Bundling Up

It is cold this Christmas day, and I am passing it curled up in a cozy chair with my dogs and my writing. I do not keep Christmas anymore, so this is just an everyday Monday. Still, my head is filled up with memories of Mack, and my heart is particularly lonely for Mack’s good cheer during this fourth holiday season without her. The air outside is bitter, but the sky is bright and sunny; and since I rather like the feeling of the sun on my face, I am contemplating the therapeutic value of some fresh air and a brisk walk, with Mack along for company, of course.

Yet I strongly consider (have always considered) the bundling up required for cold winter weather to be a most unpleasant task and a very uncomfortable condition. All of that suffocating fleece and wool and goose down make me claustrophobic, sweaty, breathless, and annoyed. Along with inheriting my deep brown eyes, my freckles, and my love of books, Mack also inherited my displeasure of bundling. Heavy coats, scarves, and warm woolen mittens were not a few of Mack’s favorite things. Winter never tucked away her flip-flops and oversized basketball shorts, even as they might expose her toes and ever-bruised knees to frigid winter weather. Throughout high school, Mack never wore a winter coat; and I gave up buying them for her. Even still, every winter day that Mack left for school, I would issue warnings of pneumonia. And every winter day that Mack left for school, she would ignore my “absurd” Momma-Bear advice, content to take her chances with the cold, and leaving the house in just a thick hooded sweatshirt.

When Mack went to Truman State University in way-northern Missouri, I started laying the groundwork in early August for the purchase of a winter coat. Mack balked at the bulk of an appropriate parka, but ultimately admitted that the bone-cold and snowy winters of Kirksville would require something more than a sweatshirt. She settled on a thin puffy jacket, not really a coat, and she also, with surprisingly good humor, took to covering her head and her ears. Gloves tended to fall out of Mack’s pockets, and I never quite convinced her that her shearling-lined Ugg loafers were no match for the snow. But at least she learned that some ­winter-morning walks across a blustery northern campus in sub-zero temperatures and in snowstorms required at least a little more than a thick cotton sweatshirt. Sometimes, in fact, you also needed to pair that hoodie with a jacket, some sweatpants, a pair of borrowed boots, and a wonderfully ridiculous winter hat.

bundled up

Where Hope Lives

Three years ago this day, Mack slipped away from us, quietly, unexpectedly, and so very far away in Spain. She was a towering, colossal presence in the lives of her family and her friends, and the holes in our hearts from her absence are deep and wide and Mackenduring.

Recently, my dear friend Bridgett, who is both a writer and a gifted listener for wisdom on every breeze, wrote a blog about hope and an Emily Dickinson poem I once loved but had long forgotten: “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” Deconstructing the image of hope as a delicate bird, my friend wrote: “hope is dogged and rough and resilient. Hope resides in the dimmest doorways and the darkest corners of our lives. Hope grows up from the disaster and the dirt, the fertile floor of grief.”

That passage got me thinking about the residence of my hope, along the path of my grief. Perhaps once…before…hope was “a thing with feathers” that perched in my soul. But when a soul is grieving, there is no room for the perching; and along the way these past three years, hope’s song has sometimes gone silent. In missing Mack’s giant presence in my life, in longing for her love and her laughter, and in lamenting all that a short life denied her, I have spent thirty-six months reflecting on loss, on life, and on learning the human balance of both. What I have been chasing all along, I now understand, is hope. Hope is the fire of our expectations, aspirations, desires, simple plans, and grand ambitions. Hope resides in that space between loss and living. Hope is food for a life worth living; and like all food, Mack would want us all to consume it, to take delight from it, and to appreciate the nourishment it offers.

In those bitter first days in early October 2014, I witnessed the flight of hope from my soul. Yet in the early fog of my grief I somehow knew, wondrously and thankfully, to reach out and grab it. When such a force of nature as Mack takes her leave, hope flies away with her. Hope was no longer within me, but I instinctively knew that I needed to keep it within sight. Hope came first in the face of my daughter Savannah, for hope resides, for mothers at least, in precious children. But since my mother’s hope for Mack could no longer reside in her body, I needed to find a way for hope to reside in her spirit, instead. The establishment of the Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship at Truman State University, where Mack learned to fly, provided a residence for my lost hope for her. Now hope resides in that scholarship. It resides on a pretty little campus in northern Missouri. It resides in the students who have benefited already and will continue to benefit in the future. It resides in an enduring legacy of Mack’s passion for writing. Even though I will sometimes fail in my grief to see it, hope will always reside there, waiting for me to reclaim it.

