7 Years

Today is one of those days we mark on the calendar and know that it will be a struggle. It has been 7 years since Shannon passed away. We were reminiscing about the warm January weather we had 7 years ago, much like we just experienced this weekend here in Rochester. The sky is pink this morning, just like it was on that day in 2012.

Today's anniversary also coincides with sending Erin back to Philadelphia last night. Not great timing for her or for us, but classes start Monday morning, so it was time to get back and get organized for the next quarter.

We had a fabulous three weeks with Erin at home. She spent a bunch of time with me and Dan, saw lots of family and friends and even worked a few shifts to make some money. And, she might have caught up on sleep that she was lacking after finals week! Just what everyone wanted and needed.

Now, she is back in Philly and we are here and life goes on. We don't know when she will be home next, which is crazy. Next summer for sure.

So, we are back to our empty nest and the 6th of January all at once. Damn.

On this day, I don't like the passing of time. Erin is a whole different person now than the one that Shannon knew. Maybe I am, too.

I've been reading a little bit about grief again lately. Just processing, I guess. Still trying to reconcile how life can be good and I can be happy? Because that is how I feel. I like my life and I am happy. Will I always feel just a little bit guilty about that?

I read recently how loss and grief, in the early days, it consumes all of you. But in time, it changes. It's not that the grief goes away or lessens, but if you are fortunate, your world gets bigger around it. So when your world gets bigger, the grief feels smaller. I don't know if that makes sense, but that is how I feel. I know my life wouldn't be this full and meaningful if we hadn't lost Shannon. My relationships are deeper and my purpose is greater as I try to carry on in her memory.

Erin feels it, too. She knows she probably wouldn't be at Drexel studying health sciences if it weren't for losing Shannon. It's hard to have something good that's a result of something so bad. I don't know how else to describe it.

The month of January also brings all of our Shannon O'Hara Foundation events. We've got a couple of girl's hockey nights, the Shannon Cup, and will be going through the process of choosing this year's scholarship winners.

The foundation just had an amazing holiday season fundraiser, with donations totaling more than $20,000. People continue to help us make a difference in Shannon's memory. Every check or online donation warms my heart.

Shannon's words ring in my ear. She wanted to be a positive light. She wanted her life to matter.

If you want to hear Shannon again... or for the first time... here she is:

Christmas Day 2018

Christmas Eve was a day filled with joy and laughter for us. We celebrated with both our families - the Harkins side for brunch and an afternoon filled with presents, laughter, some inappropriate YouTube videos and a card game where Papa threw $10 in the pot to make it interesting. Luckily, one of the broke college kids - Erin - pocketed the cash. Lots of good natured ribbing and laughter. Just the way we like it.

If you have kids who come home for the holidays, check out the SNL skit "back home baller". I highly recommend it.

Then it was off to the O'Hara side. Lots of eating and drinking... and singing... loudly. The O'Haras can produce impressive volume levels. Erin was right there with her cousins, spreading Christmas cheer. Dan pointed out that our group included 5 men and 12 women. Of the cousins closest to Erin on the O'Hara side, there are 5 girls and 1 guy.

This ratio led to a rousing rendition of "The 12 days of Feministmas".

A great day all around. But as with every day in our life, something was missing. Holidays only accentuate it.

As we drove home last night after celebrating with our families, a bright, almost full moon lit the way back to Rochester. We always think of Shannon when the moon is full as it was when she left us. Honestly, we always think of Shannon. Period. Full stop.

We talked about her on the way home. About our memories of holidays and that last Christmas when she was still here, but not.  7 years since her last Christmas. It's so long ago, now, and that scares me. I don't want to lose any of my memories of Shannon. I don't want her to get further away from me.

So, a piece of unsolicited advice from me to you. If you know someone who's lost someone, tell them what you remember about their dearly departed. Say their name. It's the best gift you could give them. There's nothing better than getting to hear stories about the ones you miss so dearly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Jen, Dan & Erin

Thanksgiving Weekend 2018

We are thankful that we were able to bring both our families together and host a Thanksgiving dinner for 21 people. Having Erin home from college was the cherry on top. Sharing food, stories, laughter and memories made for a great day. We thanked those who were with us and remembered those who weren't, including Shannon. And, my biggest fear didn't materialize - I'm happy to report that Gus (now 9 months old) did not trip anyone, knock anyone down or eat anyone's turkey. I guess training was worth every penny.

Erin has been enjoying her time at home, sleeping in her own bed, visiting friends who are home on break and driving her car! She's been getting plenty of love from the pets, too. It's been a great 6 day break at home. She will head back tomorrow for the final 2 weeks of classes and then finals.

Erin said it's so nice to come home and have good things to say about your college choice. I've overheard her telling people that she's definitely in the right place for her, that she likes her major and loves her friends. The transition has been as smooth as possible, which makes the empty nest a little easier on me and Dan.

It is strange to feel like Erin is visiting us, but she really doesn't live here anymore. It sure is nice to get to see her face everyday, even if it's short-lived.

So on we go, barreling towards the end of 2018. I guess I'm ready for Christmas music now...

Sunday Oct. 28, 2018

I'm thinking about life and death this morning. A high school classmate of mine passed away after a long battle with cancer. 50 is too young. So is 13. My classmate shared her journey via social media and reminded us all how important it is to live now while we can. Peace to her husband and kids as they start their life in the after.

