Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A love letter from Dad

Maggie's service was beutiful. there were hundreds of people there to honor her and support us. It felt wonderful and terrible all at the same time. 

As promised, I am posting the eulogy that Steve gave at Maggie's service. I wish it was taped because the only thing more amazing than the words was the fact that he got up on the altar of beautiful St. Mary's Cathedral and was able to get these words out with love and humor and some heartfelt emotion. I added pictures in an attept to add in some of that.

Maggie's empty chair was just in front of the altar. Steve spoke from a microphone outside the picture, well to the left of where the chair is . 


First of all, Sally, Eddie, Tim and I want to thank all of you for the outpouring of love and support we have received, really from the time of Maggie’s birth, and especially during the last week. Dear friends and family have flown in from across the country to be here today. We especially want to thank our families for always being there for us. We’re so sad to lose our little girl, and I can tell you we would be utterly lost without all of you.  We’re truly overwhelmed with gratitude.

Our dear daughter was such a larger than life character, she doesn’t need much of an introduction;  but here goes…

I suppose the best way to start is with that adage “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.  Twenty years ago, Mary Margaret McDonald burst onto the scene a month early, all 6 pounds, 2 ounces of her.  Up til then, Sally and I thought we had everything pretty much figured out; filling our time with careers and the challenge of raising two crazy little boys.  We quickly learned Maggie had profound medical issues as soon as she came into the world; the parts were all there, but her plumbing and wiring were twisted up and out of whack.  The doctors and nurses swept her up, and the next thing we knew, we faced the daunting prospect of many, many surgeries beginning when she was only one day old.  I’ll never forget when Sally turned to me that first day and said  “Our lives have changed”.

She always was a master of understatement.

We faced a tidal wave of information, diagnoses, and specialists of every stripe.  We visited the UCSF medical library (it’s where they kept the BOOKS--this was before we had that Google thing) and learned a new lexicon—throwing around terms like “tracheoesophogeal fistula” and “the Aqueduct of Sylvius” as though we knew what we were talking about.  It was both a terrifying and exhilarating period.  Every time we faced another challenge, Maggie rose to the task (even though she always seem to take the road less travelled, just to make sure we all stayed on our toes).

Many have said Maggie was a medical miracle, and that is certainly true; but the miracle never would have happened without the absolutely superhuman efforts of so many talented, tireless, and compassionate medical and caregiving professionals, too numerous to mention. ..but I have to name a few.

 It begins with our dear friend and pediatrician, Dr. Eileen Aicardi, a constant presence in Maggie’s life who never faltered in her efforts to help us and our little girl in every way possible, both medically and otherwise (witness the huge tray of cannelloni in our fridge-enough to feed the 49ers).  The day after Maggie’s birth, we were blessed to meet Dr. Alfred “Big Al” De Lorimier, the greatest pediatric surgeon on the planet during his reign at UCSF.  Dr. DeLorimier possessed legendary skills as a surgeon, and equally important, he possessed the extraordinary ability to sit down with us and confidently explain the process and prognosis with patience, respect, and empathy.  And how many surgeons have a winery and vineyard on the side?  He’s probably up in Heaven with Maggie right now, introducing her to her first glass of DeLormier Meritage Red.

And we must give special thanks to Maggie’s nurses, both in the hospital and our wonderful in- home care crew.  Fely, Etoy, Josephine, Lucy, Mary Joy, Margie, Evelyn, we would have lost our marbles without your help.   You know Maggie loved each and every one of you.  And Janice, you were such a wonderful presence in Maggie’s life, escorting her on the bus and looking out for her at school while she got into mischief.  Thanks so much to all of you!

Let’s face it;  Maggie should have bought a better warranty.  She bravely faced so many surgeries and periods of recovery, we sometimes lost hope.  Sally camped out in the NICU and the PICU, even learning some Swahili along the way from Dr. Simpson:  “Haba Na Haba Who Chaza Kebaba”…Bit by bit the cup is filled.  And fill it did, to overflowing, thanks to all these wonderful people helping to draw from the well. 

Maggie trained so many residents and fellows at UCSF, we’ll be here for hours if I try to mention them all.  We did enjoy and appreciate Dr. Wilson’s recollection of meeting Maggie as a young doctor; he noted 1) he had a good deal more hair back then, and   2) he was terrified of Maggie’s mom… Where would she be, where would I be without Sally, who happily took on the role as Maggie’s #1 Advocate?