Today, as we mark the third anniversary of Mack’s passing, I am so proud…and bursting with hope…to announce that the scholarship that bears her name has its third recipient, a small town, Missouri girl named Athena Geldbach. The scholarship will help this studious, serious-minded young woman minimize her college debt and play a small role in her hopes of writing books and pursuing a career in publishing so that she can also help other hopeful writers. Athena has some charming characteristics that remind me of Mack. She has a passion for books, a devotion to pets, and is a liberal arts dreamer who is also, oddly, a math whiz (Mack did calculus just for fun; Athena is a math tutor at Truman). Mack always said she had a super-powered, two-sided brain; and, apparently, Athena has one of those, too.

Today, while you are all, like me, grieving for Mack a little more tearfully, missing her a little more terribly, and feeling the hole she left in your hearts a little more keenly, I send you love and a big-Mack hug. And I send you hope. Because in loving Mack and keeping her spirit always with you, some of my hope resides in you. I have learned that it really doesn’t matter where hope resides; it simply matters that it lives.

four-leaf-clover

The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship Fund (for creative writing students)
Truman State University Foundation
205 McClain Hall, Kirksville, MO 63501
800-452-6678
http://www.truman.edu/giving/ways-of-giving/

To read more about the scholarship and the hope it has brought me, see:
Honoring Mack, 2014 (Endowment of the Scholarship)
Magical Medicine, 2015 (First Scholarship Recipient)
The Happiest and Most Enduring of Memorials, 2016 (Second Scholarship Recipient

To learn about why Mack chose Truman State, see:
A Purple Bulldog

true-bulldog-5

Time

At 6:19 a.m., Sunday, September 7, 2014, Mack left St. Louis on a plane to Spain. It was the last time I saw her. Three years later, and those last moments with her at the airport are so clear and close in my mind and yet so foggy and far away, as well. Time plays its tricks, but time has lessened neither my love for Mack nor my longing for her. If I have learned anything at all from my sorrows, it is that time is no elixir, nor do I wish it to be. Some wounds are ours to bear for a lifetime, because they are the proof that we have lived.

Time

Who says time heals all wounds
does not know time.

Time heals not
the souls of grieving mothers.
Time fills no
holes in hearts, yearning for lost daughters.
Time rests never
for weary travelers on roads of grief.

Who says time heals all wounds
does not know time.

Time plays tricks
cruel and bitter on broken hearts;
Speeding forward,
no mercy for seekers of happy pasts;
Caring nothing
that some of us need to linger.

Who says time heals all wounds
does not know time,
nor grief, nor mothers and daughters, nor love.

 

 

March

I accomplished my two greatest human endeavors in the month of March, bringing into the world two amazing girls with Irish fire in their bellies, adventure in their bones, and big and beautiful brains in their sweet little heads. In my fifty years on this planet, I have had some academic and professional success, collected an amazing group of life-long friends, and done a pretty respectable job of staying out of trouble. But raising my two March babies is the life achievement of which I will always be most proud; and March not only always belonged to Savannah and Mackenzie, it always belonged to me, as well.

shared birthday pizza

Shared Birthday Pizza, 1997

But this will be my third March without Mack, the third March that is as chilly upon my heart as it is upon my skin. The first sight of determined daffodils poking their brave petals up into the brisk air of the coming spring is no longer my happy tidings of March’s arrival. Now those damn daffodils remind me of all I have lost. Selfish and regrettable is the feeling of self-pity, but these milestones of life are treachery against my heart, and some days there is simply no hope for even one hour of solace.

