Daughter: How Our Family Copes with Bernie Mac's Death

11/15/2008 at 11:50 AM EST

Daughter: How Our Family Copes with Bernie Mac's Death
Je'Niece Childress and Bernie Mac
Valerie Goodloe/GLOBE
Family was everything to comedic actor Bernie Mac, his daughter tells PEOPLE.

Je'Niece Childress says she still feels her father's presence at their family home in suburban Chicago home following his death four months ago from heart failure after multiple bouts with pneumonia.

"That was his primary focus. Everything he did, he did with family in mind," Childress tells PEOPLE of her father, whose last film Soul Men is in theaters now.

"If he got a new offer for a movie, he'd say, 'I need to negotiate so I can take care of you and your mother.'"

Recently divorced, Childress, 30, and her 2-year-old daughter Jasmine now live with her mother, Rhonda McCullough.

"My mom and I were always close. Now we feel we're all we have left," she says. "We tend to tag team. When she's having a moment, she'll lean on me and when I'm having a moment, I lean on her ... If I need to cry, she lets me go cry on her lap like I'm 2 years old again."

The women – who both now head up the Bernie Mac Foundation for Sarcoidosis – still feel the comedian's presence at home.

"When I turn a corner, I'm still thinking, 'I'm going to see him,'" Childress says. "I've had moments where I've woken up and I've sworn I could feel him smacking me on the back of the leg. I'll say, 'That hurts. I told you to stop. You're still so heavy-handed, even on the other side.'"

Those moments are "very comforting," she says.

"He was my dad, my first guy I ever fell in love with, my protector. He was the one I laughed with," she says. "It's going to be very hard to live without that."

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