Magical Medicine

There is no magical medicine for the heartbreak of losing a child, but I have learned that it is possible to keep my lost girl with me. In living through the past ten months without Mack, I have found some solace in keeping her spirit alive in my life—telling Mack stories in this blog, talking to her every day, and working hard to live a life that would make her proud. Keeping Mack alive in this way gives me strength for the good days and helps me to breathe a little easier through the bad ones. But I have also learned that time will not heal my heart and that keeping Mack with me is simply not enough for me. It has also become imperative to share my Mack with people who never had the chance to know her; it is important for me to give her life some historical meaning. I need for the world to know that Mack was here, that she loved life and lived it with a true heart, that she left a lasting imprint on the lives of her family members and her friends, and that she made a difference in the communities in which she lived and loved and learned.

When we made the decision to establish a scholarship in Mack’s honor, just days after losing her, I knew then that it was a fitting memorial to my lost girl. Even through the shock and horror of those first terrible days, I wanted to believe that endowing a scholarship at Truman State University—where Mack had blossomed as a young woman, a scholar, and a writer—might someday have the power to bring me solace. But now that the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Scholarship has its first recipient, I realize that I grossly underestimated its power to do some good in my life and in the world. Now that we have bestowed our first annual $1,000 scholarship, I feel its power. This perpetual scholarship brings me peace the likes of which I never believed possible. But more importantly, it carries Mack’s incredible light into the world and allows my special girl to continue to make a lasting imprint on the lives of people, even though she will never know them. Every year, a special student who values education, who loves writing, and who wants to experience the world will know about my Mack, will be a beneficiary of her generous spirit, and will achieve their dreams in life thanks at least in part to the fact that Mack lived and loved the life she did. And wow…wow…what an amazing gift…what a magical medicine it is.

For making this magical medicine available to me, I will be eternally grateful to all of the more than 120 donors to the scholarship, which is fully endowed and will continue in perpetuity. And in honor of Mack’s scholarship and in recognition for all of the students in the world who will begin a brand new year of learning this fall, please join me in feeling the power of this scholarship to lift our spirits but more importantly to extend the reach of Mack’s personal magic for making a difference in the world.

The Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Scholarship, 2015

So let me introduce you to the young woman who has the honor of being Mack’s first scholarship recipient. Megan Matheney is a sophomore, pursuing a creative writing B.F.A. and a minor in Italian studies (she will study abroad in Italy next spring). A native of a small town in northern Missouri, Megan is the perfect recipient for three Mack-like reasons. First, she is an athlete. She holds a third-degree black belt in TaeKwon-do, a sport that Mack practiced for a time when she was very young. Second, Megan very much relates to Mack’s discomfort in dressy clothes. And third, she loves animals; she grew up in the country with numerous dogs, cats, horses, and guinea pigs. Like Mack, Megan basically grew up in a zoo, and animals are a very important part of her life.

Here is Megan with her cat…

The cat who thinks he%27s a dog

And here is my Mack with her friend’s college kitty, King Tut (Mack LOVED to kittysit)…


Here is the scholarship announcement and official recipient bio…

scholarship 2015-01  scholarship 2015-02

And here is Mack being goofy when I asked her to pose with the TSU sign…

at Truman

Honoring Mack

I have learned two truths over the past two, terrible months.

One: There is no magic elixir for the pain of losing a child, and not even time can offer a cure. There is no silver lining in the dark and gloomy storm cloud under which grieving parents must live the remainder of their lives. There is no solace from the heartache of a mother who loses a cherished daughter.

Two: Realization of permanent sorrow sinks into the frail, human psyche fast and hard, and finding constructive outlets for such unbearable grief is imperative. Savannah, my older daughter, is my primary motive for looking forward into the future. She provides me with an obvious and joyful purpose. But I have also found that setting my sights on a present and a future life that might include—in some small way, at least—my lost younger daughter is as necessary as is pushing air in and out of my lungs. To that end, I have undertaken two very different, but equally important steps.

