Tuesday January 31, 2012

I am up in the middle of the night in room 100 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Bloomington Illinois.  I tossed and turned for a while but gave up and now will write a little and then get some work done. Maybe even jump on the treadmill for a few miles.  Haven't been doing that enough...

I was asleep for about 5 hours before a really vivid Shannon dream woke me.  She was getting dropped off in the driveway after a practice of some kind.  I couldn't wait to tell her about one of her friends that had survived local qualifying for the US Open.  But then I woke up...

Sunday I read through some of letters presented to us in a three-ring binder by the 8th graders at Willow Creek Middle School.  The "I heart Shannon" logo on the cover has been starting at me for days.  So I started paging through them. It didn't take long before I was covered in tears.  I went to Erin for comfort when I got to full sob.  She held my hand.

I have been absorbing bits and pieces of the many books and grieving resources we have been sent.  I don't know, maybe I have been floating down the river denial - I am trying to face this thing as often as I can.  But those letters just got me.  Over and over the same theme..."that smile"..."what a fighter"..."she always made me laugh"..."she was so smart"...

I'm reading that grief can overtake you at anytime and without warning.  For the first time Sunday I experienced that - the physical ache.  So, I got that going for me...which is nice.

Steely Dan playing on the Ipod now....Only a Fool Would Say That...

Team O'Hara is transitioning into a new day. Our downstairs remodel is underway.  The wood pellet fireplace is gone. The brown paneling is next.

I have a couple meetings today in the Land of Lincoln - but will return to sleep in my own bed tonight.  Expecting a high temp around 56.  Carole King's classic Home Again is up now;

Sometimes I wonder if I am ever going to make it home again
It's so far and out of sight
I really need someone to talk to, and nobody else
Knows how to comfort me tonight

I know, I need to update my playlist...but the Steely Dan, Elton John, Hall and Oates, Bob Seger and Springsteen vinyl I wore out as a kid are like "comfort food" to me right now.

Time for some exercise.  I have about 120 days to train for the The Med City Half...

Sunday January 29, 2012

Another weekend filled with activity and emotion. A little bit of each of those things is good. Too much of either of them leaves you feeling exhausted...

It's hard to describe the emotional part of the weekend - sadness, anger, and helplessness hits each of us at different times and in different ways. We do our best to carry on with the tasks at hand, but idle time, reflective time, can start the waterworks and Dan, Erin, and I each took our turn. It's a balancing act to stay busy enough to keep the mind occupied, but not so busy that you wear yourself out. Like everything else in our world, this is a work in progress.

As for the activities, we kept things moving with a basketball tournament, some time with family, and emptying out our family room in preparation for the remodel. Erin and the Spartan 6th graders enjoyed another tournament championship in Faribault on Saturday. Fun to see Erin working hard on the court and smiling on the bench. Coach Olson even ran a sweet set play for her, allowing Erin to score on a great backdoor layup. That one was for you, little E.

We had dinner with Dan's brother Tim and wife Suzi on Friday and lunch today with my brother Eric and his family. We're trying our best to keep in contact and share a little bit of ourselves with family when we feel up to it. There are no words to ease the pain that we all feel, but just eyeballing each other sometimes helps.

Today was a busy day of preparations - moving 11 years worth of stuff off the family room shelves and removing all the furniture so the remodel project can start bright and early tomorrow. We're excited to get it going.

Finally tonight, Dan and I tackled another "first" in our journey. We went to see the Rebels play. Shannon's #9 jersey was hanging behind the bench. Those parents and girls were happy to see us. The Rebels pulled out a 3-1 victory tonight for their third win in a row. They've survived a rocky stretch and maybe they will find their mojo just in time for and end of the year run. A bond has been formed amongst those families after what they've been through together. Just another little gift that Shannon left behind. She'd be proud of them.

Early Saturday Morning

Three weeks. Has it been a lifetime or a blink of an eye since Shannon passed? It depends on the day, the hour, the minute... We can talk about her and reminisce often times without tears, but some things set me off.

Yesterday, I returned to Graham Arena for the first time since Shannon's last skate on December 4th. Graham Arena might have been Shannon's favorite place on earth.

The U14 Rochester tournament is taking place this weekend and several of Shannon's classmates are on that team. These girls wanted to honor Shannon and help us start to raise funds for a scholarship bearing Shannon's name that we hope to be able to award in future years. So, we wanted to show our support. Seeing all these girls walking around with green stickers on bearing Shannon's name and number was heart warming and gut wrenching at the same time. There are t-shirts being sold that say "I skate for Shannon" and a big poster displayed with Shannon's story and picture on it. Seeing that was just a little too much for me and I had a public teary moment. Not a complete meltdown, but the tears came.

The tears flowed for the kindness of these girls and their families. But, as I watched those girls skate and compete, my tears also flowed for Shannon. She loved these tournaments where you spend all weekend at the rink with your friends and you play some hockey, too. That was her happy place. My tears flowed for Dan and I, too.  We really enjoyed watching our kid play hockey and being a part of the hockey community. We've admitted this week that losing hockey as a part of our lives is really tough for the two of us. That was one of our happy places, too.

Next weekend it's the Rebels turn with the Rochester U12 tournament taking place. The fundraising efforts will continue and we will be there at the rink supporting those girls as best we can. I better be prepared for a few more public tears.

But, while we spend some time thinking back, we are also trying to put some energy into moving forward.  Erin spent yesterday with two different groups of friends - staying busy and having fun.  Today, we are off to Faribault for some more basketball.  More activity, more motion.

We applied for a passport for Erin yesterday. No definite plans, but we want to have options to do something different and make new memories with our little E. Forging ahead while still mourning, honoring, and reminiscing. Two steps forward, one step back ...

