Mack Saying Hello

My sister’s cell phone crashed this week; and she lost everything on it. She was particularly sad to have lost a special Mack album of photos that would sometimes randomly pop up when Tracy was least expecting it. Like Mack finding a way to be present. Like Mack saying hello.

Well, tonight when Tracy was setting up her new phone, that Mack album showed up, the only files to successfully transfer from her old phone. No contacts, selfies, or other photos; just that Mack album. Tracy was certain it hadn’t been there before, but there it was, nonetheless, welcomed and cherished. It was like Mack finding a way to be present. Like Mack saying hello.

It’s Weird. It’s Wonderful. And it’s little bit of Mack magic that neither my sister nor I care to question. Because sometimes we really need Mack to be present. And we love it when she pops in to say hello…

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…

Hugs 11

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…

Hugs 4

And here Mack is huggin’ on a football opponent…

Hugs 9

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…

Hugs 12

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!

Bug and Us

A tiny Chihuahua came to live with us back in August, and since then she has romped, cuddled, and squeaked her way into our hearts. We are beyond charmed by her awkward eagerness to be a special buddy to me, to Kevin, and to Pepper, our reluctant Pomeranian. We call her Bug, although her growing importance in our lives suggests a more respectful moniker…perhaps Miss Bug? Everyone who meets her is immediately enchanted by her quirky personality, her sweet spirit, and her gentle nature. One minute she is a bouncing little goofball, acting wild, and the next minute she is power napping atop the back of the old leather chair in my office. She is a whole lot of funny and a little bit of weird and oh so very delightful…just like Mack; and sometimes I wonder if Mack handpicked Bug herself and sent her to us.IMG_5288

Adopting Bug turned our house a little upside down at first with house training, fur-sibling rivalries, and life adjustments by and to our new little family member. But upside down was a good thing. It was exactly what we needed. We had become too sheltered. Too comfortable with our seclusion. Too exhausted by grief to seek out new happiness in the world. Kevin needed a project; I had become too reliant on Pepper to calm my anxieties; and Pepper needed a furry companion, even though she is still not convinced that Bug should stay. Bug arrived at our house with the energy and intensity of a puppy, her need for training dramatically altered our only-dog complacency and pushed us into the previously avoided neighborhood dog park where we have met new people and new dogs. Bug arrived at our house, claiming her spot as the baby in the family and demanding the constant attention of all three of us. Yet most importantly, I think, Bug arrived at our house to save us.

Grief is a lonely and bitter journey, but at times external forces make you stop to share the road; and when you do, little comforts are frequently your reward. I have learned that those comforts that come along the way are frequently unexpected and often arrive in small packages. In August, one of those unexpected and small comforts had arrived in the form of a tiny Chihuahua. But as my difficult 2015 is drawing to a close, I now realize that Bug is so much more than just an unexpected comfort. In recent days, I have realized that this silly, six-pound doggie has become my special friend; but she has become a sort of spirit animal to me as well. Bug’s dorky lovability, her goofy personality, and her kind spirit daily remind me of the qualities in Mack I always admired and promised to emulate a year ago as I faced my first New Year without her. The year 2015 has been a struggle, and it is a constant battle to survive my loss with grace. Bug reveals to me that I still have the capacity to love, to find new joys in unexpected places, and to embrace the future with a little hope. She can provide some grace with me on this journey.

Bug’s cute little face both connects me to Mack and gives me some strength to face 2016 without Mack. I know in my bones and in my soul that Mack would be so pleased that her dad and I have let this sweet little animal into our hearts. She believed that animals held the power to lighten many sorrows, and it would be no surprise to her that Bug could melt her Momma Bear’s heart. Of course, Mack would remain skeptical about the impact that Bug might have on our reluctant Pomeranian, but she would wholeheartedly approve of our new little friend and the magic of her little heart full of love for us all.

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And because I cannot pass a blog without an image of my Macko, here she is loving up on Pepper…

4-19-2014 2

 

Remembering Mack: Great Deeds and Simple Gestures

One year ago today, we lost our incomparable Mack.Mack

For all of us who loved her, the sky is cloudier, the sun is less bright, and the world is far too quiet. With tears we have paved the winding road of this grueling, twelve-month journey without her. Along the path, we have tripped over anger, stumbled on sorrow, and struggled for air to breathe. Yet between stretches of hard travel through grief, we have taken respite from it by finding ways to keep Mack with us. Some great deeds as well as simple gestures have offered us rest for our weary and broken hearts, have given us strength to make it around each uncertain bend in the road, paid tribute to Mack’s beautiful spirit, and honored Mack’s significance in our lives.