On the flip side, my father-in-law turns 95 tomorrow. Eddie O carries on. Life is funny that way. We don't know how many years we get... it could be 13, 50 or even 96... This uncertainty is tough on a planner like me. (I call myself a planner. Dan and Erin think I might be an obsessor.)

So, there are many reminders to plan for the future, hope for the best, and live in the moment.

Life here on Willow Lane carries on. Dan and I have adjusted to the empty nest. It is quiet without Erin here, especially when Dan is on the road. I do have Gus - who is now an 80 pound puppy - to keep me company. We've been doing training to try and get him to control some of those impulses... like the impulse to run over anyone who comes through the door! He's learning and mellowing out and he'll be a good dog... someday...

Sunny and Sylvie tolerate Gus, they also put him in his place when necessary. Gus is usually sporting a scratch or two from the Sylvie and is missing a chunk of skin where Sunny nipped him. It's also deer season in our backyard, so we often have a chorus of barking dogs. Good times.

Sunny the wonder dog is reaching the end. Her back hips are giving her trouble and stairs have become a problem for her. She's 13 going on 14 and we're realistic. She's still with us today, so we'll live in that moment. Last Sunday, she walked all the way around the reservoir and loved every minute of it. She's not ready to go yet.

I suppose I should talk about Erin, too! It is so strange that she doesn't live here anymore. I didn't really think of it that way, but she is making a new "home" in Philadelphia. She is loving Drexel, has great roommates and is getting to explore Philadelphia a bit. Classes are hard, especially Chem and Bio, but she's making her way. She's already making plans for where to live next year with friends, so that's a good sign. She's stayed in touch with me and Dan via text and FaceTime, which makes the distance a little easier.

It's been 6 weeks since I've seen her, but luckily, I have a trip planned to Philly on Nov. 9th. It's family weekend, and Dan is taking one for the team and staying home with the pets. He's got a trip planned in Jan., so he'll get his turn to visit her. It will be so good to see her space and hear about her life. I can't wait.

Saturday Oct. 6, 2018

We spent our Saturday morning walking and running for brain tumor research at the Brains Together for a Cure annual event. Dan and I reminisced on the way there about the day 7 years ago when Shannon walked with us. But, before Shannon walked, she first had hockey tryouts, then came and did the walk, and then played a soccer game that afternoon where, the girl with the brain tumor, did a header. As soon as she did it, as those of us on the sidelines gasped, Shannon looked over and smiled. I'll never forget it. 3 months later she would be gone.

Today Dan and I did the balloon release to kick off the event. Grandma and Papa Harkins joined us, along with many other friends who are a part of Team Shannon. We connected with other parents who have lost their children and got to visit with Shannon's physicians who are a part of this fight to find a cure.

We continue to do what we can, including making a $5,000 donation from the Shannon O'Hara Foundation to Brains Together for a Cure. Every dollar helps and all funds go directly to brain tumor research at Mayo Clinic.

We missed having Erin with us this year, but she is settling in to college life at Drexel. Thankfully for this mama, she's been staying in touch via text and FaceTime. She's happy, so I'm happy. She has great roommates, likes being in the big city and loves the independence. Oh, and she says Biology and chemistry are hard.

Dan and I continue our lives of remembering one child and rooting for the other. It's not exactly how we want it to be, but it's how it is. It feels good and sad all at the same time. It always will.

Brains Together for a Cure Annual Walk/Run

Dan and I will be taking part in this annual brain tumor awareness event. Brains Together for a Cure has been a great supporter of the Shannon O'Hara Foundation, and we like to do the same.

I will be walking the 5K, and Dan will be doing the 5K run. Online registration for the 5K/10K run is available until Sept. 28 and for the walk until Oct. 3.

So, dig out your Shannon gear and join us to remember Shannon and support the research that's so desperately needed.

BTFC Walk 2011

September 12, 2018

We have just finished packing Erin for college. We leave for Philadelphia tomorrow, we'll shop on Friday for all the dorm essentials and move her in on Saturday. Dan and I fly home to our empty nest Sunday morning.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with all this? So far, so good... I am beyond excited for Erin and that outweighs my sadness about the change in our lives. She is ready for the next stage, so I have to be, too. But, I will miss the rhythm we've developed. I know the house will be too quiet and I will have too much time without her here.

But, this is how it's supposed to be, and we're grateful to get to take our kid to college. We were cheated out of that experience once. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I've seen many posts and pictures of families we've met who have lost children to the big C. It's a shitty club to be in, so we do our best to support each other.

In my job, I've been doing research about pediatric cancer this past week, focusing on the emotional effects - writing about how siblings can struggle and marriages often times break up. It's the lead topic of this weekend's Mayo Clinic Radio program.

So, on Saturday, while we are moving Erin in to her freshman dorm, the script that I wrote about how difficult childhood cancer is on families will be on the air. How's that for the kismet, karma, whatever you want to call it?

Dan and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary at the beginning of this week and by the time the week is over, we'll leave Erin happy, healthy and ready to start college. We know not every kid gets that chance, so we have reason to celebrate. I'm damn proud to say that's where we are, just shy of 7 years after cancer took Shannon.

This picture was taken on Erin's first day of preschool:

She was scared and nervous. I was ready for her to go to school. Now the rolls are reversed. Life is funny that way. Dan and I would give Erin the world if we could. We'll get started this weekend.

"You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time, you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you." - Frederick Buechner