Thursday January 26, 2012

There is a pairing of bald eagles that live in the neighborhood.  There is much green space in close proximity, lots of trees to perch but most important the Willow Creek Reservoir just to the west fed by streams and creeks.  Our street - Willow Lane - is a flyway for the beautiful birds to get to the reservoir from their nest just about a half mile east of our home.

It seems as though the eagles show up in some of my most spiritual moments.  Tuesday I was hiking around the reservoir with Coach Bart and the male was perched in a tree just off the path we were walking - no more than 20 feet up in the tree.  As we approached I was sure he was going to flee.  But he never did.  He just looked at us as we walked by.  We stopped in our tracks and just looked up and I said; "How ya doin, Shannon?"

To me the eagles represent Shannon's spirit set free and watching over us.

This morning Erin pulled the covers over her head when I came down the second time to get her out of bed.  When she came up for breakfast she was quiet and told us she was sad.  We tried to rally her with mini-waffles and some light conversation about the school day ahead and our plans for the next day or two.  But she was struggling.

So we drove Erin to school - all 3 of us together - and as we took a left out of Willow Lane the eagle soared right over us...low to the ground...Shannon was there as we embarked on another day.

Wednesday January 25, 2011

"Mourning is the constant reawakening that things are now different" - Stephanie Ericsson

Things are different. We are here in the same space, the same town, the same house, taking the same routes, but things are different, we are different. We can keep the mind busy with activities and we do manage to laugh a bit each and every day. But, we also feel the deep, deep ache of loss that will take a long time to dull. Working through the loss of a child is a long process - not measured in days or weeks or even months.

Erin is doing some hard work on her thoughts and emotions and journaling a bit herself to help her sound out what she's feeling. She misses her best friend and their usual day to day interactions. There's no one to watch the latest Disney episode with... But, she's coping and going to school each day and her friends are stepping up and making plans to help keep things moving. Thank goodness she's got such good friends from good families who would do anything for our little E.

Dan is doing some local travel this week, but has been able to stay home each night which is nice after a long week out last week. Next week it will be back out on the road. He is able to concentrate long enough to do some work each day and prepare for the travels ahead. That's pretty impressive as I'm not sure I could do the same.

We've been occupying some of our time with making decisions on a family room re-model. We have had this in the plans and always knew that after a home hospice scenario, we would be ready to make some changes in that room. The way that room sits now, I can still picture the hospital bed ... so, now is the time. New carpet, new sofa, new paint and a fireplace update are on the wish list. It's fun to have a project on the docket and it's giving my idle mind a little content...

Speaking of home hospice, we received cards from our hospice nurse, Diane. One to Dan and I, but more importantly, one to Erin. Diane thanked Erin for snuggling with her during Shannon's final hours. Diane told Erin, "I really needed that." So kind.

Praise and kindness are pretty key for the three of us right now, especially towards each other. It's easy to pick out the things that we aren't doing well or to notice the struggles, but it's more important to look for the little triumphs. We tend towards sarcasm around here (no kidding!), but a little sincerity goes a long way right now. We are making a concerted effort to recognize the little bits of good in each day.

Monday January 23, 2012

I am up early and we just received notification that school is on a two hour delayed start today due to the freezing drizzle we had overnight. Erin will be happy about that, and a little extra sleep won't hurt.

I worry that there is less good to share in this blog nowadays. We attempt to be honest here, and right now that means admitting that at least part of each day, we feel kinda shitty. Little things set us off. Emotion comes out when we least expect it. It's like we are on a roller coaster in the dark so we can't anticipate when the next up or down is coming.

Sunday was a mostly good day - sleeping in, being productive around the house and doing some shopping. Then is was off to our friends house to watch the first football game of the afternoon. It was fun and social and felt good in the moment. I feel for our friends, for our family, for anyone who tries to interact with us right now. It is hard to know what to do or say. Words are completely inadequate, but silence hurts as well. How much do you talk about Shannon? About the events of the past few weeks? Is it insensitive to bring it up? Is it insensitive not to? People want to ask the question "How are you?" and I don't have an answer. Even we don't know what we want or need, so how is anybody on the outside supposed to figure out what to do or say?

So, we got home from watching the game and we all sort of let down. On some level, feeling pleasure - laughing with friends - made me feel guilty, I think. Shannon would have loved being in that room, watching the game, and talking smack. How could we go on and do it without her? Happiness may now always come with a sense of longing for what we have lost, for the one who is not there.

But, on the bright side, we did it: we got out there, we interacted, and there was some pleasure in that. It's a start. Things are never going to be the same. We are never going to return to the path we were on. That path doesn't exist anymore. We have been re-routed and we are trying to find our way ...

Sunday January 22, 2012

A sleep-in Sunday morning at Casa O'Hara.  It seems as though we have been on-the-go from the moment the alarm sounds.  Erin might sleep til 10.  She's earned it.

Jen and I are in separate parts of the house because of a media blackout - she has Roger Federer's Aussie Open 3rd round match on DVR.  She just told me Fed is rolling.  So I suspect she will be up shortly.

Quiet reflection is feeling good so far.  My music shuffle has been finding some mellow tunes.  Hall and Oates Abandoned Luncheonette is currently playing.  Day-to-day, today today...

For the past two weekends we have been in gyms - not rinks - following Erin's basketball team and while it has represented a major shift it has been fun.  Like Shannon, Erin loves being on a team.  Loves the social.  And like Shannon, Erin is a natural leader.  Being a 6th grader is the easiest part of her new gig.

Saturday the Spartans really showed some guts winning a semi-final and then in the Big 9 Championship they gutted out a win against a team they were dominated by last weekend.  That's fun.  Good teams find ways to win even when they are over matched.  We have a few weekends of tourney play left in the season.  It will be over in the blink of an eye. 