This morning as I sat down at my desk to work and to begin day eight of my weary journey through March, an email lifted my spirit from the shadows and smacked my self-pity Megan Matheneyupside its head. It was Megan Matheney checking in; it was the first recipient of Mack’s scholarship sending happy tidings in March that the daffodils had failed to bring me. She wanted me to know that she is graduating from Truman State this spring and will attend graduate school in the fall to further her study of writing. She wanted me to know that the scholarship afforded her the opportunity to study abroad in Italy. She wanted me to know that she is getting married after graduation to a math major named Jeff, who proposed to her in Italy and will graduate with her this spring. She wanted me to know that I. That we. That Mack helped her to achieve her dreams.

Life marches forward even as we shield our eyes to its promise. March is here, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Mack’s birthday will come no matter my mood to face it. But March is proof that Mack was here. Megan is proof that Mack is still making a difference the world. And this day is proof that days without solace will not always be so elusive.

 

birthday 1 and 7

Shared Backyard Birthday Party (Mack turning 1 and Savannah turning 7)

Macksgiving

In America, Thanksgiving is about tradition, gratitude, food, and family, in various orders of importance, of course, depending upon individual traditions, particular propensities for thankfulness, the quality of the food, and the level of dysfunction within one’s own family. In our family, the Thanksgiving priority was always on the food with a double order of laughter on the side, mackoand so it was, naturally, one of Mack’s favorite days of the year. Our tradition was to travel to Charleston, Illinois, where my brother-in-law spent hours smoking ribs for Mack because she despised turkey, my sister presented an accompanying feast extravagant enough for kings, and we all ate ourselves into comas, but not before splitting seams from all of the laughter.

Without our Mack as master of ceremonies for comedy and for shoveling food into one’s face, there is a whole lot less laughter on holidays, and particularly so on Thanksgiving. In 2014 and 2015, my sister Tracy bravely continued the tradition of preparing the feast, my brother-in-law Jason remained committed to smoking those ribs in the spirit of Mack, and we began a new family tradition of creating a Mack  Perfect Last Bite. But, Thanksgiving is still not right without Mack. Nor, I think, will it ever be. So this year, we are shaking things up a little. No, we are shaking things up way more than a little. This year, Tracy is getting a break from the cooking and Jason is getting a break from the smoke. They will meet Kevin and I in St. Louis, and Savannah and her boyfriend Levi and my niece Zoe will arrive from Chicago to join us. On Thanksgiving morning, all of us will “compete” in the St. Louis Turkey Trot in glorious Forest Park before sitting down to a meal that I am preparing, a meal I have billed as Macksgiving.

Now wait a minute, you say. Mack would never have approved of such physical exertion on the most important eating day of the year. And in so saying, you, my friend, would be absolutely correct. But this year, our feast will feature a long list of Mack’s favorite foods, most of which are a million miles from healthy, many of which are gut-busting comfort dishes that each alone would set you back a day’s caloric intake, and some of which are not even really food at all. Therefore, I believe that Mack would applaud our efforts to run off a few calories before sitting down to Macksgiving in her honor, and I KNOW she’d approve of this menu!

Macksgiving

Appetizers:
Sushi, Thai Spring Rolls, Deviled Eggs

Main Courses:
Baked Smoked Ham, Mack ‘n Cheese with Bacon, Texas Cheesy Potatoes, Homemade Noodles

Sides:
Green Bean Casserole
Spicy Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Broccoli
Hawaiian Rolls

Desserts & Snacks:
New York Cheesecake with Raspberries
Powdered Miniature Donuts
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Funyons
Candy (Laffy Taffy, Sour Punch Straws, and Warheads)
Blue Gatorade

On Macksgiving, Mack  will be with me as I run. She’ll be in my ear, cackling away, slinging gentle insults about my slow pace. Her laughter will whisper in the wind, and her spirit will reside in my own. On Macksgiving, Mack will be with me for every bite, as I enjoy the foods she loved so well. I will prepare my traditional perfect last bite, think of Mack, and offer gratitude for the twenty  years she graced this earth with her beautiful presence. But on Mackgiving, I will still keenly feel the absence of my girl, who was the soul of this indulgent holiday and whose chair for me will always be empty.

Better Angels

Three things. Each of them from my heart and through the raw edge of my emotion. But each of them also from my conviction that America got this election horribly wrong and that the mistake may cost us more than we can right now even begin to comprehend.

