Thursday August 27, 2015

We are glad yesterday is over... Papa Harkins had successful surgery yesterday to clear the blockage in his carotid artery. And it's a good thing he did - once they got in there, the surgeon found that the artery was 80% blocked. Another stroke was looming...

I'm glad that he chose to have it done and chose to do it here at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. My mom has been able to stay with us and Papa will come back here to recoup until he's ready to return to the cabin.

You know you are going to get a specialist when you choose Mayo Clinic, and we had great confidence in his surgeon. That gave us piece of mind, but anytime you have a neurosurgeon, it's not nothing... So, my brother Eric and I kept mom company all morning yesterday as we watched Papa's status update on the patient information board: pre-op, in the OR, procedure started, etc... When grandma got the call that he was in recovery and things went well, she was finally able to relax.

Erin wanted me to come get her and bring her to the hospital once Papa was through surgery. At the tender age of 14, she knows that's what you do: when people are in need, you show up. She's had so many good examples of how people have supported us when we needed it. It's something I didn't really learn until Shannon was sick, so Erin's way ahead of the curve.

Today, Erin is off to a volleyball scrimmage in the cities. Dan will return home from Michigan and hopefully Papa gets discharged and can come here to recover.

Tomorrow, we are off to Lake Hubert. It's another O'Hara wedding this weekend as Erin's cousin Kallie gets married. Weather looks great and we're excited to celebrate with them.

Life is a jumbled mess of stages... aging parents, young love, teenage angst, accepting middle age... this life ain't for sissies, I can tell you that!

It's true though, if you can stay in the moment and live each day, you can appreciate the journey.

"Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well." - Jack London

Friday August 21, 2015

I think I aged 10 years this week... volleyball tryouts just about did me in! Erin was a ball of stress all week, and that meant I was in the line of fire. I couldn't say or do anything right. It was like I forgot how to be a mom...

In the end, it's all good. Erin made the JV team this year, just what she was hoping for. She's had to make the transition to a new position - playing in the back row. At this level, you can't really be a setter who plays in the front row if you are 5'1"!

She will be with her group of friends, and it's setting up to be a fun season. Phew. I told her last night that now that tryouts are over, she can be nice to me again. She said "One week out of the year, I act like a normal teenager and you're all over me!" We had a good chuckle about it.

Erin also had schedule pick up this week. Sophomore year is just a couple of weeks away now. How did that happen? Erin was hanging out with a friend the other day, and there were some senior kids there, too. Really nice kids. On the way home, Erin said "I think those are the kind of kids that Shannon would be hanging around with." Erin thinks her sister would have navigated high school and still been a nice kid. I like that.

It will be a year like that for Erin. Watching that senior class and trying to imagine what life would be like if Shannon were here.

When she got home from tryouts last night, Dan was talking to her and said "You're sister would be proud of you." Erin thought about it and said "Would I even be playing volleyball if Shannon hadn't gotten sick?"

See, Erin started volleyball in the spring of 2012, just after Shannon passed away. Her friends talked her into trying it, wanting to help Erin along in her recovery. Those friends are still a part of Erin's life. That's a blessing.

So, volleyball season is underway. 10th grade is just around the corner. We carry on...

Saturday August 15, 2015

This weekend marks the end of summer in a way... volleyball season begins on Monday and school schedule pick up is Wednesday, so plans are under way for the fall season.

Erin continues to make the most of her summer, though, and she's not giving up on it yet. She continues to socialize with her friends. Erin has several friends with driver's licenses and she knows if she can get a ride home, we rarely say no to a social opportunity! It's strange how quickly this new stage has happened...

Erin and I had a busy week doing a bedroom update for her. We painted the walls (grey) and got rid of the "little girls" dresser in favor of a modern closet system. If we can track down the perfect nightstand this weekend, the job will be complete.

E and I discusses how many iterations that room has had. It was Shannon's room when Erin was born. Once Erin moved to a big girl bed, she and Shannon wanted to share the room. We painted it lavender and yellow and eventually we put bunk beds in there. Once Shannon got too old to share with Erin, she moved out and Erin wanted her room baby blue with pink and white polka dot accents. After that, we moved to purple and white with a whiteboard wall. I'm pretty sure that room was a bit bigger before all those layers of paint!

Erin assures me that this is the last update before she goes to college. Yikes...

DanO returned home Thursday in time to have a birthday dinner with friends. 52 looks good on him, in my opinion. His job is crazy busy and he's still traveling every week, but fortunately, he likes what he does.