Our Rebels squad continues to struggle to win games but I suspect they have developed a bond that will live within them for a long time.  They are playing in a tournament in St. Paul this weekend. We've been getting texts with game updates.  I told Coach Bart this week that I will not be returning to the Rebels bench - I need to give Erin everything I have at this time in her life.  A sad realization - but I think the right thing to do.  Jen and I will attend as many Rebels games as we can here down the stretch.  Love those girls.

Erin has some homework to attend to today.  The 2nd quarter ends this week at Willow Creek Middle School.  Have a good thought for E as I know she is anxious about how this will end - we were gone for a good portion of the quarter.

I'm going to ease into some sales travel this week.  But I'm just not quite ready for another 4-day week on the road.  Baby steps.  That will come.  This business of healing, coping, grieving is a process and we are just getting started.  I feel pretty good today so far.

Day-to-day, today today...

Saturday January 21, 2012

I've developed a serious case of bleacher butt over the past 24 hours. We attended the Mayo varsity games last night - and Erin and her friend worked as the water girls for the boys game and honorary ball girls during the girls game.

Then today, it was four games to finish up the Big 9 season for Erin's team. The 6th grade Spartans avenged their two losses by beating Mankato West in the semifinals and then taking out top seed Owatonna in an exciting championship game. Lil' E played some minutes in every game and left the court smiling. We'll take that. Anything that brings moments of happiness and occupies our minds - even just for a little while - is welcomed.

Late Thursday January 19, 2012

Blogging tonight from 31,000 feet somewhere over Nebraska. Purchased the WIFI on tonight's flight back to the tundra. US Airways Airbus 321 - a pretty nice aircraft and for $9.95 you can surf the web and blog. Not exactly the Mile High Club..but kind of cool.

I have been away from Erin and Jen since Monday and it has been a challenge. Staying busy while learning about the new EFS offering was just fine. Exciting, in fact. I'm pretty fortunate to have landed on the "A Team" of our new company. We merged with a competitor and together we are formidable. We are going to be a huge factor in the fuel card market. I feel as though my experience and this opportunity have come together at a really interesting time in my life.

While working and learning was invigorating, the after-hours social times were really work. I mean everyone is nice and they are just living their lives talking about their kids and school and milestones and such things that normal people talk about. And then people let their hair down a little and have some fun and yucks like normal people do and I just can't get away fast enough. I used to be the guy that closed down the party.

I don't want to be Danny Downer. And professionally, there's no doubt when you miss out on those after-hours events you stunt the growth of relationships.

I guess I just need to be patient. This is going to be a slow recovery. The good news is I have a great job. Our company is going to kick ass and I'm good at what I do. Baby steps. But I need to start selling stuff. My sales body clock is itching to do some deals.

I can't wait to see my girls. We have a busy weekend together. Busy is good.


Today's after school trick for putting a smile on Erin's face:  warm, chocolate chip cookies and pre-algebra homework ... well, at least one of those two things made her smile!

Thursday January 19, 2012

We are doing the tough, but necessary tasks. For Dan, that means being in Utah all week and training with the newly formed company. The days are busy for him, but the nights in a hotel are lonely. Not easy, but necessary.

For Erin, that means getting up each day and going to school. Trying to focus and concentrate and find some contentment in being around friends and teachers who care for her. Not easy, but necessary.

For me this means dealing with Shannon's belongings. Tasks like shutting down her Facebook, and disconnecting her e-mail and cell phone. Erasing the little traces of her. Is it too soon? Is it the right time? It felt right to me. It felt like progress. There is no handbook for how to do any of this. Yesterday, I tackled the big one - Shannon's room. Not easy, but necessary.

All those team pictures and trophies and jerseys, her favorite t-shirts, her favorite hat - they are all stored neatly away in a couple of plastic bins for safe keeping. Two of Shannon's prized possessions were passed on to her friends: one pal has a new loft bed and another pal has a new iPhone. Passing those things on felt good. Shannon would be happy for them.

So, physically, we are doing what needs doing. Coping and taking baby steps forward. The mental part of grieving, that's the more difficult part. Erin and I met with our social worker yesterday. Erin is so sad and lonely and the rhythm of our household has changed. We need to find ways to fill the void that's in our lives now. We need to be willing to change our patterns and try new things. What will bring our downsized Team O'Hara some joy?

The trick is, staying busy, but also allowing ourselves time and space for grief. It's o.k. for us to be sad and to have bad days and to let the grieving continue. You can't just "get over" a loss like this. People keep reminding us to be kind to ourselves. Not easy, but necessary ...

Tuesday January 17, 2012

Since Shannon's death, winter has certainly reared it's ugly head. Seems fitting, though. I ventured back out into the world today to run a few errands and I came in contact with a couple of people who wanted to acknowledge our loss. We are "that family" and people have a certain sad look on their faces when they see me. It's hard to bear the weight of it all.

Then there's the flip side - the cheery bank teller who is just trying to make polite conversation and asks, "Has your new year gotten off to a good start?" Wow. I could have ruined her day, but I just bit my tongue and politely smiled. How do I go out in the world and pretend that life is normal? It's hard when people acknowledge Shannon's passing and it's hard when they don't...

Today is one week since Shannon's funeral and I don't want to get any further away from it without officially saying thank you. The outpouring was amazing and we received well over 1000 cards and many donations. The sincerity in each of your messages was greatly appreciated. Please know that Dan and I sat and read every single one. We were brought to tears many times. Due to the sheer volume, we are not going to attempt to acknowledge each of them personally, so please accept this electronic thank you from us.

I had a friend tell me that grief is hard work. I never imagined. I am attempting to keep the mind occupied while allowing time and space for the heart to heal ...

"It is the nature of grace always to fill the spaces that have been empty." - Goethe

Sunday night

I guess as a family we are in recovery. The hard work is underway. I was just reading about Minnesota Wild Coach Mike Yeo who has a phrase he comes back to often; "Whatever it takes, right?"