First, in his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature,” choosing to believe that Americans, north and south, were not enemies but rather friends, bound by a shared history and unbreakable bonds of affection. In the early days of the American Civil War, Lincoln continued to doubt the intensity of racism and hatred in the hearts of so many of his fellow Americans. Even the swift rebuke from many voices and regions across the country in angry response to his Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 did not dampen his hopeful resolve. While I can today still see Lincoln’s good and true heart, unlike him, I am loath at this moment in American history to believe in the better angels of our nature. Bloody Civil War, Segregation and Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment in WWII, and the turbulent Civil Rights Movement have, apparently, provided no lessons. Instead, we now find ourselves here, one hundred and fifty-five years after Lincoln appealed to those better angels, witness to the election of Donald Trump, a man who played to the devils in our nature, to the worst in America—to our bigotry, our sexism, our ethnocentrism, and our hatred and fear of the “other.” Yesterday, we betrayed Lincoln’s belief in and hope for America, and in this devastating realization I am bereft.

Second, today Mack, like me and half of my fellow Americans, would be devastated, as the shocking result of this hateful election flies in the face of everything she believed in her heart. But she would, no doubt, do what she always did: offer a crooked smile, tell a stupid joke, and deliver Big-Mack hugs all around. And, most importantly, she would never let the bitterness I am feeling on this terrible day to pass a shadow over her generous heart.

Finally,  I’m not sure I will be capable of Mack’s grace in regard to this election; and if I am ultimately capable, it is going to take a good while and considerable effort on my part to get there. While I take some comfort in the fact that the qualified and correct choice in this election won the popular vote, it will be a very long time before I am strong enough to forgive the part of the country who supported Trump. As I wholeheartedly believe in our country’s democratic ideals, I must accept the outcome of this election. But I will never accept Donald Trump’s vision of America; I choose Abraham Lincoln’s vision instead. I choose an America that is diverse, tolerant, open-minded, true, and kind. I chose an America that stands up against lies, that protects the rights of minorities and the LGBT community, that welcomes immigrants, that lifts up people with disabilities, that treats women with decency and respect, and that believes the American dream is big enough for all of us. While my soul is buoyed by the 59,731,599 souls who voted with me and with my Mack yesterday, the election cost me my faith in the better angels of our American nature. Yesterday was, truly, the third worst day in my life, only losing Mackenzie and my dad eclipsing my heartbreak for this country as the returns came in late into the night. Today I am grieving, and my faith in humanity is in question.

Since losing Mack, I have sought to channel the better angels of her nature. Mostly, I have been successful in drawing strength from her wit and her grace and her unbounding optimism. But at this moment, as we face potentially disturbing and historic consequences of what this election may have wrought, I am failing and, I dare say, might fail for a long time to come. Because in truth, the depth of my disappointment lies not only with the result of the Electoral College and with the dysfunction of the Republican Party, but also in the failure of the Democratic Party, my party, to understand the disaffection of its own base and to include the very people it always claimed to protect. As it was in Lincoln’s time, so it is also in our own, that we each bear some responsibility for our failure to get history right and to understand the depths of the differences between us. I can only hope that somewhere in the chasm that divides our country, reside the angels we will need to bridge the dangerous gap that threatens to swallow us all.

Shut It Off

Anticipation of the impending two-year mark of my life without Mack has infiltrated my bones and made me unsteady on my feet these past days. In an effort to regain some balance and to face the grim week ahead, I need Mack to guide me. So I have taken yet another journey through Mack’s beautiful brain by spending time with the precious book that Mack’s adoring father assembled just months after we lost her. The spirit of our Mack dances (Irish jigs, actually) off of each of the priceless pages of Mack: Her Life & Words (http://mackmcd.yolasite.com/), reminding the reader of her quirky wit, her gracious and kind character, her uncompromising belief in equality and justice, her love for life, and her uncommon wisdom.

This morning, I was reading out loud her poetry. It is undisciplined, and it is raw. It is not the stuff of literary giants, but it has a beauty and a quiet wisdom that is uniquely Mack. One particular poem might in some ways now seem prophetic, but this morning as I repeated it half a dozen times or so, it was, very simply, pure and human truth. A sage epistle from my sweet girl. A gentle reminder to find the sun.

