Wednesday May 9, 2018

Time speeds on as our usual busy spring feels extra important this year. It's our last go round with high school activities and Dan and I are doing our best to enjoy every last event. That meant watching Erin golf in the sun on Monday and in the rain yesterday. We love it either way.

Erin is tolerating our presence at her meets. With the late start to the season, they have been playing three meets a week. Golf season is helping us all get our steps in every day. We're so lucky that Erin likes having us around. Last night, after her golf meet, we grabbed a pizza and the three of us laughed and laughed and laughed. I don't even remember about what, but I know we loved being together.

The local paper did a lovely article on Erin, who has been a 5 year varsity golfer. But, it was less about her golf game and more about the kind of kid she is and how she's navigated life after the loss of Shannon. We couldn't be prouder of her.

It's this strange space where everything you are doing is leading you to the next stage of life, all while you're trying to enjoy the events that get you there. You know what comes next, but you're not quite there.

Because spring wasn't crazy enough for us, we decided to adopt a puppy from the local shelter. Meet Gus!

Sunny the wonder dog is doing her best to train him in, and he's getting the hang of it. Sylvie the cat is much less interested in being friends. Gus is a sweet boy, but he's all puppy right now. It's been a long time since I had to potty train anyone!

A month from today is graduation. It's both an end and a beginning. It's got me feeling excited and nostalgic all at once. One day at a time, Jen... one day at a time...

Tuesday April 24, 2018

For those of us in Minnesota, it's been a long stretch of bad weather, but it is finally showing signs of spring. The high school golf season started a month ago... today will be our first day outside.

Erin has 11 meets over the next 4 weeks to get all the matches in before tournament season. It's a sprint to the finish of high school. 18 days until prom, 46 days until graduation... you get the idea...

I write so often here about dates on the calendar - birthdays, anniversaries - good and bad. We've passed a couple recently: Erin turned 17 on April 10th, and Shannon's diagnosis date passed on April 15th. 7 years since we learned that we would lose her.

Dan and I spoke at a St. Jude Fundraiser this past weekend. It still feels good to share our story and to talk about Shannon.

But today is an anniversary that needs to be celebrated. Dan has been sober for 10 years.

It's not something we talk about that often - maybe not often enough. He lives it every day, and Erin and I do our best to support him. Addiction is a horrible disease, but my point in sharing today is to let you know, it can get better.

10 years ago we were scared about what our lives would like. We worried about our social life. Would we lose all our friends? The answer is no. Yes, some relationships went away and some changed, but the holes were filled by new opportunities and new people.

How would Dan stay busy? That same year, Shannon had taken up hockey and Dan began to coach. A new outlet and a new way to bond with his daughter. We took to coaching Erin's soccer team, too. Something to do every season. Dan and I talk often about how grateful we are now that he had that time with Shannon. We didn't know our time with her would be so short, so how lucky that Dan spent as much time with her as he did.

When Shannon got sick, I worried terribly about Dan's sobriety. Could he stay sober through our awful journey? While I was worrying about him, he was teaching me - one day at a time. That's all we're given. That's how you stay sober... and that's how you live after losing a daughter.

A battle with addiction is never over. It's hard for those of us who don't have the disease to understand. I'm still flabbergasted when Dan says "I thought about having a drink today." 10 years in, it never goes away. He'll always be a recovering alcoholic. No past tense.

But, he lives it and he'd tell you he's grateful for the life he has now. It gets better. To anyone out there who's struggling or watching a love one struggle, get help. A happy life in the after is possible. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

So, a shout out to my guy, Dan. I love you and I'm so very grateful for your strength and courage. You are 10 years sober, doing it one day at a time...

Monday April 2, 2018

I am writing from an airplane high above Tennessee, on our way to Georgia. We are off on spring break 2018, heading to The Masters golf tournament. It’s a bucket list item for us. Thanks to a customer of Dan’s, we have this opportunity.

This would have been something you do as a foursome. In fact, in order to book this trip, we needed to have 4 of us to make the Masters badges and off-day tee times work. We had a foursome once, but life – and death – are unpredictable. And, as we’ve learned in the past 7 years, sometimes you have to recalibrate, adjust and carry on.

So, it’s the three amigos and our good friend Ellen. She rivals Dan as the biggest golf freak I know. Ellen will love every minute of this and she is the perfect fit for our foursome. We have tickets to the Masters on Thursday and Saturday and we get to play golf ourselves on Wednesday and Friday.