In terms of the hard work we are doing to keep plugging along, it's almost as though we are starting over. We need to go face everyone and every situation as a three-some. We need to find our stride as a family of three. Just like a dog with one of its limbs amputated we are a little out of balance. But eventually we will pick up speed and become deft again. Whatever it takes, right?

We returned to St. John's for mass Sunday morning - back for the first time since Shannon's funeral (putting those two words together still seems sureal). Our mood was somber. It seemed as though the whole mass was a little dour. At least with the people sitting around us there was not much kidding around. Normally, there is a fair amount of friendly banter, joking around and smiles. And maybe our perception is completely skewed. I just know Jen and Erin both agreed mass was a pain cave.

At the end of mass Fr. Mahon mentioned the funeral service and thanked the many volunteers that stepped up to help park cars, bake cookies, clean up etc. I just wanted to jump out of my pew and scream; "YES - THANK YOU"!! Because the parish outpouring was nothing short of incredible. We are extremely grateful. Fr. Mahon also acknowledged that he has received much feedback on what an incredible spiritual experience the funeral was for families of all denomonations. He did a great job.

Showing up for 9:30 mass this morning was a painful but necessary step in the process. Suit up and show up. After mass we hung out to chat with some friends - it was nice, pleasant. One friend - who is wise and knows all-too-well about the grieving process - offered us some sound advice. For one, take it one day at a time. But also she recommended at the end of each day try to think back on something good that happened that day. So Jane, here's what I'm hanging my hat on for this Sunday January 15 - the Green Bay Packers lost.

Bruce Springsteen is singing in my headphones; "Hey pretty darling don't wait up for me it's going to be a long walk home..."

Sunday January 15, 2012

Erin and the 6th grade Spartans basketball team had a good day yesterday. Playing four games and then hanging out with her teammates was just what the doctor ordered to put a smile on Smiley's face.

Dan and I enjoyed seeing that - seeing her active, seeing her focused on something other than what's happened in her life the last week. Hell, how about the last nine months? Dan and I are trying to focus on the present and the future, but some times we are more successful at that than others.

Friday, I had a terrible day. Maybe it was the one week marker since Shannon's passing. Maybe it was Friday the 13th. Maybe it was that everywhere I looked in our house, there are pictures of Shannon (and Erin). I've had many people tell me that "you'll always have those happy memories", but right now when I look at images of those happy times, I just feel sad. We weren't done making those memories. I wasn't done being her mother. I think on Friday, I finally let down. All the momentum and activity surrounding the end of Shannon's life and the celebrations that took place are over now, and it's time to go on. This is the hard part...

So Saturday we headed to Albert Lea and gave Erin all of our attention. People are rooting hard for us, and the families of Erin's teammates all acknowledged our loss and were glad to have us back. A couple of Shannon's good friends were along, rooting on their little sisters. Just as Shannon would have been. I like these kids and I like to be with them, but it was hard. The anticipation of their futures - conversations about going to high school next year - made me feel envious. That's not how I want to feel. Will it get better with time? I believe it will. Will that heartache ever completely go away? I doubt it.

It's another day and another chance to take a tiny step forward. Trying hard to stay in the present and cope today and yet peek into the future and make plans in hopes of even better days ahead. We are off to St. John's this morning for mass and then to the KTTC Eagles Cancer Telethon to make a donation in Shannon's memory.

Saturday January 14, 2012

We are off for Albert Lea where the Spartan 6th graders will play 4 games today.  Wish us luck.  Can you find Ms. Erin and her french horn?

Friday January 13, 2012

It is Friday the 13th and we have a long way to go. A week ago at this very moment Shannon was struggling through her final painful moments on this earth.  Probably TMI.  But impossible to ignore.

Erin shows flashes of her old form - at basketball practice last night she was good ol' Smiley - and when we got home the three of us snacked on a frozen pizza and watched the Gophers hold on for a win at Indiana.  It was OK.  Felt right. (BTW - I caught myself caring about a sporting event...baby steps.  Sports indifference has been the rule around here for awhile. And we are pretty huge sports geeks.)  Then around 9:30 we tucked Erin in and she fell asleep without much of a fight. Until about midnight.

Just around midnight Erin came up to our room crying.  At our bedside, she told us Sunny the Wonderdog woke her with a bark and then led her into Shannon's room.  Sunny was acting funny.  So Erin was kind of freakin' about that.  When I came down, Sunny led me to the door and then went outside and pooped.  So you tell me...either the spirits were moving throughout our home...or Sunny really had to go.

Since she was a pup, Sunny has slept at the foot of me and Jen's bed - on her dog bed.  So while laying and talking with Erin it dawned on me that maybe it was time for a change.  I brought Sunny's bed down to Erin's room - plunked it in the corner and within a few minutes Sunny was curled up on it.  When Erin awoke in the morning Sunny was on her bed with her.  There is no doubt this dog knows something is different.  She carefully reads and studies our emotions and moods and reacts accordingly.  So we will see how it goes tonight. But I think Erin having her dog sleep by her would be a tremendous comfort.  We'll see if Sunny remembers.

In the middle of the night, Erin sobbed through some painful admissions about her relationship with God at this time.  When I asked if she wanted to say a little prayer she told me; "I prayed and then the tumor came back and then Shannon died!".  She was pissed off.  And I had no wisdom to offer...didn't even try.

Try listening to The Proclaimers If There's a God;

If there's a God
Why does He let
People die slowly
Racked by pain?

And if there's a God
Who blesses with children
Why does He steal
Some back again?

I don't know
Can you tell me? Oh
Can you tell me? Oh

Saturday morning we are off for a Mayo 6th grade basketball day in Albert Lea.  E's Spartans will play four games and then we are booked at the Country Inn and Suites in Albert Lea with some of the families on the team.  Erin and her buds will run around the hotel while parents visit and hang together.  Might be just what this family needs to keep us busy, distracted and laughing.  Erin always had to come on Rebel road trips.  But this one will be all about her.  I'm excited...a little anxious too.

