Wednesday March 28, 2012

I wish that there was a predictable pattern to grief. It is hard to accept that one day I might feel fine, maybe even consider myself happy on that day, and then the next day I can barely think straight and feel such sadness that it physically hurts. We expect "recovery" and "healing" to follow an upwardly linear pattern, but grief refuses to do so. It's quite a ride, to say the least ...

Another week is flying by and if Erin can make it through one more day, her spring break will commence. That's one of those markers in the school year - three quarters down, one to go. The beginning of our break will bring Grandma and Papa Harkins to town so they can be a part of the Bassmasters St. Jude fundraiser on Saturday.

Erin and her schedule continue to pull us forward and keep us moving. It is rewarding to see her blossom and grow and she's becoming quite a bit more social. She must be texting more often because the speed at which she types seems to be increasing each day!

We are learning to take whatever comes our way - whatever feelings, whatever memories - and accept them. The people around us - family and friends - are also accepting this roller coaster. As we work through our grief, we have carte blanche to feel however we feel. In a way, that's liberating. It's ok for us to be happy and it's ok for us to be sad.

We've referenced our daily meditation book that we read a passage from each morning. The author, Martha Whitmore Hickman, offered this thought:

"Nowhere more than here is it important to be patient with ourselves, not let ourselves be weighed down by the discouragements of yesterday. Each day is a new day, a fresh beginning. "

Grieving or not, those are words to live by ...

Sunday Night March 25, 2012

To the many amazing kids that took the time to author letters to us - I just want to say THANK YOU.

Tonight I sat down to read my Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview - instead I began paging through the three ring binders presented to us with hundreds of letters from students from Willow Creek Middle School.  We also have a book of letters from Shannon's Rebel teammates that I have been reading.

I think I had put my grieving on hold.  But after scanning through a couple of the letters that tremendous burden of grief and loss is back.  And I thank you for letting me feel this way again.  Because without Shannon I am not OK.  I will never be the same.

Sometimes it's easy to fall back into fall back into the same attitudes and behaviors I swore off...

But then I read the words and messages from the classmates;
  • "Shannon I am so fortunate to have met you and be your best friend.  You always treated me with respect and kindness.  You have touched my life in so many ways."
  • "When you were first diagnosed you said you were going to beat it.  I just wanna say you did good Shannon.  You did good.  I'm gonna miss you".
  • "You could flip my day from bad to amazing with only a couple words.  When I think of you I think of you as my hero.  You were the strongest person I ever met and will probably ever meet".
The words from the Rebels follow the same theme;
  • "When I think or see the number 9, I think of Shannon.  When I see lime green I think of Shannon.  Also when I hear the song "Don't Stop Believin'" I think of Shannon.  I think of Shannon and how she never stopped believing".
  • "I think about you so often.  Like every night and every time we drive down that big hill, I look down the road that your house is on.  I wonder what it would be like if you were still here, like if we would've gone to Regionals or farther.  But I also think your passing has brought so many people together especially your Rebel team.  Thank you so much for being such a great friend to me and I hope to see you soon.!"
So thank you for helping me muster up some tears tonight.  I have been avoiding them. When I am forced to reflect back to what we had and what we have lost - well the tears are not far from the surface.  Your words are a gift we will treasure forever and ever.

Saturday March 24, 2012

Our unseasonably warm temps mixed with some rain this week and that has turned things green seemingly overnight. Our lawn is growing like crazy, but I refuse to mow the grass while the calendar still says March! Now, I'm not complaining - the early spring weather has given us the ability to get outside often and feel the sun on our faces. If ever there was a year we needed that, this is it.

Dan and I find ourselves looking at each other as if to check and say, "We're doing pretty well, aren't we?" Dan admits that he wakes up every day and thinks about Shannon, but why wouldn't he? Maybe it's the universe's way of reminding us to get up and live. Thinking of Shannon reminds us that is what she would want us to do.

So, we are living.

Erin spent last night doing what it seems every teen/tween in the country was doing: going to see the movie Hunger Games. She left with a purse full of candy and a blanket she planned to use to cover her eyes when necessary. She came home saying it was the best movie she's ever seen. After seeing some violent and scary images, we asked her if she wanted to sleep with one of us, but she said, "No, I'm fine. I'm just going to sleep on the couch with a little light on." Feeling pretty secure I would say...

