A Beautiful Life

Two years ago this day, the sky plunged down from the heavens and the truest soul that ever drew a breath left the world too soon. Two years in, and I am no less lost without my Mack. Two years in, and I am still far from well. Two years in, and I cling for dear life to my happier past all the stronger. But for me, starting today and going bravely forward, October 7 on my calendar will no longer mark Mack’s passing from this life. Rather, it will mark the significance of her life.

Two lovely, random, and unconnected human encounters inspired within me the courage to reinterpret the meaning of October 7 in my life. First was a delightful yet unexpected letter I received late this summer from Dr. Goodman, a kind man I hardly know. He is a past president of the Springfield Sunrise Rotary Club, the organization that sponsors the “This I Believe” essay contest for which Mack was a winner back in 2012. In November of 2014, this same rotary club made a generous contribution to the scholarship fund we established in Mack’s honor at Truman State University. This sweet gentleman was writing to tell me that he remembered Mack and her essay so fondly that he was planning to propose that the Rotary make another contribution to the scholarship in order to reaffirm his and the club’s “everlasting memory of Mackenzie,” adding that she was “a blessing to all.” Second was a conversation I had with Jeanne, a dear and wise woman I have gotten to know in my volunteer work at an historic home in St. Louis. She and I are fellow travelers on the road without beloved children. Having lost her young son fifty years ago and buried one of her two daughters some ten years ago, she always recognizes the sadness in my eyes. Recently, we talked about how I was feeling, we shared a few stories, and she gently reminded me that life is for the living.

Life is, indeed, for the living. Mack understood that simple truth better than anyone I have ever known, better than anyone I will probably ever know. She lived every single day like it was her last one, always laughing, always doing the things she loved first, always positive and happy, and always true to her heart. She loved every friend like she might never lay eyes upon them again, and that was the real purpose of those big-Mack hugs. Mack would not wish us to grieve on this day. She would want us to remember the laughter. She would want us to live. Mack’s good and gracious life should inspire us all to live well. To be patient and kind. To hug harder and to laugh louder. To be generous with our spirits, as Mack was. The assessment of my kind correspondent is perfectly true; our Mack was a blessing to all. And the best way to pass this October 7 and every October 7 is to reflect upon her beautiful life and to try a little harder in our own to emulate the qualities we admired in her.

Life is, indeed, for the living. To my mind and to my heart, there is no greater means to honor a beautiful life than a memorial scholarship, which supports the dreams of students who have so much living to do. Therefore, I want to establish October 7 as a day not only for spending extra time with our precious memories of Mack, but also to carry her beautiful spirit forward into the future. Establishing the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship Fund at Truman State University brought me an enormous sense of peace, and it continues to feed my spirit. I know well that Mack would be honored and humbled (“aw, shucks,” she often said when anyone paid her a compliment) to know how much people loved her and to know the high regard in which even passing acquaintances held her. And although she would no doubt be quiet and humble about it, inside she would beam that a scholarship in her name at Truman State, where she went to discover the writer within her, is helping students achieve their own writing dreams.

The scholarship is fully endowed, so it will be perpetual. Preparing for this 100th blog entry reminded me that it was the generosity and tremendous outpouring of love for Mackenzie—from friends, from family, and even from strangers—that made endowment possible in just two short months, back in December 2014. (https://macksmommabear.com/2014/12/09/honoring-mack/). There has already been one recipient (https://macksmommabear.com/2015/08/15/magical-medicine/), and the university will soon name a second. Right now the annual, endowed scholarship award is $750, but I am on a mission to increase the endowment so that it returns an annual award of at least $1,000. Truman State is still a relatively inexpensive college, but tuition is always on the rise and student needs today are ever greater. Truman—a small, public, liberal-arts college in northern Missouri—is a quality school with a quirky edge, a magnet for kooky and smart students, which should be enough to illustrate why Mack chose it in the first place (https://macksmommabear.com/2015/05/22/a-purple-bulldog/). She loved Truman, and I have come to love and respect it a great deal myself. It is a true gem, just like my Mack.

I now beg forgiveness to ask you to consider making a contribution to the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship Fund as you pause to remember how Mack’s bright light lit up the world. Perhaps while you reflect on the blessing that Mack was to you, you might also consider making October 7 the day to make an annual contribution in her honor. Might we all reinterpret the meaning of October 7, so that it will no longer mark Mack’s passing from this life, but that it will mark the significance of her beautiful life.

The Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott 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/
(No matter the format you use, please direct your gift to The Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship Fund, and all contributions will be applied to the endowment.)

true-bulldog-5

The Essence of Our Mack

I know that if my Mack was here, she would want me to enjoy the warm, early-fall weather. She would chide me for defining this comfortable and colorful season as the beginning of winter, instead of embracing it as the beautiful end of the summer. I know that if my Mack was here, she would want me to enjoy a few pumpkin-spice lattes. She would yell at me when I looked up the nutritional info on my phone, because didn’t I know that those seasonal beverages at Starbucks are special and don’t have any fat or calories? And I know that if my Mack was here, she would insist that a 50th birthday should be a happy affair, instead of one spent counting wrinkles. She would have denied that the gray hairs at my temples existed (even as I stretched them out before her eyes), arguing that 50 is the new 30 and that I should shut up, sit down, and watch a few episodes of Sponge Bob since I was feeling so damned old.

But my Mack is not here to hold my winter at bay or to aid and abet my consumption of too many sugary coffees or to employ her goofiest humor to keep me from turning…from feeling…old. But my Mack was here, and it is this magnificent fact on which I am determined to focus. Her time spent on the Earth was short, but it was bounding with joy and bursting with meaning. I was lucky to have shared life’s journey with her, if only for twenty short years. Mack’s spirit lives on in my heart, in my soul, and in my memories. It lives on in the hearts, in the souls, and in the memories of all the people who knew and loved her. Yet while Mack’s radiant spirit is always in the air around us, this week it must be particularly present. This week her laughter must ring a little louder in our ears. This week, the heartbeat in her gentle soul must resonate more deeply within our own, as we face this dreadful two-year anniversary of our lives without her.

Mack was a force of nature in my life, and now her spirit continues to guide me. As I have gathered up my courage to face this difficult week with resolve and at least a little grace, I have drawn from more tangible reminders of Mack’s good life than just my treasured memories. I have been reading Mack’s poetry and essays, watching videos of her playing basketball, and listening to recordings of her voice. So here I offer a sampling of beautiful material evidence of the essence of our Mack: a couple of lists in her own words, two delightful videos that depict her cheerful disposition and irreverent wit, and the precious sound of her voice.

In a Facebook game in high school, Mack offered these nine things about herself:

  1. Basketball and softball are the best.
  2. I act like a five year old.
  3. I have a freckle moustache.
  4. I like being a freshman.
  5. I enjoy music.
  6. I’m putting off homework right now.
  7. I’m good at math.
  8. I try to be nice.
  9. I need to work on my language, it’s becoming a problem.

Wish to recall something that Mack said? Here is funny little list she offered on social media of thoughts that frequently crossed her mind: 

  1. Man, I could go for a corn dog.
  2. Why’d I wear this?
  3. I hate schooooool.
  4. That was a really stupid thing to do.
  5. Yep, I failed that.
  6. When’s summer?
  7. Is it almost lunch?

Remember those silly faces she always made?
Mack’s unique way of telling me she cut off her hair

Remember the way ridiculous ways she danced:
Mack dancing a jig in a prom dress and posing for one of my favorite photos, below

And…oh my god…do you remember Mack’s sweet voice:
Encouraging Pepper to jump and “speaking Spanish”

Reading her “This I Believe” essay on the radio

prom4

And now, Dear Mack, I’m on my way to collect my first pumpkin-spice latte of the season. Iced. Grande. With whipped cream. And, no, I did not look up the calories!

Short Stature and Long Memories

Yesterday, I bounced up onto the washing machine into a seated position and then pulled one leg up, lifting myself into a standing position atop the washer, so that I could then reach a box stored on the top shelf in the laundry room. I am a short and small woman, so my reach is often insufficient. Therefore, I frequently engage in this hop-sit-stand method of obtaining the things I want that are located at high altitudes. I retrieved the box and then settled into the required, intermediate, sitting-before-dismount position. But instead of hopping down straight away, I stayed seated, my legs dangling several inches above the floor. Mack, who always deemed my hop-sit-stand method ridiculous as well as delightfully entertaining, popped into my mind. Her enchanting little giggle filled my head, and so many memories of her good-natured teasing of my vertically-challenged life flooded over me.