Erin allowed us to drop her at school again this morning.  She has been taking the bus home with her pals.  Today at 1:00 she will participate in a 6th grade band concert at Willow Creek Middle School.  I'm pretty certain Erin has had the fewest rehearsal sessions of anyone in the band.  But I'm also pretty certain her french horn will not be the only instrument slightly off through Twinkle, Twinkle and Camptown Races.

Thursday January 12, 2012

We are dipping our toes back into reality. We started last night with basketball practice for Erin, or "Smiley" as her teammates call her. She was quiet on the way there, but once she was surrounded by her friends, she relaxed and maybe realized that they are carrying on and she can, too. Yet another new normal, this one the hardest of them all.

Today marks the first day back to school. While Erin is apprehensive about the attention and the "pity" as she described it, we must take these baby steps back into life. Dan is planning to travel for work next week. As for me, well, I haven't figured out what's next. I guess for now, I'm here encouraging and supporting Erin and Dan as they forge ahead. Is that enough?

We are still working through opening all the cards and gifts we received. Absolutely amazing. The funeral home directors said they've never seen anything like it. All these cards and the handwritten messages inside - especially the ones from friends and classmates of Shannon's - are bringing us to tears. All part of the process, I suppose.

Dan and I have been discussing this blog and what to do with it. We still feel we have things to say as we sort through the end of Shannon's life and the beginning of life without her, but it feels a bit narcissistic to continue writing now that she's gone. We are torn because this blog has been such a big part of our journey and such a big coping mechanism for us. It feels too soon to stop. We won't blog forever, but we are not quite finished...

Wednesday January 11, 2012

The events of the last few days can only be explained as an out-of-body experience.  The last week really since Shannon left our world.   Heck, how about the last 9 months?  A blink of an eye.  From diagnosis to death.  Went way too fast.

Participation in the ritual of ceremony - as anyone that has survived a wedding ceremony can attest - brings with it intense scrutiny.  The eyes of your world are on you and you either embrace it or it makes you sick to your stomach.  Fortunately, Jen and I were able to embrace it.

When we met with Fr. Mahon at the end of November he gave us some insight into how a funeral can go down.  We knew it was in our future.  Without telling each other Jen and I each had visualized the ceremony in our head dozens of times since April.  Fr. Mahon said that you will draw strength from the mourners around you.  He said you might even enjoy it - if that's possible.  He was right. Tim Macken from the funeral home told us the same thing.  You just find strength to carry you through.

As we entered St. John's the Evangelist church for the funeral ceremony of Shannon Anne O'Hara at 4:30pm on January 10 of 2012 the eyes of our world were on us.  We could feel them.  But we could feel the love too.  Jen and I both felt pretty darn good.  Really strong.  Erin maybe didn't embrace the attention quite as comfortably as we did.  But she did well.  She is a beauty.  A child of God.

But - damn - there were alot of eyes.  I have never seen our church so full.  Shannon would have been so embarrassed.  She never liked much attention.  Especially as she embodied a fight that turned her into a disciple of God.  Shannon and Erin never asked us to "blog about it". 

But the blog allowed us to share our journey with family and close friends without needing to be on the phone every night talking to people.  The blog allowed us to summarize the events of the day at a time when the girls were asleep or busy at school.  It allowed us to turn insomnia into a productive session on our counselors couch.  But Shannon and Erin never signed up for the blog.  Never knew what it would become.  Neither did we.  No idea that it would turn into 30,000 pageviews...in a day.  You kiddin' me?

So that's probably why there were so many sets of eyes on us.  As we joked with family, you don't get to pair down an invitation list to a funeral.  If they were touched by the life they are free to come celebrate the end of it.

Back to the out-of-body experience.  Marching in with family.  Looking over at the choir.  Making eye contact with so many friends...important people in our lives... looking you right in the eye.  Then you get used to it and just begin to absorb the ritual. My brother Mike's eulogy captured Shannon's spirit so perfectly. I'm proud to be Mike's brother.

Our St. John's community has played such a tremendous role in our journey.  I will never forget the Sunday two days after diagnosis when Erin and Shannon sobbed in each others arms (and all our friends in our section did the same), or Easter Sunday when we were asked to bring up the gifts or Sunday November 27 when our parish community raised hands over our family as Shannon was given the Catholic Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as Last Rites... I think I like Anointing of the Sick better).

St. John's is home.  We don't always agree with the politics of Catholicism.  But weighed against the sense of community we feel at our home parish it's not even close.  To Jen and I, those people are our family.  We watch over each other.  We watch our kids grow up together.

So to say they rose to the occasion is an understatement of epic proportions.  St. John's rocks.  Our friend - the Rev. Msgr. Jerry Mahon made Shannon's service so personal involving hundreds of kids in the ceremony.  Holy buckets there were alot of kids.  At least a couple hundred.  Maybe three hundred invited up on the alter.  Hockey players, golfers, basketball players, friends, just normal tweens and teens, boys and girls of all sizes and shapes that have been touched by Shannon's journey.  Fr. Mahon brought them up and talked to them about how God could take Shannon this way.  Unthinkable really that a kind God could do it.  But it happened.  And now it is up to each of them to figure out a meaning. 

The music made me cry.  Music Director Sebastian Modarelli and the choir and our friend and cantor Nora O'Sullivan and the piano and organ and the instruments...  They brought their "A" game.  Nailed it.

I still need some time to process the events of these last few days.  But just like after a great wedding party, family comes together and feels together.  They share.  They want to keep going over events and talking.  Nobody wants to board jets and head back to lives.  But today is that day.  So lots of goodbyes coming this morning.   Power up for one more session.  I don't think Erin is going to make it to school again today. 

But there's time to catch up.  For the first time ever, last night I referred to my kids as "our girl".  Singular.