One: I am writing about my Macko. I am sharing stories about her humor, describing her amazing character, and illustrating the myriad ways in which her generous spirit and sweet heart enhanced my life and touched the lives of the people who knew her. I am keeping her alive in my heart, in my mind, and in my memories, but I have an overwhelming need to put pen to paper. My blog is an important part of my personal journey down this lonely and bumpy road, but it is also one of the ways for me to keep her alive for all of us.

Two: Within hours of getting the terrible news of Mackenzie’s passing, I was determined to establish a scholarship in her honor. She had chosen Truman State University, a little-known liberal arts gem in northern Missouri, as the setting for her growth into a young woman; and it was there that she was blossoming as a writer, as well. Truman was the place where she was preparing for the pursuit of her personal dream to write television shows; and it was immediately obvious to me that establishing a scholarship at Truman to support other aspiring young writers had the power to provide me and her father with some measure of comfort.

With the initial help of the incredible staff of the Truman State University Foundation, the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship was in place by the time of Mack’s memorial service. We created a $1,000 scholarship for a student majoring or minoring in creative writing in the 2015-16 academic year, and we also created an endowment fund. A $15,000 endowment would ensure an annual scholarship of about $700 and would exist in perpetuity. I was confident that the annual scholarship would quickly be funded, but I thought that funding the endowment might take us many years.

I could not have been more wrong. Due to a tremendous, remarkable, and awe-inspiring outpouring of love and the amazing generosity of family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and even the kindness of a few strangers, a deserving student will receive that $1,000 scholarship in 2015. But more incredibly, however, the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship is fully endowed as well. Just two months after losing our little girl, the people who loved her and the people who care about us have given us the best gift that is possible in the wake of our terrible loss. I have no words to properly express my gratitude. Knowing that the Truman State University Foundation will award a scholarship in Mackenzie’s honor in perpetuity is a comfort. I know that Mack would be happy and proud, because this scholarship is, indeed, a constructive outlet for all of us who loved her so well.

Nearly 100 personal donations came in from California, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, and my mother’s small Indiana church all made generous donations. Ruby Tuesdays, Mackenzie’s former employer, donated a percentage of their profits for a special day in Mack’s honor. The Sunrise Rotary Club in Springfield, Illinois—the organization that sponsored the “This I Believe” essay contest for which Mack contributed her winning “Anything Boys Can Do” essay ( also made a generous donation. I am simply overwhelmed by the contributions of so many people, and I love you all.

I want to extend a special thank you to Christopher Ave, Kevin’s editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Not only did he take up a collection of personal donations at the paper, but he also organized a “Music for Mack” fundraiser on November 6. The event was an amazing night of live music (including a very moving performance by cellist James Czyzewski of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra), good food, great St. Louis beer, and a silent auction. The event raised almost $2,500. I will be eternally grateful to Christopher’s generosity and support. I also want to thank the dear, sweet parents of Mack’s college roommate Meagan Banta-Lewis. Tony Schmitt and Mary Banta-Schmitt made their own generous personal donation to the scholarship fund, but they also spent the evening with us at “Music for Mack.” They provided emotional support and friendship, and then they also purchased many of the best items from the silent auction, including the highest priced item of the evening, a hockey stick signed by the St. Louis Blues players. Tony and Mary have found a special place in my heart now and forever.

So thank you, people. Thank you. And thank you again. This scholarship has brought us some peace. It has been a constructive outlet for my grief. It honors my sweet girl, and it provides a way for her to be with us all forever. But for years and years to come, it will also help students who dream of being writers. And what could be better than helping students achieve their dreams? Mack would love that, and she would give you all one of her famous Big Mack hugs.

Weatherbird     Music for Mack        

The above left image is original art depicting the famous St. Louis Post-Dispatch Weatherbird, drawn especially for the “Music for Mack” event. He’s wearing Truman State purple and cheering for the Bulldogs (for which Mack played golf her freshman year). Tony and Mary went home with this item, too! The flyer at right was used to publicize the event.

We will continue to build the endowment fund to support a self-sustaining annual scholarship of $1,000.( But no matter what happens going forward, we’ve accomplished something constructive faster than I ever dreamed possible. I would like to give you all one of those famous Big Mack hugs, too.