014 406 Kailey 2 hug 7 powder puff

and a Facebook exchange from 2010…

homecoming with Kailey

Kailey’s beautiful tribute to her lost friend: http://kaileytrieger.weebly.com/blog/in-loving-memory-of-mackenzie-mcdermott

And, of couse, stay tuned for future blogs about Mack’s amazing best friends.

The Prom Plot

Mack did not attend her junior prom, and in the opening months of 2012, she was showing absolutely no signs of interest in attending her senior prom, either. I tried to talk her into going. Her friends tried to talk her into going. But she was not hearing it. She kept saying things like, “school dances are lame,” “I’m just going to go to after-prom in my skinny jeans and a t-shirt,” and “I look weird and feel awkward in a floofy gown.” Of course, she had never worn a gown in her life, so there was no way she could have known how she might actually look in one. I was certain she would look just gorgeous in a prom dress, given her long and lean physique, but Mack was not hearing that, either. She had never enjoyed getting dolled up, she disliked dresses and makeup, and it really was not that surprising that she was being so stubborn. By February, I was resigned to her decision and gave up trying to change her mind.

But Mack’s boyfriend Abhinav did not give up, although he knew Mack well enough to understand the challenge he faced. Abhi was a very bright kid, and he realized that much ingenuity on his part would be necessary for success. It just so happened, though, that Mack was a writer for the high school newspaper, and one of Abhi’s best friends, Emma, was the Senator’s editor. So Abhi hatched a sneaky plan, sought out some tight-lipped co-conspirators, and crossed his fingers for a little luck. Emma was very fond of Mack, so she was immediately on board with Abhi’s plan to use the Senator to invite Mack to prom; and the newspaper’s good-humored advisor Ms. Negele was happy to be involved in the conspiracy as well.

The devious schemers believed that a printed, very public invitation would certainly give Abhi the “yes” answer he was seeking, but that success demanded total secrecy. It would be imperative that Mack remain in the dark, and since she was a senior member of the small newspaper staff, keeping the plan hush-hush until the March issue of the paper was printed, delivered, and distributed throughout the school would certainly be a trick. The newspaper staff always worked as a group to layout pages, copyedit, and finalize each issue before sending it out for printing. Therefore, Emma and Ms. Negele had to work carefully to make certain Mack did not see any early versions of the page on which Abhi’s invitation would appear. But, in the end, the newspaper issue was finalized and sent off to the printer, complete with the bold prom invitation, and Mack was none the wiser. On the morning that the paper would greet more than 1,300 Springfield High School students, Mack would see the invitation to prom from Abhinav, and she would have no choice but to say “YES,” right?

But for Abhi, some doubt crept in, and he started to worry. In fact, he started to agonize over what he and his co-conspirators had done. He began to question his judgment. He now wondered if the plot had not only guaranteed him a “NO” answer from Mack, but might also have set her up for school-wide embarrassment that might even jeopardize his relationship with her. His cold feet got the best of him, so he arranged a breakfast date with Mack before school on the day of the newspaper’s distribution. Now Mack always showered the night before school and rolled out of bed just in time to throw on sweats and a t-shirt and then speed the one mile up Washington Street to the high school in her old Jeep.  Frequently, she even failed to make the first bell. Therefore, convincing her to get up in time for breakfast must have been a challenge. Apparently, though, Abhinav was persuasive. But when he picked her up that morning an hour before school, I was shocked. I do not remember how he had lured Mack out of bed that early, but I think it may have been the promise of free Mel-o-Cream donuts!

At breakfast, Abhi presented Mack with a copy of the newspaper, and this is what greeted her on the FRONT page…

prom newspaper

I would have done just about anything to have seen the look on Mack’s face when she stared down Abhi’s printed invitation. I have no idea what she immediately did or said. What I do know is that she agreed to be Abhi’s date for the prom, and the two of them went on to the high school to face the student body together. Abhi’s decision to let Mack in on his secret before arriving at the school was, likely, wise. Throngs of students had already seen the paper by the time they arrived, and Abhi’s prom invitation was the topic in the halls and in the classrooms all day. Mack handled the attention with style and a great deal of humor, as she did most everything else in her life, and she laughed and joked with the multitude of friends, teachers, coaches, classmates, and teammates who greeted her throughout the day.

The plot had worked, and I never heard Mack express anger or even displeasure at Abhi or Emma or Ms. Negele. Yet I do think she was a tad embarrassed that day, being the topic of conversation and facing all of that attention. But I believe it was one of those rare moments in her life that Mack quietly admitted to herself that she was deserving of a little extra attention, that she was special, and that special people in her life were willing to go to extraordinary trouble just for her.