I, too, am busy with work. I haven't "worked" 30 hours a week in a long time. But, luckily, I also like what I'm doing. It's interesting and engaging work. I'm learning new things every week. I'm getting better at it as I go. These are all really positive things. I'm lucky.

 I'll be glad when we get through this week of volleyball tryouts. Some anxiety for Erin, which means anxiety for me! Gotta have faith that it will all work out as it should.

All in all, life is good...

Sunday August 9, 2015

I'm up this morning, digging through the pile of paperwork on my desk. One of the items on my to do list, is to prepare checks for our three scholarship winners. Yes, it's time to think about back to school and for our scholarship recipients, that means off to college. This is one of the best parts about running the foundation - getting to see the hard work and generosity of others turn into something tangible. It's a great way to carry on Shannon's spirit.

Shannon's friends are not quite ready for college, but they are going to start their senior year in just a month's time. This year is going to be a series of nicks on my heart. Watching each of Shannon's friends transition to the next stage is going to be hard. I see their senior picture and I think of a memory of them with Shannon back in elementary school. 

Just the other night, we saw a classmate of Shannon's out to dinner with his friends. When I see this kid, I always think back to fourth grade when Shannon told me "He dips everything he eats in ranch dressing." I found myself wondering if he still does... I suppose not. He has grown up a bit since then.

I find myself wanting to hold tightly to each of these memories. I don't ever want to forget any little detail of the time we had with Shannon.

I can't help but imagine what Shannon's senior pictures would look like... would she still like the color lime green?

I find myself trying to imagine what our family dynamic would be like now. Would Shannon be willing to drive her little sister around? I think so. Would they be friends in the best possible way? I hope so. Would they fight? Oh, I imagine so...

Erin is prepping for 10th grade. More territory that Shannon never covered. Erin is having to forge her own way. Would high school have been easier for E if she had been able to follow Shannon? Or, would it have been harder to be the second O'Hara girl coming through? Following Shannon's big personality and big energy might have been a challenge...

These are questions that allow for speculation, but no real answers. Just part of the giant game of "what if" that we will play for the rest of our lives.

So, school is still a month away, but I find myself prepping my armor to prevent those nicks on my heart. There's no way around it. Just gotta go through. And we will. Doesn't mean it will be easy, but we will accept this journey and as we watch the Class of 2016, we'll hope to see a little bit of Shannon in those who knew her.

I know I've written about this before, but I guess I'm a little bit shocked about how much it's affecting me. I knew it was coming and I though I was ready, but grief will not be planned and anticipated. You've got to just feel what you feel in each moment and accept it.

And, the impending school year is not all sadness. We get the joy of watching Erin grow up and forge her own way. That's what a parent wants. I'm very conscious to not spend so much time thinking of Shannon that I miss what's right here in front of me. How did Erin get to be a 10th grader already? 

So, we'll enjoy this last month of summer with Miss E. I do my best not to spend too much time worrying about how I'm going to feel about things. Just get up each day and live it.

"Sorrow comes in great waves... but it rolls over us and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain." - Henry James


Monday August 3, 2015

Erin and I are feeling a little like Dan this week, going from town to town, staying in different places before we return home.

Last night and tonight, we are in Ramsey, MN so that Erin and her teammates can play in the Minnesota Golf Association Jr. State Team Tournament. I've been organizing this team this summer and this state event is something they've been waiting for. They had a practice round yesterday, and I walked along and offered my two cents about where to hit it and things to avoid. I'm sure Erin loves having me around as the "coach"!  The first round of the tournament is today and then they will play again tomorrow. Should be fun.

Our trip started last Thursday when we left for a bridal shower in Minneapolis. Erin's cousin Kallie is getting married this month and all the O'Hara women gathered to throw her a shower. Great food, great fun for all of us.

We stayed in the cities Thursday night and Dan joined us so we could head out first thing Friday morning. We spent the weekend with my family on Madeline Island. It's a bit of an effort to get there, but well worth it...

Grandma and Papa Harkins rented a cabin for the weekend and my brother and his family were there as well. We joke that any time we all get together, we have horrible weather. I kid you not, as we were caravanning to the cabin in our separate vehicles, it began to sprinkle... then rain... then pour! Luckily, it was short lived and within two hours, the sun was shining and we were off to the beach.

Madeline Island is a special place in my family. My mom was born in Ashland, WI and she and her 8 younger brothers spent their summers going to the island. My brother and I visited there many times as kids.

We hit the beach three times, made a trip into town for pizza, ice cream... and wifi! Yes, the cabin was in a location with no cell service, no TV, no connection to the outside world. We all struggled to not be able to text or check twitter. It was a good reality check on how much we use our technology.