High school golf season started two weeks ago and no courses in Rochester have been able to open yet due to the late arrival of spring weather. Now, remember when I said life is unpredictable? We were supposed to leave on Tuesday afternoon, not Monday. But, mother nature is smacking us in the face again.

Sunday night, they began forecasting another winter storm - scheduled to hit Tuesday and last until Wed. morning. They are predicting 10 inches of snow in Rochester.
So, when we woke up this morning, Ellen called to discuss alternate travel plans. See, our flight was supposed to be RST to ATL Tuesday afternoon at 4pm. And, there’s only one flight a day to ATL.

We tried to call Delta and it was a two hour wait to get an agent. Dan called his sister Katie,who works for Delta, and she looked and could see that there were seats on today’s RST-ATL flight at 4pm. So, Ellen came and picked up me and Dan and the three of us went to the airport in Rochester to see if we could change tickets. We all had to go because we were on three different reservations!

This nice man named Peter was working the ticket counter. We told him – it’s really simple, we want to move from tomorrow’s flight to today’s flight. No connections, no need to change anything else. There were 10 empty seats so it was no problem. And, he didn’t even charge us a ticket change fee.

So, by 8:15am we knew that we were leaving today. It was time for mad scramble mode. Erin was supposed to work a shift this afternoon, so the first thing was to wake Erin up and have her find a sub (she did). Then, I had to crank out some laundry since all my clothes were dirty from AZ... oh, did I fail to mention I just returned home from visiting a friend about 18 hours ago? 4 loads of laundry. Done.

Then, we needed a place to stay tonight since we don’t get into our house in Aiken, SC until tomorrow. Dan got on with Marriott and got us two rooms tonight at the Atlanta airport. Then, I had to call the neighbors and see if they could take care of our pets starting tonight instead of tomorrow… check.

Erin ran to Target for a few things and we picked up lunch. Dan and I worked and then when the laundry was done, we all packed our bags. We are not traveling light – three suitcases and three sets of golf clubs. We got it all packed, Ellen came over at 2:15, and we were in the air by 4pm. Holy shit.

It will be great to get to play golf and watch the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. So, we are off on an amazing adventure. The days and trips with Erin are numbered. We’re cherishing every minute of it.

Wednesday March 7, 2018

Living and dying have been on my mind lately. That's the constant dichotomy of human existence. You're either living or dying, and you better do the first one before the second one happens.

Dan has two people who have been a part of his life who are in the dying stage. One I know well, the other was a friend of Dan's before I entered the picture. Two women who have fought like hell against cancer, but it's a battle they won't win. I'm sending peace and love to their families. Feel free to join me.

That's the trick of this thing called life - we don't know how long it is. Dan and I have living parents who are in the 70s and 90s. We have friends dying in their 50s. We lost a daughter at 13. How are you suppose to prepare for all the possibilities? You can't, I know. That's hard on a planner (obsesser) like me...

It's a balancing act of living and enjoying the here and now, while hoping and planning for more time ahead.

What's ahead for us is exciting. Erin is rolling through second semester of her senior year. Golf season starts in two weeks (damn the 6 inches of snow we got yesterday) and then it will be a sprint to graduation on June 9th.

And what's ahead after that? Erin has made her decision for next year - she will be attending Drexel University in Philadelphia. She's been accepted to their Health Sciences/Accelerated Physician Assistant program.

So, Erin will be living in a new city next year with new roommates and new experiences. She's excited and we're excited for her. She and I are headed out there next weekend for another look, a meeting with the PA program director and a health sciences student, taking a second look at the dorm options and meeting with financial aid. I haven't won the lottery yet, so I guess we should look at other financing options :)

I think about Erin going and meeting new people, and I think about how we've viewed things through a certain lens in the past 7 years. Erin will get to choose when she shares her life story. People will get to know her as Erin. She won't be Shannon's sister until she wants to be.

So, living and dying is on my mind. It's all connected. Reminders from the universe are everywhere. Live while you can.

"I shall pass through this life but once. Any good therefore that I can do, let me do it now for I shall never pass this way again." - Etienne de Grellet

2018 Shannon O'Hara Foundation Scholarship Winners

This weekend brought our scholarship season to a close. As I said during the presentations, raising money is hard, giving it away is definitely more fun.

When we started the foundation back in 2012, we set a goal to raise $100,000 in the hopes that we could live off the interest to give away a couple of $2,000 scholarships each year.

Six years later, the fund sits at $170,000. We are so humbled by people's generosity. I can't put into words how much it means to us that our community, family and friends help us carry on Shannon's spirit in this way.