As Maggie grew, so did her personality.  She may have been small in stature; she may have been quote, unquote “non-verbal”, but this girl always had something to say.  No one brought more energy and enthusiasm to everything she did.  This was particularly true when it came to SCHOOL.  No one was a bigger teacher’s pet than Mary Margaret.  She was lucky enough to be in the first class of kids in the SFUSD to join the ITALC class, where she learned to make those icons fly on her dynavox talker-the device she always sported on her chair so she could be sure to make her point clear.   Like “ Dad, I am BORED with this speech...”

Maggie was blessed with the greatest group of teachers, paras and nurses throughout her school years, and they inspired her with such energy and enthusiasm that she literally could not wait to go to school (JUST like her brothers.)  Maggie saw no reason for holiday breaks or summer vacation.  Where is Nurse Janice?  We have a 4.0 GPA to keep up!  Her parents did their best to provide some holiday entertainment and amusement, but compared to her teachers and peers, they were RATHER BORING. You should know Maggie was secretly lobbying Sacramento to eliminate all school breaks.

 I can’t begin to tell you the amount of joy and enrichment each of you brought to Maggie’s life, and to ours.  You gave Maggie the tools and the confidence to let her truly show us her personality, her humor, and her intelligence. 

Maggie loved to laugh, and she and Tim continually honed their craft as improv and standup comedians.  Nobody loved a sight gag or funny noise more than Mary Margaret!  And really, what is more hilarious than a Tasmanian Devil guy who makes armpit noises, or a Poomba pig who FARTS??? With Emily Nail’s help, Maggie rocked the talent show as their school’s first “Sit down comic”!  She was so excited and proud to go through graduation at Mission.  And there is nothing more fun than going to PROM!  This is where I witnessed firsthand how Maggie and her peers really WERE part of the crew, accepted by all, laughing and dancing to music so loud it literally made my ribcage vibrate.  Everyone knew Maggie loved her music; she had a song in her heart (just like her mom).  Do not even think of changing the radio, dad.  We are listening to All the Single Ladies.  No, we are not going to listen to the news. MOM, I have something to say.  I want to hear MY music, please. 

Maggie was a master of the art of living in the moment.  She didn’t need a Zen garden to help her practice mindfulness (although she was always happy to help distribute rakes, tools pots, pans, dishtowels, whatever she could find in your pocket, purse or drawer.)  She knew what she liked, and what she wanted to do, and didn’t have time for distractions.  Like whatever it was YOU wanted to be doing at that particular moment…
This was perhaps one of the greatest gifts she gave us—she taught us how to peel back the drab veneer of daily life and focus on what was really important.  Maggie didn’t care whether you had a bad day at work, where you came from, what kind of car you drove, or whether you had the latest gadget…unless it was a TV.  In case you didn’t know, Maggie does not like TV.  She taught us that life is too short for such nonsense.  Except for maybe when Timmy swept her up in his arms and watched a game with her, providing play by play (Maggie, LOOK at this guy!  He’s a BUM!)  Stories must be read and enjoyed. Beanie Babies must be flung.  Jokes must be told.  Over and Over and Over.   What do you call an Irish Lawn Chair?  PATTY O’FURNITURE!  Mom, we are overdue for a walk to Golden Gate Park. Dad, I want to go to the Museum (the DeYoung-she was a matron of the arts).  Dad, I want to cook.  Mom, I am excited because tomorrow I will go to Mission High School.   And of course, “Mom, I want to go to the Mall”.  
Forget about whatever else you were doing;  it is now time to go fast in her chair, for her brothers to make funny noises, take her swimming, introduce her to Flogging Molly and  help her get into mischief; to go for a ride in the car;  to laugh and enjoy the day.

Though we didn’t get to go as often as at least DAD would like, Maggie loved camping; especially when the sleeping bags were spread out in the big 2 room tent, and she could roll from one end to the other with her brothers!  And what is more fun than swinging in uncle Jim’s Hammock at Folsom Lake with cousin Colleen?? While we didn’t get to sleep in our tent, Maggie was so honored to serve as flower girl in Cousin Kelly’s wedding in Montana! 