Whenever Mack witnessed the limits of my reach, she would chuckle and snort before obtaining the object for me, making a dramatic demonstration of how so very easy it was for her to collect the object. When we stood next to each other for pictures, she would often ask me if I would like for her to kneel so I would not look like a “shrimp.” Frequently, a hug from Mack meant that her chin would dig deep into the top of my head to remind me of her six extra inches of height. And nothing sent her more quickly into a fit of giggles than my legs dangling on the bar stools at Buffalo Wild Wings. My common response to her playful joking about my short stature was: “I’ve been short all my life, and I’m getting along just fine.” “Oh, really?” she would reply. And then a fit of giggles elicited her trademark wrinkled nose, exaggerated finger point, and whispery hee-hee-heeing.

Mack is always on my mind, and I carry her spirit around with me every day no matter where I am or what I am doing. But it is so weird sometimes how that goofy girl interjects herself into my memories and makes me laugh. There I was just getting a box off of a shelf in the laundry room, and Mack bursts in just in time to make fun of me. Sitting there with my legs dangling, I closed my eyes and just let Mack’s giggle fill up the small space. I am so grateful for these random connections with my lost girl. I am beyond thankful for all of the laughter we shared during our short time together. I wish like hell she was still here to tease me about being so damn short. But thank goodness her spirit can find me, even in the laundry room on an ordinary Sunday afternoon.

heehee

Here is Mack making fun of me as I struggle to find a way off of a high wall.

Mack and Me

Here is the photo taken on the wall before the teasing began.

a favorite photo

And here is my favorite picture depicting our height difference. Note: Mack is wearing flat sandals and is leaning over, and look where her waist is compared to mine!

Mackenzie Kathleen is (Still) Here

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

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

brand new Macko

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

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

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

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

Strawberry Zucchini

Mack was born with the face and body of a sweet little cherub, and I could not resist the urge to dress her in over-the-top feminine frocks to match her ruby and oh-so-chubby cheeks. Perhaps because I suspected my window for so doing was to be a short one, I frequently chose outfits that even outdid the level of froufrou I had achieved with Mack’s way more girly-girl sister. But almost as soon as Mack could walk (at 8-months-old, by the way), she started to rebel against nearly every article of clothing I put on her. Her sister and I persisted in our efforts to girly-girl-a-tize our little Mackadoodle, but we ultimately failed…and thank goodness, really. Because looking back on our choices, I realize we certainly did overplay our hands.

By the time Mack was three, she screamed at skirts, ran away from dresses, claimed that frilly headbands “squeezed her brains,” and threw lacy anklet socks in the garbage when I wasn’t looking. But there was that one pink bikini with the strawberry appliques on the top and the little ruffle on the bottom that broke Mack’s no-stupid-superfluities-on-this-body determination and melted her anti-girly-girl grit. That ridiculous swimsuit beat all the tomboy odds against it. Mack wore it with joy. She sported it—big belly and all—with pride. Strawberry boobs, we called that bikini; and it ruled Mack’s wardrobe. She would put it on and smile from sea to sea, checking herself out in front of the bathroom mirror. The too-short bangs, which were just rebounding from being cut off at the root, completed the look of girl toddler magnificence. In her smashing strawberry swimsuit, Mack definitely strutted the preschool catwalk. One day after I helped her into that swimsuit for an afternoon in the backyard sprinkler, Mack proudly stood up, admired herself, ran her hands down her torso, and shared this heartfelt opinion: “I just love this zucchini!!” And love it she did during the entire summer of 1998.

For a long, long time afterwards, we teased Mack a lot about that bikini, and, fortunately, it stayed tucked in the back of one of Mack’s dresser drawers for years. When we packed for the move to St. Louis, it made it into the “keep” pile, because it had become such a funny fashion artifact of Mack’s life. She always thought it quite a hoot that she had once worn strawberry boobs with such panache. I still have the bikini today, tucked into an archival box with Mack’s baby blanket. Funny, these memories we keep. Funnier still the odd artifacts we retain in our human effort to document those memories and to hang on to the happy past for dear life.

bikini

My Favorite QB

Today is Super Bowl 50, and I am feeling low.

As a lifelong and exuberant fan of the NFL, I have always thought it appropriate that the Super Bowl marked the age I turn each year. In 1995, for example, when the ‘49ers trounced my beloved Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, I turned 29 that fall. I have enjoyed sharing this weird little bond with this great American holiday…until this year. And to make it worse, the NFL decided that we are too stupid to know what an “L” means in Roman numerals, so those boisterous Arabic numerals “50” have been staring me down for weeks. Turning “L” sounds so much better, right?