And so, together, Mackenzie and Abhinav attended their senior prom, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to see Mack in a gown. She let me spend a little time on her hair, but she wore no makeup and had chosen a very sensible pair of flat sandals. And just as I had predicted, she looked gorgeous…a divine image of natural beauty. But, hey, I will let you all be the judge of that…

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Here is a fun little video of Mack posing for pictures before prom. The quality is very poor, but it is good enough to see Mack doing her thing. She is dancing a silly little Irish jig…her goofy way of rejecting any pretense or pomp that might creep in when one is wearing a floofy gown! http://youtu.be/TjDxFJ1P_Ps

Note from Emma (Co-Conspirator Extraordinaire): “We usually laid out all the pages of the newspaper before sending them to the printer so everyone could see what it looked like. The front page “still wasn’t finished” when we laid out this issue. I’m surprised she didn’t know about it before. She was a really good sport about it, as she was with everything that came her way!”

Note from Abhinav: Thank you for putting up that video and blog post, definitely one of my favorite memories in my life and will never forget her face when she found out. Still have multiple copies of that [newspaper] in my room.

Springfield Family: Mack and Laura

Springfield Girls 2

The Springfield Family Girls: Laura, Maggie, Nell, Mack, Mandy, Savannah

I had the incredible fortune to raise my girls within a loving inner-circle of friends in Springfield, Illinois. There were ten adults and ten children in our close-knit group. Standing Friday night dinners at D’Arcy’s Pint, frequent Saturday nights hanging out in each other’s homes and backyards, annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, and occasional weekend excursions filled our calendars with good and clean fun since 1995. The close relationships we formed over the years also afforded moral support and encouragement in achieving personal, academic, and professional goals and provided emotional support during times of illness, disappointment, and heartbreak. We laughed together, we played together; we shared time on bleachers together, watching our kids play sports; and we communed over shared interests in politics, literature, food, and the high hopes for the future of our kids, our families, and the world. Our Springfield circle was not just a close group of friends. It was an extended family for all of us. My girls not only had two parents and a sibling who adored them, but they also grew up in the loving embrace of eight adults who loved them as if they were their own children, and they came of age among eight kids who were as close to them as siblings.

In the past few years, this Springfield family of ours has become somewhat geographically disbursed. Yet the bonds have remained ever strong. It is upon this twenty-year-old group of friends—this extended family— on which I now so mightily depend. WE lost OUR Macko. She is our first shared loss. Together we grieve and together we search for solace. Over the past several months, I have focused much on my amazing Springfield family, seeking comfort from them and providing it where I am able. I have been buoyed by the knowledge that each and every member of our tight-knit Springfield family carries Mack within their hearts, remembering in their own ways her life and the imprint she made upon them. In their loving hearts, Mack lives on, and this knowledge brings me some comfort.

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Laura, Savannah, Mack in purple, and Laura’s brother Matt

I have been thinking lately that I want to write about Mack and the members of our Springfield family, to tell funny stories about her time with them, to share details about their relationships, and to reflect on how they enriched her life and how she influenced and inspired them as well. Last week, a member of our Springfield family faced a devastating medical diagnosis, a difficult surgery, and a lengthy recovery. So it is with Laura that I will begin an intermittent series of essays about Mack and these wonderful and special and amazing people who shaped her growth and development and gave her twenty years of unconditional love and support.

Laura was just nineteen months old when Mack came into the world. For a very brief time, Laura was a little jealous, and she heartily objected when her father paid any attention to Mack. “NO, baby Kenzie,” she would scream, “MY daddy!” But it was not long before these two silly little girls were friends. They played basketball together, they gorged on candy together, and they spent hours playing the board game “Life” together. At Friday night dinners or Saturday gatherings, they were inseparable as toddlers and as kids. They shared babysitters when the grownups went out alone, they shared each other’s clothes, and together they conquered the Nintendo snowboarding game SSX Tricky. Laura and Mack also became famous for their undying devotion to the movie My Cousin Vinny. They laughed hysterically every time they viewed it, sometimes viewing it multiple times in one night. They recited the lines as the movie proceeded, and they frequently acted out the best scenes, even when they were way too young for some of the content of the dialogue and, of course, the profanity!