Our board of directors chose to share the good fortune this year by awarding a record six scholarships, bringing our total in scholarships awarded to $40,000.

Congratulations to the 2018 SOF Scholarship winners:  Maddi Lutz (Mayo), Clare Brunn (Lourdes), Natalie Fink (Century), Jason Coyle (JM), Max Jones (JM) and Zach Walston (Lourdes)

Jason Coyle, Max Jones, Maddi Lutz, Clare Brunn, Natalie Fink

Zach Walston

SOF Scholarship Night - Feb. 8, 2018

Tonight is what it's all about. Honoring Shannon's spirit by giving back, making a difference. Raising money is not easy, although people like those of you reading this blog have made it possible. Being able to give it away is so much more fun.

The Shannon O'Hara Foundation started in 2012 with a goal of raising $100,000 so we could give out a couple of scholarships a year. As I write today, we are over $170K.

Tonight, thanks to your generosity, we'll give out our biggest class of scholarship winners ever. A night like tonight fills our cup for another year of fundraising.

Our presentation will take place at the end of the 1st period between the JM and Mayo boys hockey game. Game starts at 7:15 at Graham Arena. Hope you can join us and enjoy the celebration of all you have helped build.

Here's a look back at our previous scholarship winners:






Sunday Jan. 28, 2018

As I sit hear watching the Grammys with Erin, I am reminded much I love music. I can listen to just about anything and I am touched by people sharing their experience through art.

I don't have a lick of musical talent - my last great performance was squeaking my way through Edelweiss on the saxophone in 5th grade - but I do relate to sharing your experience. We got to do that again this weekend at the Shannon Cup.

20 girls hockey teams including 4 from Rochester took part in this weekend's events. We did the usual schmoozing and chatting with people as we sold our Shannon gear. The feedback and support was better than ever.

I took the time earlier in the week to go and speak with the Rochester teams at their practice. To talk a little bit about Shannon and why she's remembered fondly by her friends. Why it mattered to her that her life mean something, even after she was gone.

The Rochester girls are all in, putting lime green tape on their hockey sticks, pads, helmets - anywhere they could! But this year, the parents were all in, too.

One parent paid $2000 for a $5 coffee mug. Seriously. One team donated $1650 in addition to all the gear those kids and parents bought.

Parents from Des Moines to Mahtomedi, and Red Wing to St. Cloud supported the cause, too. Tournament t-shirts and sweatshirts play well no matter where you go to school. Parents stop to read the poster explaining Shannon's story and then they head right to the table to make a donation or buy a shirt.

People are good. So good.

We raised $7,000 this weekend for the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.

So, this is one of the best weekends for us to remember Shannon. We remember the loss, always, but this is a reminder to remember what she gave us. A purpose, a cause, a way to connect with people on a deeper level. A way for life to have meaning and to inspire a new group of young girls to be kind.

The kids working the table were some of Shannon's former teammates who are now finishing up their high school careers. Another one of Shannon's teammates, her first ever line mate, Brooke, was out there reffing games in the Shannon Cup. How cool is that?

This past week offered other chances to realize how lucky we are to have these connections with something bigger than ourselves. Erin did not attend the Shannon Cup. She was on a weekend getaway, spending about 42 hours in California with her second mom, Kula and chosen big sister, Ariana. These relationship are what they are because of our journey with Shannon. Don't get me wrong, they love Erin for Erin, but we are where we are because of where we've been.

Dan had a Shannon connection last week, too. He was in Fort Lauderdale for business. While sitting on his deck, looking at the ocean, he saw a Coast Guard ship go by. Shannon's friend Paige, one of our scholarship winners, joined the Coast Guard last year after graduating. Seeing the boat made Dan think of Paige and he sent a note to her parents saying "Saw this today and it made me think of your girl."

Several hours later, while at a company dinner, Dan got a text from Paige. "Are you in Fort Lauderdale? I am too. That was my ship you saw." Paige's boat had been in Virginia for a couple of weeks and just moved to Florida... on the day that Dan was standing and looking out at the ocean at the exact time to see the boat go by...

Thirty minutes after their text exchange, Dan and Paige were eating ice cream together and Paige got to show Dan around the boat. Karma? Kismet? Shannon? I don't need an explanation, I'm just glad it happened.

So, next up is scholarship night on Feb. 8th. Time to read through the applications and meet with the foundation board to make a decision. It will be tough again this year - I think I say that every year - but these are the last class of Shannon's Rebel teammates.

So, while I'm exhausted from three days at the rink, my cup is full. And, I've got Shannon to thank for it all.