Family Walk

60 or so family members took a walk around the reservoir today. Thinking about Shannon all the way around. It's 54 degrees. On January 10th. Shannon must be shining down on us already. We are off to St. John's ...

Early Tuesday January 10, 2012

I am awake and waiting for the sun. It's suppose to be a record high temp here in Minnesota today - possibly 50 degrees. One more day for family and friends to mourn, honor, and celebrate at Shannon's funeral.

Last night's visitation was an amazing event. The line of people who came to pay their respects weaved all the way out the door of the funeral home. The displays our friends designed with all of Shannon's pictures and memorabilia brought people to tears as they waited in line. Dan and I found strength we didn't know we had. Must have been from Shannon. In an odd way, it was invigorating to see these people - people from our past and present - and to hear the impact that Shannon's fight has had on them. I had been dreading standing there for hours greeting and consoling people, but as each person came, we drew comfort and strength from their words about our kid.

The hardest part for me was seeing the body. It didn't really look like Shannon. It was her - with those long eyelashes and beautiful hands and fingernails, but death takes it's toll on a person's appearance! I don't mean to be glib, but I want to remember Shannon not the way she looked last night, but the way she was: big brown eyes aglow and smiling from ear to ear.

The other most difficult thing was seeing Shannon's peers absolutely breaking down. Girls and boys sobbing at the loss of their friend. There were all kinds of kids there - the popular kids, the quiet kids, the jocks, the loners - each one trying to make sense of it all through their pain. Another testament to Shannon and the way she treated people. She didn't discriminate.

The family's final goodbye and the closing of the casket was emotional. It was all too much for Erin who sobbed the whole way home asking "why"... she is sad and mad and scared. She's endured more than a 10 year old should have to endure over these past 9 months. We got home and stood in our kitchen together, the three of us hugging, and Erin said, "This sucks." I teased her saying "You're not allowed to say that word." And she responded, "I am today!" No kidding. I hope she can find strength for one more day on this journey.

The funeral is today at 4:30 at St. John's. One more celebration and then the hard part begins...

Monday January 9, 2012

First off, happy birthday to Papa Harkins today.  Sorry, Dad.

Kids at Mayo High School and Willow Creek Middle School dressed in green in Shannon's honor today. A lotta love coming our way ...

Dan, Erin and I are ready to head to the funeral home. Ready to mourn the loss of Shannon and celebrate her life and spirit.

Sunday January 8, 2012

There were a few tears shed today, but it was a mostly good day. I think we need to get used to that - mostly good. We had our moments, though, especially this morning over coffee.

Dan awoke thinking about Shannon's best buddies. They were headed to Faribault to play basketball and Dan wanted to check in and see how they were doing. Hearing their voices - and their pain - brought tears to our eyes. They have all suffered a great loss in their lives, too. Dan did his best to encourage and console them.

I awoke thinking about milestones, those markers in time that our children reach, and the sobering reality that Shannon's journey is over. I was thinking about those same best buddies - and all of Shannon's classmates - and what it will feel like when they reach one of these milestones: next fall when they enter high school, or when they turn 16 and I see them driving around town, or when they graduate. Watching the class of 2016 graduate will be tough. Shannon will be 13 forever.

After our somber morning, things improved. Walks in the unseasonably warm January weather with Sunny helped us to clear our minds and invigorate our bodies.  A steady stream of family began arriving and those who live far away were glad to see us and hug us. 

Final preparations we did today for the upcoming services have us feeling like we are as ready as we can be for what's ahead. Another day behind us. We are holding up and holding on...

Sunday Morning

Did anyone notice the atmospheric tussle that took place over the final days of Shannon's life on this earth?

As the cancer in her brain took control the winds howled. Blew down the "We heart Shannon" Christmas sign on our deck three times. We pieced it back together with some nails and used heavy objects to keep it in place only to wake up to find it blown down again.

Thursday night, in Shannon O'Hara's final hours on this earth, the sunset created a most spectacular canopy of color to the west. And Friday morning's sunrise was breathtaking.

And since Shannon left this life on Friday morning there has been calm. The forecast through Tuesday looks fabulous. The wee hours of this morning are so bright. I just did a quick Google search to check moon phases. The first article I find explains, "As the full moon approaches, the brightness of the moon tends to grab our attention". The moon will be full Monday January 9.

And on the 7th day...actually Sunday is the 8th of January it is going to be sunny and 40 with light south winds. We have no snow on the ground. In Minnesota. January.

I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it.

And just now, the Minneapolis StarTribune is being delivered to our mailbox. Today's edition of the Sunday Strib includes Shannon's obit.

Saturday January 7, 2012

The first day of the rest of our lives has been peaceful.  There's a calmness.  Relief really.  Just not as intense with Shannon gone from the hospital bed that occupied our family room.  The hospital bed is gone too. 

Our families and friends have given us space to regroup - recharge for the busy days ahead.

Jen's BFF Teri arrived from Michigan and we are watching the Lions and Saints Wildcard game.  Erin is hunkered down in her room with BFF Emily over for a sleepover.  Erin is always happy with Emily around.  There is peace.

Since Shannon's death, O'Hara's have been congregating in subsets to share stories, tears and just be together. This will have to do until we all come together Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  But no one has felt like being alone. 

Shannon's passing was well documented in our local paper - the Rochester Post-Bulletin.  I have to tell you it is completely surreal to read your child's obituary in print.  I'm not sure how to process that.  I have only been able to look at it once.

We did manage to accomplish a few things Saturday.  Jen and Erin snuck around Apache Mall to finalize dress up clothes shopping.  I snuck around Hyvee to get us some groceries.  None of us looked to make too many contacts with outside world types.  However, we did drop in on a Rebels team pasta feed.  Had a couple drinks, shared some yucks...continuing the healing process for all.