Funny story - as we were sitting around the cabin on Friday night, reading actual books and doing a puzzle, my brother Eric heard a phone buzz. All of a sudden, he said "I got a text - I've got one bar if I stand right here in the corner of the bedroom!" Well, it didn't take us long to all grab our phones and huddle in the corner, searching for a signal. My dad told us we were pathetic. He was right...

The signal didn't last long, and for the rest of the weekend we were disconnected. We cooked and played games around the cabin.

On of the traditions in my family is to jump off the rock at Big Bay State Park. I, of course, won't do it. I am averse to risk and not a thrill seeker. Erin was all in...

After climbing over the railing and assessing the situation, Dan was the first one to go. Jumping from 30 feet above the water where the lake is so clear you can see the boulders 20 feet below the surface. When it was Erin's turn - she just went for it.


It was so exhilarating, she did it three times. So did cousin Jack, Uncle Eric and Dan. While I had no interest in joining them, it was fun to watch!

Yes, our dynamic has changed a bit without Shannon, but her name came up often this weekend, and that was really nice. We had beautiful weather and hung out together on the beach every chance we got.  It was hot enough than even I got into Lake Superior to cool off.


We spent our last night together, hiking a trail down to the west-facing side of the island so we could watch the sun set. DanO had found this gem of a spot on his morning run. 

We were sitting together on the peer, taking photos of our families as the sun went down. And then it happened.

Just before sunset, a bald eagle swooped down, right over our heads. First and last one we saw all weekend. All nine of us got a look. Just one pass, and she was gone. So glad Shannon stopped by to say hello...


Wednesday July 29, 2015

Shannon would have turned 17 today. Our fourth summer without her rolls on...

I often think of how unfair it is in the context of being her mother. I didn't get a chance to see her grow up and I feel cheated.

But sometimes I'm reminded to think of it in the context of what others lost.

My parents, who not only had to watch their granddaughter die, but now live with watching their own daughter go on living with that loss. That's a double whammy.

Dan and his whole family. The O'Hara cousins are getting to spend a lot of time together this summer with two family weddings.  I know they miss Shannon, and their chain of cousins has a missing piece.

And Erin. She really got cheated. She is lonely sometimes without her sister. Summer brings lots of opportunities to realize what she's missing.

Those family weddings - seeing siblings stand up for one another - has an edge to it for Erin. She won't get that chance.

Summer also finds Erin hanging out with friends - and their siblings. Seeing two teenage sisters together - the older one driving the younger one around - well, that can be a painful reminder of what she's lost.

Kids this age start to think about their future. Erin will be here after Dan and I are gone. She will be the one to carry on our story. That's a big burden.

Most of the time, Erin doesn't show her pain and she carries on with confidence and a smile most days.

But every once in a while, she lets it go. Last night there were tears, missing her sister. We sat together and just allowed ourselves to miss her. Nothing wrong with that.

Happy birthday, Shannon.




Saturday July 25, 2015

I am busy this morning tying up loose ends from Monday's golf tournament. I've uploaded the photos to the foundation website, so check them out. Lots of smiling faces and fun foursomes there! Here's the link: www.shannonoharafoundation.org.

It's strange to me the things that elicit emotion. Monday, we had 140 people together honoring Shannon, and I didn't shed a tear. Yesterday, I took a photo of Shannon down off the wall and it got to me.  I think I will continue to learn about grief for the rest of my life...

I wanted to hang some photos from our trip to Ireland. We decided on a wall in our basement. A wall where pictures of Shannon and Erin from the summer of 2011 have been hanging for the last 4 years. Erin was ready to take down the pics that showed her a a little 10 year old, smiling while watching Shannon battle.

So, those pictures will find a new home somewhere else, or maybe just in my mind. Time does march on. We've been new places and seen new things in the past three years. Erin wants to see that forward progress hanging outside her door. So we made the change.

I am coming to realize that this year will be a really tough one. Shannon's classmates are seniors. Some of them are already posting their senior pictures on social media. I've sat in on several conversations about college visits and the next stage of life. It's just going to be really hard, as milestones tend to be.

I'm sad I didn't get to see Shannon as a senior in high school. I'm sad we didn't get to experience the madness of choosing a college with her. I guess I'm allowed to feel that way. Most of the time I'm able to carry on and move ahead and know that we did all we could while she was here. But, we got short changed, and sometimes that's still painful. I think it always will be...

The pictures of Ireland that now hang on the wall look beautiful. It doesn't mean we've forgotten what used to hang there. It means we are living because of what we learned during that summer of 2011.

It's Shannon's birthday week. What a smart, sassy 17-year-old she could have been...