Laura was a year older in school, and she and Mack had mostly separate circles of school friends. So, naturally, as they grew into their teens, they spent less time with each other. In high school, middle school, and college, they sometimes went for a few weeks without seeing one another, but they remained in touch through text messaging and they never stopped caring for each other. They always made an effort to schedule “dates” to catch up on each other’s lives. If it had been a couple of weeks since she had seen Laura, Mack would say, “I need me some Laura time.” Then she would summon Laura to our house, and the two of them would bake some terrible cookies or pig-out on unhealthy snacks and stay up all night watching My Cousin Vinny. In 2014, Mack was at Truman State in northern Missouri and Laura was at Milliken in central Illinois, and it had been some time since they had seen one another. So in April, Laura spent a couple of days with us in St. Louis, because Mack needed some “Laura time,” and I am so thankful they had that last special time together.

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Mack and Laura, who is wearing one of Mack’s soccer team shirts.

on couch with Laura

Sugar coma? Or all-night SSX-Tricky marathon?

For eight years, Laura has suffered from Crohn’s. The disease interfered with her adolescence, subjected her to long stretches of horrible pain, and forced her to endure numerous hospitalizations and inconvenient medical treatments that sometimes thwarted her ability to live the life of a normal kid. After the most recent flare-up of the disease, Laura’s specialist in Chicago told her that medicinal treatments would no longer provide any remedy or relief and that the removal of her colon was the only option. A twenty-two-year-old kid should never have to face such a serious diagnosis. She had to consent to the drastic surgery or risk losing her life. It took several days for Laura to process the news, but she decided to have the operation.

Last Saturday morning before her surgery, Laura was resting in her hospital bed, scared as she waited for the nurses to take her to the operating room. She turned on the TV, and after flipping through the small number of channels that were available, she found My Cousin Vinny. On a Saturday morning on one of just a handful of channels, her favorite movie and the favorite movie of her lost “sister” quieted her fears. Mack and Laura were together again. As Laura told me later, “I felt so much more at ease, feeling Mack’s spirit.” Laura went to surgery with a calm and hopeful attitude, and her surgery was a success. She will face a long recovery and adjustment period, but the doctors are very hopeful that pain and suffering are in Laura’s past and that health and happiness await her. One thing is absolutely certain, Mack was in Laura’s heart at the very moment she needed her most, and those two girls had a family bond that will last forever.

mack and laura

Laura and Mack, two special members of the Springfield family that consists of the McDermotts, the McKinneys, the Ericksons, the Mutman-Doyles, and the Parsons-Mosers. I love them all!

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…

enjoy

Be a being a good friend…

being a friend

Try something new…

discus

Relax…

relaxed

And, laugh…

laugh

Crazy Cool Nerd

I think it is true that the main reason why people were drawn to Mack was because she was a crazy cool kid who had absolutely no desire to be popular. She was always just who she was, comfortable in her own skin; and she never altered her personality, her interests, her wardrobe, or her beliefs in order to win friends or to fit in with a particular peer group. She possessed such a cool confidence in her abilities and her convictions at a very young age. Yet she was never boastful. She never used her accomplishments in sports or other venues to gain acceptance or advantage. She never violated her personal principles just to go along with the crowd. It is a rare teenager who rises above all of the drama, but my unflappable Mack was a special kid.

I think it is true that the main reason that Mack’s friends loved her was because she was a crazy cool kid who also always embraced her inner nerd. She possessed that athletic swagger, but she could trip over her size 10 shoes and make a joke of it. She publicly showed her love for Harry Potter, Glee, Selena Gomez, and Taylor Swift (or T-Sweezy, as Mack and her best friend Justice called her), even though she endured a fair share a razzing for doing so. Mack was confident and smart, but she was never afraid to act silly and enjoy herself. She did not care who might see her suck in her lips, hike her over-sized basketball shorts way up over her chest, or hear her rip out a big, juicy belch. She was just a real kid who was dedicated to keeping it real.

Last weekend, I came across an autobiography that Mack prepared for a class in sixth grade, and I was reminded of one of my favorite Mack-is-a-Dork stories. When she was a student at Franklin Middle School and did not have a sports practice, she frequently walked home from school with her friend and cohort in nerdy crimes, Maggie. Maggie is the daughter of my dear friend Alicia, and the girls grew up together. One night at dinner, Alicia mentioned that she had come home from work that day to find Maggie and Mack eating couscous and playing their band instruments on the front porch. Now what makes this story particularly funny to me, is that Mack NEVER practiced her trumpet at home. In fact, she hated playing the trumpet. But I have little doubt that she played it loudly and vociferously for the neighbors on Ivywood Drive and took great delight in the spectacle.

I know it is true that two of the things I miss most about Mack are her cool confidence and her comfortable dorkiness, which combined to characterize her joyous spirit. She understood who she was, and she was incapable of pretense. She loved to be silly and to have fun regardless of who might be watching. She understood how important the simple pleasures of life could be. It really is no wonder why people were drawn to her cool side, fell in love with her nerdy side, and held on so tight to the friendship and fun she offered us all.