Our friend Mike Dougherty - a PB columnist and editor - contacted us earlier this week to see if we would mind him mentioning this blog in his Saturday Digital Mike column. Jen and I spent a fair amount of energy early in Shannon's journey keeping our blog off Facebook.  But when she got really sick - around the time we were heading for St. Jude's - the blog went viral as friends and friends of friends posted and re-posted our blog link and there was no stopping the runaway train that is social media.  So the Post-Bulletin pub is not really going to make a difference.

I think we are still writing for us.  And for our families.  And for our friends that want to know how we are managing on a day-to-day basis.  The truth is we are day-to-day.

More Thoughts

January 6, 2012. Etched in our family's memory forever. Is it possible to be preparing and wishing for something and still be surprised and shocked when it happens? That's how I feel about the events of today. We wanted mercy for our dear Shannon, but still, it was a quick end to a short life.

Dan drove Erin to basketball practice last night and they took in a beautiful sunset on their way. This morning, I drove Erin to school and we saw the brightest pink sky as the sun rose. Omens, perhaps.

We cannot begin to delve into the emotions we are feeling tonight - relief, sadness, anger, grief fatigue - they are all wound together and we are not yet ready to peel away the layers. We will continue to write in the coming days and sort through our thoughts in due time.

For now, we are preparing to honor Shannon's life and celebrate her spirit. For all of you sharing this journey, plan to do the same. There will be a visitation on Monday evening from 5:00pm to 8:00pm at Macken Funeral Home's River Park Chapel. The funeral will take place Tuesday at 4:30pm at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

Chris Conte, the reporter who first met Shannon back in May, put together a tribute video for us today. He no longer works here in Rochester, but he felt a connection and has continued to follow Shannon's journey.  Today, on his own time, he made this for us.  For Shannon.  It's beautiful.

Friday January 6, 2012

Shannon O'Hara lost her 9 month battle with brain cancer today.

We announce this with tremendous sadness and relief as our little angel was suffering terribly over the last 30 days.

She died with me, Jen and Erin holding her. Sunny the wonderdog was at our feet.

Grieve without shame.

Later Thursday

Today has been a better day than yesterday - not without it's moments, but better. We have been buoyed by people and their words of kindness and support. Reminders of what a great kid Shannon is help us to carry on. We received an e-mail from a mother of one of Shannon's classmates this morning. We don't know her and she didn't really know Shannon, except through her son's words. And he spoke highly of our girl. This mother's note brought us to tears, but then it lifted us up by reminding us of Shannon's spirit.

So, we trudge on in this state of limbo. Shannon's vital signs have shown an ever so slight decline from one day to the next, and the kid hasn't eaten in 11 days, but her heart and lungs keep working. She continues to fight, even though we've said it's ok to give in. We should have known she wouldn't give in easily. This has been her pattern her whole life, why would she change now?

This is the kid who, as a two year old, bloodied her lip by banging herself against her crib rail until someone would come and pick her up. She wasn't going to bed until she was ready.

This is the kid who wouldn't give up her pacifier until we bribed her with a boom box for her room. I'm pretty sure if you're old enough to operate a boom box, you shouldn't still have a pacifier!

I think Shannon got the stubborn gene from both sides of her family tree.  But, sometimes stubbornness is an asset:

This is the kid who, when given a terminal diagnosis, wouldn't take any shortcuts. She did every school assignment, attended every sports practice, and carried on with all her responsibilities even when everyone around her was telling her it's ok to take a pass.

Which brings us to today. With barely enough strength to muster a cough, and taking in one small swab full of water at a time, Shannon worked and worked and worked to try and clear the secretions from her lungs. After all the effort she could muster and 90 long minutes of wheezing, mission accomplished. Shannon can't really communicate with us anymore, but she's still showing determination.

If only a strong will was enough. If only prayers and well wishes added up to extra good days on this earth. If only ... but it isn't so ...

Instead, another night of watching and waiting is ahead, keeping vigil at the bedside of Shannon the Cannon...

Thursday January 5, 2012

First off; big props to Ms. Erin for suiting up and showing up. She rallied today to climb out of bed in the dark and dress for school. Ate some breakfast. Took the bus at 6:47. I know kids do this everyday. But this kid is facing some extraordinary circumstances and still finding a way to face the world. On her basketball team her nickname is "Smiley". Love that kid.

Jen and I were able to get more sleep last night. Just because Shannon has slept. Pretty non-responsive again this morning. Please God let today be her day to come to heaven.

People are doing a pretty good job of giving us space. The text messages and emails slowed but that's also because people are back at work and school. I have no problem with those types of communications. I like them and they give me strength.

I have forced myself to read up on the dying experience. Shannon is following the script. Eyes now glassy, teary and slightly opened even at rest. Breathing shallow and intermittent. But here we are standing (or sitting) vigil for another day. Knowing Shannon, she is probably still negotiating terms of her next life.

I made contact with three dear friends Wednesday. All three reached out understanding where we are in this process. All three lived our hell. In different ways, each watched loved ones die. They just wanted us to know that they were feeling our pain. Misery loves company, I guess. Again, strength comes from many sources and right now we are trying to find another vein.

Wednesday January 4, 2012

Shannon is status quo today - no uptick, no downturn, so we wait ...

Just too tired and tapped out to write meaningful words here tonight, so off to bed instead.

Good night, everyone.

Tuesday January 3, 2012

The days are dragging on, and while the end is near, near is a relative term...

Shannon continues to slip away from us, but it is slow and very difficult to watch. We have now added a pain medication patch to ensure that she has an even dosing of pain meds throughout the day to try and keep her comfortable. She was much less responsive today, eyes slightly open, mouth agape. I'm not sure how much she comprehends at this point. Sorry to be so graphic, but we've been honest here before, so why stop now ...

Dan and I talked today about how hard this is. That may seem silly to say - of course it's hard to watch your child die - but I mean, the actual "doing" - doing the things that need doing so that the end goes as smoothly as possible. Providing hospice, making funeral arrangements, etc...

