Marisa Star McDowell [Photo courtesy of Holbrook Mortuary]

Can a mother even ever imagine how to write an obituary for her firstborn child. In order to write this with any consciousness whatsoever, I will frame this mentally as a tribute and not an obituary.

Marisa Star McDowell was 6 pounds and 6 ounces when she was born at Allen Memorial Hospital in Soda Springs, Idaho. I was 23 years old and knew we needed to be independent, so we moved to Salt Lake City when she was 2 weeks old and we started our life together as a single mom with the cutest baby in town.

I married Scott McDowell, and she was his little doll, and he pushed forward with adoption proceedings as soon as he could legally do so. Marisa’s soulmate was born two days short of Marisa’s 2nd birthday (you’re welcome, Natalie) and she took her new role as big sister very seriously. In the following five years, three more siblings joined the family, and Marisa was the rock that was always there for me as a mom and for them as a steward. Ryan Scott was followed by Amanda Leigh and finally Mathew Harrison.

The pivotal moment in her abbreviated life happened when she was a mere 3 years old. We had an unusually wet spring, complete with extreme flooding and she became very sick with breathing issues. I rushed her to Primary Children’s Hospital and we soon discovered she had asthma. My prayer has been continuous since this one episode: Please help her breathe.

When she was first diagnosed, there was no such thing as inhalers, etc., so I was required to give her pills orally. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything near to what is available now in the way of cool food for kids, so I was stuck with applesauce or yogurt (not the fancy kind we now have). She would roll the applesauce around in her mouth instead of just swallowing it, find the pill and spit it out … but we kept at it until the development of more superior methods of asthma control.

Her life, although full and gloriously happy, was always darkened with her breathing issues. She didn’t let it slow her down, but it certainly was her family’s number one concern wherever we were and whatever we did.

We moved to Moab in 1993. After high school, Marisa decided her heart was actually in Yellowstone Park and she relocated to work there for several years where she met her best friend forever, Jen Turnbull Alonso. She met Chris Henri in Montana. Marisa moved back to Salt Lake when she was expecting a baby, who turned out to be the love of her life, Noah Lee Henri. Marisa, Chris and Noah moved back to Moab, where they both worked to raise the boy. There are so many stories that can be told about Noah and what an amazing energy he brought to the planet. Marisa and Chris agreed to part ways, but they never parted on their mutual love and adoration of Noah.

Marisa had been sick off and on for a month or so. I am stunned that death won this one. My precious daughter, my darling Marisa is gone.

She leaves behind her personal tribe, in order of appearance on the planet: Kris, Josh, Natalie, T.J., Ryan, Josie, Amanda and Mathew (Harrison). Her “other mother” Shel Peterson; Grandma Waters; beloved nieces and nephews Simon, Maggie, Emily, Gracie, Evie, Charlie, Hattie and Frankie.

Aunts, uncles and cousins: Janelle, JoEllin, John, Leyla, Jessica, Stephanie, Joey, Jack, David, Lauren and James. Friends and other loved ones: Frank, Jen, Brandon, Ben, coworkers by the score, all of her siblings’ friends and too many to mention by name.

Editor’s note: This obituary was published in its full length at and is reprinted here with permission from Marisa’s mother, Julianne Waters. A Celebration of Life Monument Service is being held on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 9 to 11 a.m. on the southeast corner of Library Square, 500 South 300 East, in Salt Lake City, during which time McDowell’s name will be unveiled on a paver at the monument. More than 7,000 names have been inscribed at the monument in celebration of the life-giving power of organ donation.