During my journey of grief over these last 365 days, I have been buoyed by the abiding love of family, by the patience and kindness of friends, and by the constructive therapy of writing. I found solace in the beautiful and fitting memorial service for Mack, I drew strength from heartfelt tributes from her family members and friends, and I continue to take comfort in the photos and stories about Mack posted on social media. The tattoo on my wrist honors Mack’s name and will endure until my own death, an endowed scholarship will give meaning to Mack’s life in perpetuity, and an elegant brass plaque on granite in a peaceful spot near the Lincoln Tomb will mark the place where Mack will rest easy for all eternity. These great deeds and simple gestures have not lessened the reality of my terrible loss, but they have eased my journey. They have not kept all of the bitter tears and deep sorrow at bay, but they have provided me the strength I need to survive my terrible loss. Most importantly, they have shown me that despite Mack’s short time in the world, she made an inspirational and everlasting impression on the lives of the people who loved her.

Memorial Service in Springfield:

Nearly 600 people gathered in the gymnasium at Springfield High School on Sunday, October 12, for our public goodbye to Mack. It was a dreadful day for all of us, but it was also a respite from our private sorrow. The purple balloons, the giant picture boards, Mack’s high school softball teammates presenting her jersey, and eulogies by her second father, her favorite teacher, and her best friends broke our hearts but also lifted our spirits. There was great comfort in being there with so many other people who loved Mack. The dear friends who made this beautiful memorial service possible gave us all an amazing gift: the public time we needed to cry together, to acknowledge our terrible loss together, and to celebrate Mack’s life together.

Memorial 2    Memorial 4   Memorial 1

Social Media:

Social media has offered all of us a forum to share our personal stories about Mack, to post our favorite pictures with her, and to draw strength from knowing we were not alone in our grief. In the first terrible weeks without Mack, there were hundreds of tributes on Facebook and Twitter, and there was a deluge of photos, short notes, and longer homages. The daily posts have now ceased, but there is still a regular hum of activity on Mack’s page, as people add reminiscences, express loneliness caused by Mack’s absence from their lives, and, even sometimes, continue to talk to her. Say what you will of the vagaries of Facebook, but for me it is a positive presence, a helpful friend, and a portal to Mack’s beautiful collection of people.

IPad 2014 582       Social Media 1 Social Media 6       Social Media 4      Social Media 3       Social Media 2

Writing:

Just hours after losing Mack, I was compelled to write about my loss. This memorial blog has given voice to the emotions that A True Senatorthreatened to drown me. Writing shined a light on the path of my journey through the dark days, and I have been lucky and thankful to find some grace along the way. The blog captures my sorrow, but it also seeks to capture my girl; and in capturing my girl, it has led me to smiles and laughter I desperately need. The writing helps me and, it turns out, the writing helps others (especially Mack’s grandparents); and this is a most wonderful and unexpected gift that I am happy to bestow upon the people who feel Mack’s absence as keenly as I do.

Writing is a powerful remedy for grief, and I am grateful that others have picked up their pens to honor our incomparable Mack. Kevin edited a beautiful volume of Mack’s writing and has given us all a sweet and personal keepsake. But this fall, Truman State University will accession a copy of Mack: Her Life and Words (http://mackmcd.yolasite.com/) into the collections of the Pickler Memorial Library, which will preserve Mack’s words at the campus she loved. And as the following elegantly penned eulogies attest, writing can, indeed, set us free.

Truman State Tribute: http://tmn.truman.edu/blog/editorial/editor-remembers-mackenzie-mcdermott/

Kailey’s beautiful blog post: http://kaileytrieger.weebly.com/blog/in-loving-memory-of-mackenzie-mcdermott

Justice’s heartwarming eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9e2NIGnbww

Personal Gestures:

Sometimes, it is a simple gesture that warms our hearts and keeps Mack close. In November, just weeks after Mack’s death, some of her golfing buddies (who played for a rival high school) wore Mack ribbons in Mack’s high school colors during their appearance in the state tournament. A favorite Mack mom made memorial t-shirts, and a younger softball teammate wrote her nickname for Mack on the catcher’s mitt that Mack had bequeathed to her. A lifelong friend and golf teammate adorned her golf bag with ribbons honoring Mack, and I and at least two other people who loved Mack, got tattoos to commemorate the imprint Mack made upon our hearts. (https://macksmommabear.com/2015/04/22/permanent-mack/).