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Page from Mack’s 6th grade autobiography, featuring Baby Mack and Baby Maggie….

Mack Autobiography 24

Too cool for school Mack and Maggie…

too cool

Below is the picture that Mack chose for the Springfield High School athletic website for the “Meet the Seniors” section. Do you see what I mean when I say she did not care what people might think? She was always herself, and that was always enough for me!

Meet the Seniors Softball pic

Hugs

If you were a person in Mack’s life, you knew that you were going to get hugs. Lots of hugs. From big bear hugs to hand hugs,* Mack hugged not only her own family members and her closest friends, but also her teammates, her coaches, her teachers and even some people she was just getting to know. She hugged you for pictures, she would sneak up on you to hug you, and there was no escape from her strong grip if she decided you needed one of her famous Big Mack squeezes. Mack was not a big talker, and she was never verbally effusive with her emotions. Instead, she chose to love people by physically embracing them. Mack was full of love and delight for the people who were special to her. But Mack’s hugs were more about her wish to make those she hugged feel unconditionally loved and accepted than they were about showing her own affection.

Mack’s hugs became legendary, especially among all of her various adopted moms. At the memorial service, one of those special women (Sonya, a basketball mom and good friend) told me that she always looked forward to getting settled in at the basketball games, because she knew that even if she had just seen her the night before, Mack would run up the bleachers and give her a huge hug as if she had not seen her in months. Another adopted mom (Ellen, who was the mother of one of Mack’s oldest friends) wrote to me about how much she loved those hugs, referring to Mack as “the human Great Dane who thought she was a lap puppy.”

Mack was, indeed, a bit like a big happy puppy dog. So many photographs of her with friends reveal her inner marshmallow. She loved people hard, and she hugged them harder. Sometimes she hugged me so hard, she squeezed the air right out of my lungs. If I had a bad day, a bear hug from my Mack could make all of my worries melt away. Often, she would wrap her long arms around my shoulders, pull my head onto her chest, rest her chin on the top of my head (always looking for an opportunity to acknowledge our significant height difference), pat my back and say, “momma knows, momma knows.” She was being goofy and ridiculous, but she was also showing love and tenderness in her own unique way.

God, I just loved those hugs. I cannot imagine how I will get through the rest of my life without them; and I would sell my soul to the devil for just one more.

 hug 3    hug 2hug 4    hug 5    hug 6 hug 7    hug 8

*Mack invented hand hugs sometime in high school and, I think, during a softball season. Basically, a hand hug is when two people press their palms together and wrap their own thumbs around the other person’s hand. It was just one of many silly rituals that Mack created to bond with teammates, be close with friends without being TOO gushy and gooey, and to give people around her an excuse to smile, laugh, and to be close to one another.

Golfing in Flip-Flops with Friends

Mack started walking when she was nine months old, and almost immediately she exhibited advanced hand-eye coordination and impressive athletic abilities. By the time she was three, she was adept at throwing and catching a baseball, dribbling a basketball, and throwing a tight spiral with her kid-sized football. Early in elementary school, she brought home every sports flyer available and begged to participate. With the exception of ice hockey, we let her try every damn sport, too: soccer, baseball, basketball, taekwondo, tackle football, and flag football. She was an amazing athlete, and I was always in awe of her ability to pick up a sport and play it well.

I started playing golf when I was about thirteen years old, and I’ve loved the game ever since. When my dad taught Mack to swing a club when she was just five years old, I knew she would be good at that sport, too.

baby golfer 2

In Springfield, the public courses allow kids to play at age six, so I purchased a set of junior golf clubs for Mack’s sixth birthday, gave her some lessons and then started taking her on outings with me. By the time she was ten, she hit the ball from the tee much, much, much further than her momma, but she never really adopted the sport. Oh, she enjoyed the game…at least a little…but she was always annoyed with the course etiquette, the “country club” attire and the general attitude of many male golfers she encountered who believed women and girls on a golf course were an annoyance. I also think Mack had a clear preference for competitive team sports. Sharing a basketball court with a group of friends was more enjoyable to her than a lonely walk up a fairway. I understood that about her; but I was always a little sad about it. Over the course of the next nine years, I had to just be content to enjoy a couple of rounds of golf with her every summer.