And let’s not forget Maggie’s favorite Holiday, HALLOWEEN! She wasn’t in it for the candy; she couldn’t even eat it.  Halloween was Maggie’s Christmas.  She started in with her Arsenio arm pumping and big grins as soon as we began talking about a costume in early October.   I guess this gave her yet another chance to show off, party and have fun with her family, neighbors, teachers and friends at school.  Her mother is equally to blame for this phenomenon,  matter of factly announcing that we needed to convert Maggie’s chair to a Race Car (fortunately that chair came equipped with a roll bar),  a Viking ship, a litter for Queen Cleopatra,  an oven,  or how about a horse drawn Covered Wagon, please?  Both Maggie and Sally left it to the R & D department to figure out how the thing was supposed to fit in the elevator and on the bus.  Maggie was positively giddy with excitement as we assembled these get- ups the week before the holiday.  And she had so much fun at school she was usually pooped out and asleep by the time the trick or treating began.   I’m so happy we could share in her joyful celebration.

The demands of Maggie’s care were sometimes daunting, and even exhausting,  but easily worth the effort—her smile, her touch, her hugs, her courage and sense of humor conveyed such a strong message of love and appreciation, we couldn’t wait to come back for more.

Ultimately, I guess that was the most profound lesson Maggie tried to teach us—the power of unconditional love.  Her love drew in an ever widening circle of family and friends everywhere she went, like a giant snowball.   She did more in her short time here to expose the meaning of the joy of living than anyone we ever knew.

It truly takes a Village to account for Maggie’s success, and as I look across this room, I’m reminded once again hers is more like a Metropolis.   She really was a bit spoiled when we get right down to it.  But we are so grateful to her and to all of you that we were allowed along for the ride.

Maggie, we are so sad.  We’re left with such a large hole in our hearts and lives now that you are suddenly gone.  Thank you for the joy, the love and the laughter you shared with us all.
Sally, the boys and I  want to thank everyone who has played a role in Maggie’s success.  We’re so blessed to have met so many wonderful people, and made so many friends because of her.  The brilliant fire of her life burned too quickly to an ember,  But as my son Eddie said, it is now up to us  to each light a torch from that ember, and carry a piece of Maggie’s love and life force in our hearts.

Let’s remember her message to give and accept love, and to  help one another.  Let’s make Maggie Proud.

Maggies' brothers, grandmother and cousins - just from mom's side withher empy chair. 


  1. Thank you so much for continuing to share Maggie with us, visiting this site has been and continues to be a highlight of my day. I am still so drawn to her story and her light and your strength. Kim

  2. I am sitting in Safeway parking lot weeping like a baby after reading Steve's letter to Maggie. I am gonna miss that damn girl!!!!! Please keep writing about her, we'll never tire of hearing her stories!

  3. What a beautiful eulogy! I am crying at my desk.

  4. What a wonderful, eloquent, heart-felt eulogy. I don't know how he had the strength to deliver it, and I wish I had been able to hear it. It sounds like a lovely service. Love to you all. -Jennifer Thaxton

  5. Oh, Sally. The empty chair -- those beautiful, beautiful family members standing around it. I am sitting here weeping after reading Steve's beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them. Thank you for being who you are, for being the mother that you are, for sharing your Maggie with us when she lived and even now, when she's gone.

  6. Your family is such an inspiration. Thank you for posting the eulogy. Steve delivered it so beautifully. As I listened to Steve and thought of Sally, it was easy to see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Maggie was as strong, dedicated, funny, and genuine as her parents.

    Love to you all,

  7. Thank you for sharing the eulogy here. Steve delivered it so beautifully. As I listened to Steve and thought of Sally, it was easy to see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree in Maggie. She was as dedicated, strong, funny, and genuine as her parents.

    You are an inspiration. Maggie is never forgotten.


  8. I read this just now before work and
    while im sitting here crying. Im also smiling because Maggie touched so many people. I am going to miss the pictures and stories but I know nothing will compare to your loss. Thanks for sharing this eulogy. So many of us loved her and care for your family. Hugs from Alabama!

  9. This was absolutely beautiful.

  10. I never did anything for Maggie or her family. I have only been a taker of wonderful stories of her world....and I have been truly, truly blessed. What I can do is try to remember and share her JOY and replace negativity with genuine, unconditional goodness. I continue to pray for all who grieve. May you be comforted with her JOY that remains as long as we allow it. Blessings to you!


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