July 4, 2018

I used to think of the 4th of July as the middle of summer, but this year, it feels like we're just getting started.

June flew by, filled with all the festivities surrounding the end of high school. I think Erin lost track of  how many graduation open houses she attended. Now, she and her friend are referring to themselves as college students. They're not wrong.

Erin also spent the first three weeks of her summer working two jobs and saving money. She is motivated to help pay for college and minimize the loans she will need to take. She's definitely got some skin in the game, and she's invested. We couldn't be prouder.

We managed to end June with a trip to the cabin for a long weekend. Dan met us there last Thursday after his week of travel in North Dakota. Erin and I left after her work shift at 7pm. Our first trip with two dogs in the car. Uff da! We made it all the way to St. Paul before Gus puked in my car. Erin and I were singing along to the radio and Gus started barking. We thought he just didn't like the noise, but maybe he was trying to tell us something. Thankfully, that was the only episode of car sickness and we made it to the lake just before 11pm.

Time at the lake is rejuvenating for all of us. The sun, sand and water are the perfect combination. The only disappointment is that Gus did not take to the water. Perhaps he is less lab than we thought! He can swim, but he doesn't want to. We forced him to try and he is not very efficient. Lots of splashing as he tried to doggie paddle to shore.

Sunny made it to the cabin again for a 14th summer. Her heart is willing, but her hips don't work so well anymore. She now moves like an old dog. But, she still gets in the water to protect us and shepherd us to safety. We hope she's around for a little longer.

Our friends joined us and a great time was had by all. There was boating, tubing and fishing when the weather cooperated... and shopping, reading and napping when it didn't. A perfect combination.

Now we are home and enjoying the holiday before we all head back to work tomorrow. Erin still has two full months of summer as she doesn't move in at Drexel until Sept. 15.  We are all going to enjoy the time we have together.

Happy July 4th to you all!

Wednesday June 13, 2018

Today officially brought Erin's high school career to a close. She finished competing in the state golf tournament this afternoon, and her time as a Mayo Spartan is now over. What a ride it's been.

The last six days have included Erin's open house, graduation, an all night senior party and 36 holes of golf at the state tournament. All exactly as she wanted it.

Her open house brought a steady stream of people from the past and present. Erin's teachers, family and a whole bunch of friends joined us for our backyard barbecue. A testament to Erin's ability to connect with others. That's a skill that will carry her far in this world.

The graduation ceremony was a celebration of a great group of young people we've have the pleasure of getting to know. Erin's class was full of compassionate kids. They cared for each other. The jocks, the nerds, the artists... they were all in it together and supported each other. I have hope for our future when I look at these young people.

The all night senior party is a tradition, put on by the senior parents. I was in charge of the casino, and it was a blast. I even convinced Dan to stay up until midnight to deal some poker. He was in his element, smack talking with Erin's friends.

Then, the cherry on the top was a trip to the state golf tournament. All the hours Erin put in practicing, taking lessons and playing tournaments in the summer paid off with a 5th place finish in the section tournament, earning her a trip to the state tournament. Dan and I were grateful for two more days watching her play the game we all love. Mayo Girls Golf will always hold a special place in our heart. Shannon started our connection with MGG and coach Myhro, and Erin finished it in the best way possible.

And so it ends. Erin is now a college student. Change is ahead for all of us. But we're going to cherish these memories forever. Erin was in sixth grade when Shannon passed away. Dan and I were scared about what her future would hold after our tragedy. How would she navigate our new normal? You done good, kid... you done good.

Wednesday May 30, 2018

In two weeks, it will all be over: high school, grad party, graduation, all night senior party, HS golf. I am stressing out because there is much to do in the next two weeks, but I'm also trying to enjoy the "lasts" along the way.

We've been doing the grad party scene the last couple of weekends and I'm stealing ideas left and right! I know it doesn't matter what color the tablecloths are or what the centerpieces look like. I'm doing my best to organize some pictures and memorabilia to honor Erin and show where she's been and where she's going. I know it's the people that will make the party. I'm also stressing out about the weather. I know it's irrational, and completely out of my control. But, I seem to think it's my job to worry, so that's what I am doing.

It is a strange time for me and my mom squad friends. We're reaching an end, but it's a beginning, too. A beginning of our kids independence. A signal that it's time to let go, at least a little. It's time for them to "figure it out" without as much help from mom (and dad).

Like every new stage that Erin reaches, it carries extra weight for us. While that's not fair to Erin, it's just how it is. The last time we celebrated a graduation, it was watching Shannon's classmates graduate, looking at her empty chair in the arena. Erin's graduation is a reminder that Shannon didn't get to graduate. I'm carrying her in my mind and my heart as we navigate these days with Erin.

We remember Shannon. We celebrate Erin. We do both at the same time.

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