Dan and I laughed today, too. Laughed at the territory that we have covered in our 19 years together, 17 of them married. Man, nothing prepares you for this, but we are doing all right. One of the tasks we did today was to go through old pictures for use in a memorial service. There are some wonderful memories tied to those pictures of our kids at their various stages.

We sometimes think that Shannon's illness turned her into the person we all have admired through these last 8 months since her diagnosis. But, truth is, she was that person a long time ago. We got a nice note today from Jamie Berry, whom both of our girls had for a first grade teacher. Mrs. Berry wrote us these words today about Shannon:

"She walked into my classroom and lit up the room with her positive energy and fantastic sense of humor. Your precious baby had such an aura even as a first grader. She is truly a gift ..."

That's what I want to remember. Not the image I see before me lying in a hospital bed, but the girl that Mrs. Berry described, the girl I saw in those photographs today. Like the day she came home from that first grade classroom, smiling from ear to ear, carrying a tiny plastic treasure box because she had lost a tooth at school. I'm going to try and remember that day ahead of this one ...

Midnight January 3, 2012

My body is not interested in sleep at this time.  No doubt, there are some whacked out physiological characteristics taking hold of all of us.  My sweet Jennifer appears to be getting some good rest - she was asleep quickly after going up around 9:00.  I am sitting here watching Shannon sleep peacefully.  I know I should be taking advantage of this time and resting but it just ain't happenin' for me.

We have all sorts of literature around us about the dying experience.  Good resources.  But I just can't pull the trigger and read.  Instead I want to look at pictures.

There are bowl games on.  I should be scouting Andrew Luck.  But I just don't care.  I heard the Badgers lost.  And the Timberwolves got another win.  But I just can't care.  Michelle Bachman's campaign is on life support in Iowa.  But I just don't care.  OK, that was a joke.

Erin was able to get out of the house for a two-hour basketball practice Monday.  She came home in good spirits, exhilarated from the combo of exercise and love from her teammates on the Mayo Spartans 6th grade team.  She has tournament games each of the next three Saturday's.  So January will be a busy month for her. Tuesday morning E will get on the school bus and return to Willow Creek Middle School for the first time in over a month.  I think she is excited - a little anxious about how far behind she will be - but she's a bright child and will catch up quickly.  She also has a staff at Willow that will be watching her closely.

As for Jen and I, Tuesday we will attend to the business of planning a funeral service.  Maybe that's why I can't sleep.

Saturday, Shannon was sleeping and we were surfing around and stumbled across the NHL's Winter Classic old timer's game on TV.  Within two minutes of our recognizing what we were watching our buddy Shjon Podein scored a goal for the Flyer's alumni squad.  Tonight, as I was sitting here blogging I got a text from Shjon with the attached photo of Shannon with Podes son Junior (along with former North Stars goalie Carl Wetzl).

I'm going to miss that smile.  A lot of people will.

I keep catching good songs while I blog...I swear I don't plan this out...this morning I leave you with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Neil Young's haunting voice singing Feel Your Love:

I really want the night to end
I really want the sun to rise
I really want to feel
Want to feel your love
I want to feel your love

Monday January 2, 2012

Shannon is holding true to form - up at 5:00am ready to drink water and converse as best she can. She is still tracking and comprehending what we say and in these early morning hours, she tries to get her bearings on what will happen in the day ahead ...

Yesterday's weather here was ominous and befitting our mood - low, grey clouds and cold whipping winds made you want to curl up in the fetal position. Dan and I, feeling emotionally tapped out, were having trouble managing our anger and sadness yesterday. By last night, we had to just ask our families to give us some space and let the four of us be alone in our own home. Family, of course, obliged. They would do anything, I mean anything we asked. And that's part of the problem. There is nothing to be done. Watch and wait and hope for resolution. Sometimes having more people help you do that isn't a comfort. But, sometimes it is. Sometimes you just need to be alone with your thoughts. And sometimes you need support. It is a roller coaster ride that is keeping everyone around us on their toes.

While these days are lingering now, I'm trying to have faith that in the future, this will be just one tiny piece of our journey. It is all consuming at the moment, but it will pass. We need to stay strong and believe that we can get through this stage, just like we have so many others.

Today brings us to the end of winter break. Tomorrow normal daily life should begin again. Dan has some work to do. Erin has to go to school. It's time to carry on as best we can, all while still keeping Shannon as safe and warm and as comfortable as she can be. I'm not sure how Dan or Erin will concentrate on the tasks at hand, but they have to try.

I'm hoping for a better day today. I'm pretending I don't hear that cold wind outside the window ...

January 1, 2012

Norah Jones is providing accompaniment on a somber New Years Day.  The Shannon O'Hara Victory Tour is drawing to a close.  Most everyone that needed to hold her, hold us has been through.  We're not feeling too social anymore.

Shannon still reflexively asks for "water" but there's no way she knows what she wants.  She was able to get out the word "bored" early Sunday morning.  Now with midday approaching she is back to sleep.  Thank God.  Her ability to swallow is more limited than ever.  She managed to communicate to my sister Molly that the feeling of hunger never goes away.  Hungry and bored.  Can that suck anymore?

We need to find a way to capture the ground swell of Shannon support and keep it going and channeled into something sustainable.  Something productive for all of us to feel like we fought a good fight and will carry on fighting.  I suppose this is what all families that lose a loved one to cancer go through.  So I guess that is my New Year's resolution.

Earlier this week...Thursday I believe...Shannon was asking what day it a was and asked about "football?"  Today, the NFL regular season draws to close and I'm not sure our little angel knows the difference.

Norah Jones is crooning What am I to You?

When you are feeling low
To whom else do you go?
See I cry if you hurt
I'd give you my last shirt
Because I love you so

Not much more to say folks.  Prayers for strength and mercy.