Shut it Off
By Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott

It’s all okay
The sun is out
But hidden behind generous clouds
On a lazy day
Soon to be replaced by lazy stars

Then all at once
The world collapses
The clouds turn mean
And the sun retreats
To mourn the ashes of kin
A touch is in order
Some simple relief from the gripping reality
As the world dims
But there’s a head on those shoulders
So give it all you’ve got
Then shut it off

Move quickly
And hold tight to false hope
Cling to the smallest of rocks in the stone
Just make sure you don’t look down
Because letting go is much harder than pretending

Shut it off
There’s much more pain that love can bring
Than just a body in a box
So shut it off

And then it’s almost okay
The sun is out
But hidden behind generous clouds
On a lazy day
Soon to be replaced by lazy stars
Shut it off
It’s not that hard

freckle

As I myself cling to the smallest of rocks in the stone, I can assure you all that under some of life’s cruel circumstances it is, actually, quite hard. But for my Mack, I will always try harder to find the sun.

A Tale of Two Days

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a day of joyous beauty. It was a day of quiet sorrow.

Today at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, I marveled, wide-eyed, under a big and blue western sky, at the wonders of our Earth. Yet my heart denied the sparkle in my eyes for the glorious landscape and rejected the excitement in my mind for the wonders of our spectacular planet. Two years ago this day, I kissed the freckled face of my Mackenzie for the last time, and my heart has never been the same. Today, my body was in the Black Hills, but my heart was as far away from there as my lost girl is now from me, and a great day was tinged with sadness.

I struggle each day to find joy and beauty in life, and this western journey, this overdue and necessary vacation, has provided an abundance of both. Unfortunately, however, even the magical splendor of the Black Hills cannot completely restore my spirit. While my senses experienced the natural wonders around me, and as I enjoyed the cool wind on my face and delighted in the glittering sunlight reflecting off the haunting tower of stone and across the endless valleys, I was lost in myself. All the day, my tears were just below the surface of my joy in the landscape. 

This state of discord is a common one in my new life, and I understand its challenges. To balance extreme joy and extreme sadness is a mighty task, and today my efforts were insufficient. Mack’s spirit was with me, as it always is, but it could not reach my aching heart. The wind blowing through the ponderosa pines intensified my longing for her presence on this beautiful earth, in this spectacular landscape she will never see. In the shadows of the ancients rocks, I saw the shadows cast upon me. My eyes could see the enchanting environment around me. My mind could appreciate the awesome power of the planet to render me speechless. But my heart was an unwilling traveler.

It was a good day. It was a bad day. It was a day in which I felt the weight of my sorrows juxtaposed with all of the beauty of the world. It was another day in my life without Mack. 

Mack Memo #3: Love Trumps Hate

During the televised Democratic National Convention, I cried during the poignant speech of Muslim American Khizr Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan, about the loss of his son—fallen U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan—and about Mr. Khan’s own love for and commitment to America. As I listened and watched, I saw an American family who sacrificed their son for our country, and I saw and understood all too well the deep sorrow in Mrs. Kahn’s eyes. As a grieving mother myself, it was for her specifically that I wept. My own broken heart shared her pain, and I admired her ability to bravely stand there on that big national stage while her husband shared their family story. When Donald Trump attacked the Khan family, dismissed their sacrifice, and suggested that Ghazala Kahn was not allowed to speak, he offended every immigrant who has ever believed in the American dream, every soldier who has ever given his life for our country, and every mother who has ever lost a child.

For months, I have watched in horror as Trump’s statements have become more outrageous and have further illustrated his ignorance and his vitriol. His attack on the Khan family is one more example in a long progression of ever escalating examples of his lack of character and grace, his appalling misanthropy, and his all-encompassing unfitness for the Presidency. Trump’s utter failure to see the grief in Mrs. Kahn’s face is another vivid instance of Trump’s inhumanity. In the past few days, as I have thought about Mr. Kahn’s speech and about Trump’s response to it, Mack has been ever present in my mind. Mack’s character and humanity are what I use these days to measure my own actions and life and to assess the world around me. Inherent in the high bar that Mack has set in that regard is some disappointment, I admit. For few of us will leave this earth with as perfect a record of happy human relationships as our dear Mack. But Trump fails my Mack test on all counts, and I have come to believe that his absolute inability to feel empathy and to show compassion for his fellow Americans is, perhaps, his gravest deficiency for suitability for the American Presidency.