But, alas, Super Bowl 50 marks the countdown to my fiftieth birthday in October, and there is no way around this truth. And despite my low mood and the fact that I am ten kinds of mad at the league I have followed like a boss since 1980, I tuned in to the pre-game festivities a full four-hours before the kickoff. I will watch the game with much enthusiasm, eat way too much chili and chip dip, and enjoy the evening as best I know how in a world without Mack, my favorite quarterback.

QB

As I settle in to watch Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, Mack will be the quarterback on my mind. Mack was the tiny, loud-signal calling quarterback of her peewee team, she was the artful and cerebral quarterback of her flag football team, she was the bossy and serious quarterback of her two Powder Puff high school teams, and, in so many ways, she was the quarterback of her family and friends, as well. She was my favorite quarterback ever in the whole wide world. So from the first snap of Super Bowl 50, for me, it will be my Mack under center. I will see Mack’s brightly colored fingernails on every handoff to running backs. Each touchdown pass will remind me the beautiful, tight spirals that Mack could throw since the age of six. And on every touchdown celebration in the end zone, I will see a ten-year-old Mack dancing like a fool because she just scored a TD against four boys on the playground at Dubois Elementary School.

mack6

Donuts

Mel-O-Cream donuts are as much of an institution in Springfield as Abraham Lincoln and Illinois state government, and I raised my girls on them. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Those glorious, sweet and pillowy, sugary delights were a nearly weekly treat for all of us, but my Mack was a certified donut monster. She loved all Mel-O-Cream donuts, except the ones with nuts; but her favorites were the glazed donuts featuring a generous dollop of lemon curd, Bavarian cream, and all of the varieties that were covered in powdered sugar. On Sunday mornings, we would get a dozen donuts (three for every member of our skinny little family), and we would eat ourselves into sugar comas while drinking black coffee and reading the morning newspapers. It was not a healthy family tradition, but it was a cherished one.

mel-o-cream 1

Not only did Mack exuberantly participate in the McDermott weekly three-donut tradition, she added to it whenever possible. We took donuts to weekend team practices for various sports, she chose them over cupcakes for school birthday celebrations, and once she was able to drive, she frequently got up a little early so she could swing by Mel-O-Cream to collect her favorite portable breakfast. The floor of her junky Jeep was littered with those small, square, old-fashioned napkins with the Mel-O-Cream logo.

When we moved to St. Louis, we were sad, and Mack particularly so, to leave Mel-O-Cream behind. Giving up that special family donut tradition was a disappointment. However, if we had not moved, a nutritionist intervention would likely have been necessary.

Yesterday, I was in Springfield for work, attending a staff meeting. As editorial meetings at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln are always ponderous and protracted, a favorite colleague told me he was bringing a dozen Mel-O-Cream donuts to get us through the day. In route to Springfield that morning, my mouth watered and my eyes glazed as I anticipated the sugary goodness that awaited me. I thought about Mack, too, and how much she always craved those donuts. When I got to work and opened the lid of that beautiful donut box and gazed upon the lovely assortment of breakfast treats, I sighed deeply, smiled broadly, lifted a perfect glazed donut with a generous dollop of lemon curd, and toasted Mack by taking a Mack-sized first bite. And then I ate two more donuts! Mack would have been proud.

I felt fat and ashamed about my three-donut day until this afternoon, when my Mack whispered in my ear and said, “It’s ahhright, Momma Bear. If I’d have been there, I’d have eaten four.” As usual, Mack was right, and it was perfectly alright that I had detoured from my usual healthy diet. I had nothing to be ashamed of because dammit, I enjoyed those donuts. They were delicious, and they made me happy. While I do not plan to revive the McDermott three-donuts-per-person plan any time soon, I had to admit to Mack, to me, and now to all of you, that I loved those three donuts with gleeful abandon, that maybe I even needed those donuts, and that I will harbor no shame for paying homage to an old McDermott family tradition from our Springfield days.

powdered donuts

Mack on Trumpet

When I registered Mack for sixth grade at Franklin Middle School, I insisted that she give the school band a try. It would be an understatement to say that she was not very keen on the idea, but she accepted my suggestion and mumbled that it would probably be better than choir. She made a typically dramatic Mack pitch for the percussion section, but just the thought of that kid with drums or cymbals sent shivers down my spine and made my ears bleed. Besides, we still had Savannah’s school trumpet in the house, and I knew Mack’s heart was not in the band so why spend any money? Always respectful of parental money arguments, Mack accepted the trumpet and said she would probably kick her sister’s trumpet talents in the butt, so perhaps the trumpet was the best instrument choice anyway.