personal gestures 1   personal gestures 5 personal gestures 4     personal gestures 6 personal gestures 2     personal gestures 3

Interment at Oak Ridge Cemetery:marker

Mack was cremated in Spain, but even upon the return of her remains to the United States, we made no plans for interment. As some time passed, however, and some of the shock wore off, we decided that interment and a permanent marker were important to us. Oak Ridge Cemetery, the beautiful and tranquil home of the Lincoln Tomb, was our immediate and contented choice. Springfield is Mack’s hometown, and the historical significance of Oak Ridge strikes a peaceful chord in my historical sensibilities. We have chosen a grassy spot under a gigantic and gnarled old tree that keeps watch over a quiet grassy area with old and new headstones. A marker in bronze with a lovely shamrock will note Mack’s existence in the world, all of us who need it will have a physical place to commune with Mack’s spirit, and the historian in me is grateful that Mack will belong to the ages near Mr. Lincoln.

The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship at Truman State University:

Most of my attempts to survive this unbearable loss have been small gestures that bring me welcome, albeit limited, peace. But the endowment of a scholarship in Mack’s honor is the best great deed we have accomplished since Mack’s passing. I take credit for the idea, and Mack’s father did all of the initial work with Truman State to make it happen. But it took a Mack-sized community of people to make an endowed memorial scholarship a reality. In just two short months, the annual scholarship for creative writers was fully endowed, and in August we honored our first scholarship recipient (https://macksmommabear.com/2014/12/09/honoring-mack/; https://macksmommabear.com/2015/08/15/magical-medicine/). The generosity and love of more than one hundred donors made this great deed possible. I am so grateful for the power of that generosity and love to bring us all some peace. And I stand in awe of the beautiful girl whose life inspired it all.

One year ago today, we lost our incomparable Mack.

Here we now stand with one year of life without Mack behind us. Every holiday. Every month. Every season. We have survived the lonely and sorrowful road through them all. Now we have some experience—however bitter, however hard—to understand something of the grief we have endured in losing Mack and to recognize the difficulties we yet face in our efforts to adjust to a world without her. And through all of our great deeds and simple gestures, we will continue to appreciate the time we spent with Mack, to cherish the memories we made with her, and to draw strength from the love she gave us and the love we have for her…always.

Mack is Everywhere

Early last Saturday morning on my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s, I paused a moment in the floral department, and my eyes settled in on a lovely pot of fall chrysanthemums. The small plant I noticed first was just one of dozens of potted flowers and fresh-cut arrangements, many of which commanded far more attention than the demure and jewel-toned flowers on which I had fixed my gaze. The deep maroon petals and contrasting yellow centers were smiling brightly at me; and there in the floral department, I smiled back at them. mums

I had awaken that morning feeling a little more sad and a lot more empty than usual, and the short drive on a deserted I-64 stretch of highway to the suburban shopping center had made me weepy. But there I was, standing among those flowers, smiling, my spirit lifted in one beat of my heart. Mack was in that little pot of flowers that were, like her, reserved on the outside and vibrant in the middle. Mack was there in the store, daring me to smile away my gloomy demeanor and begging me to welcome the simple joys of a Saturday.

Because my Mack is everywhere.

Mack’s freckled face is in the clouds. Mack’s impish giggle floats upon the wind. And Mack’s happy, carefree spirit is an essential element of the air I breathe. She wanders around in my mind, always in t-shirts and over-sized basketball shorts. She sits upon my shoulder when I prepare her favorite foods or as I cheer for our Cardinals to beat the Cubs. And she sings those infectious yet saccharin Taylor Swift songs in my ear whenever a dreadful silence threatens to overcome me. Mack was on Cherokee Street when an empty Funyuns bag blew across my path as I walked between antique shops one Sunday afternoon. funyunsShe was at the intersection of Gravois and MacKenzie roads as I waited for that interminable traffic light to turn green just a couple of weeks ago. And she was in those chrysanthemums last Saturday, one of my bad days, when the simple task of grocery shopping challenged my shaky resolve.

I am not a religious person, nor am I spiritual in any way. Wish that I did, but I do not believe that Mack is watching over me from some heavenly plane. Yet I have come to consider my Mack “sightings” as real and essential and true. Real because they happen daily. Essential because they have strength to catch me when I falter. And true because they perfectly reflect what Mack was to me in life and must continue to be for all of the days I must live without her.