In July of 2008, just a month before she was going to be starting her freshman year of high school, Mack announced that she was going to try out for the golf team. I am pretty certain I just stared at her for a long time looking incredulous. She probably stared back, sucking in her lips and looking at me sideways. She did not own a decent set of golf clubs appropriate for her height. She had no golf shoes or a proper golf bag. She had not been playing golf all summer to prepare. She had never in her entire life taken a professional golf lesson. She said the golf team tryout was in a few days, and she asked me to go to the driving range with her and to take her to play a couple of rounds of nine holes at Pasfield (a short course near our house) beforehand. I asked her if she thought it would all be enough preparation to make a high school golf team, and she said that she had never failed to make a team before and she had no intention of breaking that streak. I am sure that I sighed in response, but we went to the driving range, we played a couple of rounds at Pasfield, she went to the tryout in basketball shorts and flip-flops and then became a freshmen member of the Springfield High School (SHS) girls golf team.

Well it turns out that there are not that many girl golfers in Springfield, and many of them go to Sacred Heart-Griffin (SHG), the rival private Catholic school. So Mack was probably pretty certain that she would make the SHS team when she so confidently answered my incredulity. However, she really did have a natural ability, could knock the cover off of the ball from the tee, and possessed such a calm approach to the game that she soon started to excel at it. She was never going to take the game as seriously as was necessary to be great at it, but she really did work hard to improve so that she could be pretty damn good at it. She started taking lessons from a local pro, practiced her putting and chipping on her own time, and listened to the advice of her golf coach with whom she quickly developed a special bond. It was no surprise to anyone who knew her that she quickly played the game well, but I’m not sure everyone recognized that her adoption of the game and her success with it had taken her a little outside of her sports comfort zone.

Just because she was playing “real” golf did not mean, however, that Mack accepted all of the “country club” aspects of the sport. She practiced in flip-flops, wore baggy sweatpants in lieu of fitted golf skorts, cussed and chortled on the putting green, and refused to accept the lonely silence of the sport. When her peers were taking practice swings on the driving range before matches, Mack was in the clubhouse testing out the local hot dog. After a match when her peers were bragging about a beautiful approach to a tight green, Mack humorously regaled them with the horrors of her worst shot of the day. At first, her golf coach, a few of the more serious members of her own team, and her opponents were taken aback by what they saw as her irreverence for the game. But after they got to know her, they learned that she didn’t disrespect the game at all. She just wanted to play it her on her own terms.

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In her four years on that high school golf team, Mack always downplayed her successes and she laughed at her failures; and that attitude made her a better golfer. Most importantly, she made the game her own by turning it into a team sport. She interacted with the golfers on her team the same way she interacted with her fellow basketball and softball teammates. She demanded team dinners, made up stupid handshakes and cheers, and provided levity when teammates were taking the game too seriously. For Mack, golf was NOT a lonely walk up the fairway. During matches, she engaged her opponents, shared her humor, and treated them like teammates as well.

In fact, Mack became good friends with the SHG golfers and their coach; and her personal idea of team extended to them as well. After all, she actually spent more time during matches with SHG golfers than with her own teammates or other opponents, so why not bring them along for her joyride in the sport?

By senior year, Mack was playing some pretty good golf. She was still practicing in flip-flops and consuming hot dogs instead of warming up before matches, but I could see that she really wanted to make her senior year special. She practiced harder, visited the golf pro more, and provided a great deal of encouragement for the entire team. At Sectionals that fall at Lincoln Greens in Springfield, no one dared to dream that the entire team could make it to the state tournament. The team’s two top golfers each shot 81 and were definitely on their way to State. Lincoln Greens was always something of a challenge for Mack; many of her funniest ball-in-water stories came from that course. But on that beautiful sunny fall day, she put her head down and carded a 90. I am fairly certain it is the best score she ever turned in for eighteen holes at Lincoln Greens; and it had come at the perfect time. More importantly, however, that score turned out to be just low enough. The final combined team score qualified all of the SHS golfers for the Illinois State Golf Tournament for the first time since the 1980s. Mack was never more proud of any other athletic achievement. She was thrilled that all of them—Becca, Alax, Kristin, Rachel, and Mack—were going to state. All of them. Mack was right. Golf was a team sport after all.

The SHS Golf Team after Qualifying for State

Back Camera

There’s more…

People who live in Springfield know that the rivalry between SHS and SHG is pretty intense and can, sometimes, become ugly and bitter. In fact, it has a tendency to bring out the worst in even the best kids. But as it turns out, my Mack was so special that her spirit could melt even the iciest of rivalries. In October, while they were competing in the sectionals golf tournament, the SHG golf team wore ribbons in their hair to honor the memory of their lost competitor and friend. They were competing for SHG, but they wore red “Mack” and “SHS” ribbons. What an amazing testament to a beautiful person.

SHG