Band was a scheduled class at Franklin Middle School, so a little practice time at home and a handful of evening concerts did not interfere with Mack’s involvement with sports. Mack loved the very cool and youthful band director, Mr. Keys (isn’t that a hoot?), and several of her best friends were in band, so Mack never complained about it. She made some pretty horrible honking sounds during the first few weeks of school, but after that I barely noticed Mack on trumpet anymore, so she must have gotten the hang of it. Besides, Mack was a three-sport athlete, so I had no expectations that I was raising a musical prodigy, nor did I hold any real hopes for trumpet solos or the jazz band. But since she never moaned about band, kept an A in band class, and participated in the first couple of concerts, I believed she was learning to read a little music and broadening her musical and intellectual horizons. And when my friend Alica reported that she had come home one day after work to find her daughter Maggie (one of Mack’s best friends) and Mack on their front porch playing their band instruments, I was like, wow, maybe this band thing was having an influence on my hyperkinetic child and would become a happy habit.

At the Christmas concert that year, the sixth grade band sounded so much better than it had sounded during their first concert at the beginning of the year, and I figured Mack on trumpet had at least a little something to do with the band’s overall progress. But then, sometime in the spring towards the end of the school year, when I was sitting in a camp chair in the grass at a track meet waiting to watch Mack high jump and run a slow 800 meters, I noticed all of the band instrument cases piled up with all the book bags near where the Franklin track team members were hanging out and waiting for their events. I wondered to myself if Mack had her trumpet over there, and it put in my head the idea to ask her on the way home if she still liked the band. Mack, who did not, by the way, get into the car with a trumpet case, skipped not a beat when I put the question to her. She said something like, “yes, it’s ahright. I’m not first or second chair or anything, but I’m pretty boss.” She said it without a hint of sarcasm or fear in the eye or facial tick that belied the words, but at that moment I knew damn well it was a Mack-happy answer and had absolutely nothing to do with the truth. The past months of school flashed across my brain. I realized that I had never checked to see if Mack was practicing her trumpet. I had no memories of hearing Mack on trumpet in her room after those first few days of honking. I had not a single memory of seeing her schlep to the corner of our street with that trumpet to meet the school bus in the morning. I could not, in fact, remember any time other than during the previous band concert when Mack was in the company of that trumpet.

I had a momma bear fit, accused Mack of being a band slacker, and told her she had better practice and be ready for the spring concert. She was unfazed, refused to make any practice promises, and said she would do just fine at the final band concert of the school year, which would also be the final band concert of her life. She had no intention whatsoever of participating in the seventh-grade band, and she informed me quite sternly that I just needed to get over it. I was not heartbroken about the band necessarily, but I was frustrated by Mack’s lack of effort on trumpet and I was mad at myself for failing to notice that lack of effort for an entire school year. At that final spring concert, I settled into my seat and trained my eyes on Mack on trumpet. As the band played, Mack pressed the keys of her trumpet, but it was absolutely clear that she blew no air into the instrument. And, it turns out, she had never played a single note at any of the previous band concerts either. She had faked her way through the entire school year of band. Mack on trumpet was, it turns out, never a thing. Mack on trumpet was a lie. And Mack deemed the farce one of her favorite Momma Bear scams.

Mack on trumpet 2Many years later, when we were packing up our Springfield house to move to St. Louis, Mack found the old school trumpet in the back of her bedroom closet. She opened up the dusty case, wiped off the mouthpiece, and played a “tune” (which I captured on my IPhone). Pepper, our Pomeranian, was, according to Mack, entertained by this impromptu concert; I am not so certain. But the concert definitely took us back to Mack’s great band hoax, which sent us into fits of laughter, and then we put that trumpet in the “keep” pile and packed it for St. Louis. Mack thought that even though she never really played the damn trumpet, it was a funny memento of her childhood, a reminder of the Mack on trumpet that never really was.

And for your listening pleasure, I introduce to you, Mack on trumpet: https://youtu.be/lYPal2JX1fc

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/).

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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?

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