Mack is alive in my memories. Mack is ever in my mind’s eye. Mack is in my heart, in my soul, and in the world around me. Mack is everywhere.

Macko in hato

And who wouldn’t want to see that face in the clouds?

sign

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.

Artifacts and Treasures

When my girls were little, I praised them for their artistic talents and proudly displayed their artwork on the refrigerator or on the dining room table. However, when room was necessary for the newest masterpieces, I generally threw away the old ones. I was careful to avoid the eyes of sweet little witnesses when I crammed drawings, paintings, or crafts deep into the kitchen garbage, but I was not emotionally attached to a great deal of the art that the little dears created. Yet while I was not the kind of mother who kept everything, I did store away a few particularly precious items, and now those humble artifacts possess new and deeper significance in my life.

In December 2012, we moved out of our old, roomy Springfield house, where for nineteen years Kevin and I raised the girls and a large pack of animals, and we settled into a smaller, open loft in downtown St. Louis. We left most of our belongings behind, divesting ourselves of two decades worth of crap; but I arrived in St. Louis with about a dozen huge Rubbermaid tubs stuffed with family treasures—like photographs, keepsakes, and those extant childhood art projects. Since then, I have been working to organize it all into a proper McDermott Family Archive.

4th Grade School Picture

When Mackenzie passed away, my family archival work became all the more urgent to me, and I focused my attention on organizing the Mack part of the archive. I was desperate to make sure that I had saved every little thing that mattered. I needed to make certain that I still had items like Mack’s 8th Grade Basketball MVP trophy, all twelve of her high school varsity letters, and the board she broke in Tae Kwon Do. Searching through these mementos of her life is painful, terrifying, joyful, and absolutely imperative. In doing this work, I am transported right back to my life with her, to our shared laughter, to our travels, to my perpetual perch on the bleachers, watching her life unfold. In rediscovering, touching, and organizing in acid-free, archival boxes these tangible mementos of Mack’s happy childhood, I have found myself smiling, laughing, and crying over items like finger-paint hand prints, school report cards, first-day-of-school photos, and those precious few crafts that escaped the kitchen garbage.

Sorting through items from one of those bins, I unpacked one object that threw me hard into a paroxysm of sobbing, buckling my knees, and leaving me in a gooey puddle in the middle of my closet floor. I cuddled that item in my arms and, if I were a religious woman, I would have thanked God that this perfect, exquisite masterpiece made by the precious hands of my ten-year-old Macko ended up in one of those dozen Rubbermaid bins and not in my kitchen trash. Orchestrated by an artistically creative fourth-grade teacher at Dubois Elementary School, this little item was my 2004 Mother’s Day present. For this project, Mack had dutifully colorized seven photocopies of her 4th grade school photo, including one in which she gave herself some bright red lips. She had then carefully arranged those Warhol-esk images around the perimeter of a common clay pot, securing them all with a clear varnish. At the center of this careful arrangement of photos she placed her Mother’s Day ode to me:

Mom,

You have been like a coach to me

You have taught me everything I know

You are like a football player

You are really cool

but tough

I couldn’t have it any better

I love you very much

How close had this little flower pot come to landing in my kitchen garbage? Had those words meant as much to me then as they mean to me right now? Was I really like a coach to her? She was wrong about the “tough” part. I am exhibiting no toughness now, as a cradle this priceless gift and cry like a baby. I have suffered much pain over the loss of my baby girl, and I have cried many, many tears. But one thing I have not let myself do is to have regrets about how I conducted myself as Mack’s momma bear. But keeping those doubts from forcing their way into my sanity has been a difficult challenge.love and art 2

Laying my eyes upon this little artifact and knowing that Mack viewed me as an important presence in her world sets me free. It was her teacher who had organized the artistic part of the gift, but it was Mack who provided the words that I need to hear now, sobbing on the floor of my closet. I am sure that when I received this gift in 2004, I was touched, said “aw,” and scooped up Mack and showered her with kisses. But today, her poem on this beautiful clay pot transcends the original sentiments of the humble, handmade gift it was nearly eleven years ago. Now it has the power to quiet my doubts. Now it is Mack telling me that I “done good,” as she would say. Now it is not merely a family artifact; it is a simple, but magical treasure.

playing catch/kindergarten drawing

 foot letter