If my Mack, a feminist and liberal-minded young woman, were here today, she would be a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. One of her favorite mottos, “uteruses before duderuses,” would no doubt have found new meaning in this historic 2016 presidential campaign, In fact, it’s entirely possible she may have been actively engaged; and she certainly would have been proud of her dear friend Meagan, who is a Clinton field organizer in Nebraska. But more to the point, my loving, just-minded, big-hearted, and nonjudgmental daughter would be aghast by Trump’s tactics of hatred and bigotry. Trump’s campaign would offend everything she believed about human decency, civility, and leadership. Mack would have spoken out against Trump’s hateful campaign, and she would have wanted me to do so as well. It is for her and in honor of her true heart that I now raise my own voice.

Over the years, I have followed a general rule to keep my politics off of Facebook and out of polite discourse with people in my life who hold opposing political views to my own. I have always reserved my unabashed support for the Democratic Party and my liberal snark for family, for a close circle of politically like-minded friends, and for the shallow and more fleeting arena of Twitter. But I cannot remain silent on Trump any longer, because he is a danger to the human decency and ideals I instilled in my daughters. He offends my family’s deeply held convictions of tolerance and equality. He mocks and demeans women, which is a direct affront to the brilliant and promising girls I raised. Mack is not here to offer her own objections to Trump’s candidacy, but I knew my daughter’s heart. The boisterous hatred Trump and his supporters spew would have outraged her open mind, the negativity and cynicism of his campaign would have offended her happy heart, and his racism would have stirred her strong sense of equality and justice.

Simply put, Trump is not a legitimate candidate. He is not a legitimate Republican. I respect my Republican friends; and I admire their commitment to principles of limited government and fiscal conservatism, even though I do not share them. I whole heartedly honor their rights to voice their own opinions, to engage in civil political debate with their opponents, and to vote their own consciences. This is America, and our democracy depends upon intelligent debate. But the 2016 Presidential Campaign is not a real campaign, because the Republican candidate is an affront to our ideals of tolerance, compassion, and liberty. Every single time that Trump opens his mouth, he reveals his bigotry, his sexism, his ignorance, his vanity, and his complete lack of empathy for his fellow Americans. He mocks people with disabilities, attacks the service of members of our military, incites violence against those who challenge him, and breathes hatred and intolerance. Not to mention the fact that he offers no coherent domestic or foreign policies to move America further toward a more perfect union, Trump’s message of hate should scare the hell out of every American.

Trump is not a true Republican. Trump represents no Republican ideals that I can recognize. More and more real Republicans and conservatives agree with my assessment. Trump does not represent the party of Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln is rolling over in his tomb at the possibility of a Trump presidency. So far from the character of Lincoln, Trump is a hate-mongering, egomaniacal narcissist who has devoted his entire life to himself and to his own business interests. He has no moral compass, he has no interest in public service, and he has no understanding of American history and the political foundations of our great government. His ignorance of world affairs is terrifying, he is not committed to preserving the principles of our founding fathers, and he lacks humility, honor, and empathy for the American people. He is the most dangerous presidential candidate of a major political party in the history of the United States, and the American electorate—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all—must defeat him in November. Bigotry and hatred have no place in American politics, and we all need to show Trump that they have no place in America. Not anymore. And never again.

I know that many of my Republican friends have serious reservations about Hillary Clinton. Although it is my opinion as both an informed reader and as a professional historian that no person has ever been more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton, I appreciate the hesitancy of some, more conservative Republicans to eagerly support her candidacy. In opposition to a real Republican candidate, I would be explaining why Mack would have supported Hillary Clinton and why I support her, too. But this campaign, sadly, is not about electing a qualified life-long public servant to be the first woman President of the United States. Sadly, it is about keeping an ignorant, hateful sociopath out of the White House. The American presidency is a job for true leaders—leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Barack Obama—who have character and grace, honor and humility, and empathy and compassion for their fellow Americans.

So, please. Please. Please. I appeal to your humanity in this election. Do not vote for Trump, a man so devoid of qualifications for the Presidency that it should be laughable, a man who would shed no tears for your children. Do not vote for one of the long-shot independent candidates simply because you hate Hillary. Significant voting for independents could skew the election in favor of Trump, which would validate his candidacy of hate. Vote for Clinton-Kaine because it is a reasonable, legitimate Democratic ticket that is running a campaign against racism, against sexism, against religious intolerance, and against anti-immigrant hostility and scapegoating. Be a part of this historic election to put the first woman President in the White House, but, most importantly, cast your vote for the Democrats, who are running a real campaign against hate.

Mack Memo #3: Love Trumps Hate. Always. Did you ever go on hatin’ after a Big-Mack hug? Nope. Never. No matter what you think about my girl Hillary, her election in November will send a message to the haters that we are all in this America together.

Mack Memo #1: Make a Face

I just spent the weekend with my first baby, the splendid and sassy Savannah. We walked all over the Missouri Botanical Garden in nearly identical Birkenstock sandals. We drank giant steins of Heffewiezen under a 95-degree, afternoon sun, and we ate too many tortilla chips and not all of our tacos at a late dinner in historic Soulard. We laughed, we caught up on the details of each other’s daily lives, and we giggled a lot and cried a little when we reminisced about Mack. It was as close to happy as I have been since my last weekend visit with Savannah. And then her car disappeared down Washington Avenue, and the Illinois license plate faded away from my view. Then the sorrow moved back in, pushing out the sunshine and snapping me back to my lonely and gloomy, missing-Mack mood. The kind of mood that hangs on sometimes for hours after a weekend guest departs or after I return home from a trip to see family or friends. The mood that reminds me how desperately I miss my second baby.

This is the life of a grieving mother. This is the emotional truth of losing a child. For me, successful living in the moment comes with a price at the end that is frequently difficult to pay. Time does not heal this wound, no matter what they say; and so I must breathe in as deeply as possible during my live-in-the-moment successes and endure as best as I can the painful aftermath that always follows. Mack’s absence is the reason for my sorrow, but Mack is also the one who guides me through these terrible transitions, as well. Drawing strength from her humor through most all of my missing-Mack moods has been the key to my survival, and it is especially true after the positive effects of a magical diversion, like a visit with Savannah, fade away. To help alleviate my sorrow at these times, I always look at pictures of my funny girl. Mack’s face making faces has a curious power. I used to badger her to smile for pictures rather than to make a goofy face, but now it is those goofy faces that provide me strength to find my way to the next live-in-the-moment opportunity.

those eyeballs

Oh, that face! How can that face ever fail to make me smile?

Mack’s continuing power to soothe my heart, to bring a smile to my lips, and to make me laugh when I am at the lowest of low is a guiding force in my life. Mack speaks to me through her goofy grin and silly faces in photos. She whispers love and advice in my ear and plants happy memories and thoughts in my brain. She tugs at my arm to be strong, and she continually reminds me to laugh. I have come to think of these moments when Mack touches my spirit as memos from Mack. The contents of my Mack memos have become a sort of life mantra for me. Sometimes they come in the form of humorous one-liners, and sometimes they are lengthier essays with depth and with heart. Mack’s great character, her unflappable good cheer, her unique wit, and her incomparable wisdom for a person who had so little time give substance and style to all of her memos. Mack’s memos connect with my heart all the way across the great physical divide that now exists between us. Mack’s memos inspire and instruct me, and only recently have I come to fully understand their purpose and their power. Now I want to bundle up my precious memos and periodically share them in the pages of this blog. There is sound advice, much inspirational grace, and innumerable funny messages for good living within them.

And here to get it started is…

Mack Memo #1: Make a face. Make a silly face, people. Stick out your tongue. Cross your eyes. Wrinkle your nose. Suck in your lips. Use your face to make yourself or somebody else laugh. Making a face will make all the serious go away. It will make you feel better…at least for a while. Trust me. It will. And a goofy face might also save a life.