Dan finished one busy work week and another one is ahead. Hopefully he can have a relaxing weekend here in between. No doubt he's working hard partly as a coping mechanism to keep his mind busy, but also because he is the breadwinner for our family and that's not a job he takes lightly. Hard work produces results and results produce income! We try to remain grateful for that.

I had an interesting week as I explored what might be next for me. A meeting with a publishing company initiated talk of how to take this blog and possibly make it into a book. Exciting and scary to think about and, truth be told, a little bit out of my comfort zone. But a friend reminded me that you have to press forward and try things you've never tried before in order to grow.

Some days are still better than others, but we continue to try and forge ahead, each of us, in our own way. While we will never move on, we can move forward ...

Wednesday March 21, 2012

Since my last angst ridden post, we've had a couple of really good days. It appears that Erin has carte blanche to plan things she'd like to do, and she's got quite a list: volleyball and piano have been on the schedule this week, so has her weekly ice cream date with her high school buddy, Ariana. Tomorrow, there are plans to watch some NCAA hoops over dinner with friends and then Erin is going to see The Hunger Games movie with buddy Emily on Friday. Phew! Not much time to sit around and wallow with that schedule. Basically anything Erin wants to do can be done. There's always someone wanting to make it happen for her, whatever it is... it's good to have good people in your life.

I've got good people, too. The friends who keep dragging me out on the tennis court to play each week. It's always fun once I get there. I've got those family and friends who continue to call and text and write and check in. I've come to realize that I am much more comfortable giving love and support than receiving it. I think I needed to come to terms with the fact that there is no need to keep score - I will never be able to repay all the kindness I've received. I just need to let go and accept it as I navigate my new world.

I've been struck by how quickly time seems to be passing all of a sudden. Maybe it's the fast approaching dates on the calendar that I know will trigger some memories. Golf practice started for the Mayo Spartan girls this week. I can picture Shannon in all her excitement last year as she attended those first couple weeks of practice, blissfully unaware that things wouldn't go as she had planned.

As I wrote the other day, trying to plan spring break really threw me for a loop. (As an aside, Dan stepped up, forced my hand, and we did make a plan - the three of us will have a nice little getaway sitting on a beach by the ocean in south FL for a few days.) It's understandable that I felt so ambivalent about planning it, but it's not just about going on a trip without Shannon, it's also marking the anniversary of that spring break trip last year when we were blissfully unaware of what was to come just a short time later.

Blissfully unaware - there's no better phrase to describe it. There are just a few more weeks to mark the anniversary of that time, the time before diagnosis. Then we will reach the anniversary of the time when we became very aware, acutely aware of what we had. And what we could lose ...

Monday March 19, 2012

A quick shout out to Sunny the Wonderdog who turned 6 today. That means in dog years, she and I are now the same age.

I couldn't sleep last night and it feels like I can barely breathe today - reminders of Shannon seem to be all around me. While raking the yard, I hear Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl and I'm a puddle. While trying to plan a spring break trip, I can't make a decision partly because I can't imagine going on a trip like that without her. Then the e-mail comes reminding us its time to pick our family's week at the cabin... Uff da ...

Dan has been swamped with work and too busy to let his mind go there too often. So, while I've been the weepy one stuck in slow motion, he's the one keeping it moving and keeping it together.  (You gotta know that's killing me... :)

One more anecdote I wanted to share from our weekend of sports viewing. Shannon and the Rebels went to a Gopher women's hockey game back in November and had a chance to meet a few of the players. One Gopher, Katie Frischmann, is from Rochester and kept up on Shannon's journey. After Shannon's passing, we got a card in the mail with a wonderful condolence note and a photo from Katie and her teammate Megan Bozek letting us know that they were putting Shannon's name on their sticks to honor her for the rest of their season.

Well, that very Gopher women's hockey team just won the National Championship yesterday with a victory over arch rival and #1 ranked Wisconsin. I sent Katie a quick note of congrats and received this response:

"On behalf of Megan and I, I want to thank you. We have had Shannon's name on our sticks through the remainder of the season, rewriting it when we got a new stick. It was a nice daily reminder to love every day and to be grateful for the opportunity we've been given. I know Shannon was watching us win that Championship today, and I hope we made her proud..."

No wonder I'm a blubbering idiot these past couple of days ... like a pebble in the ocean, the ripple effects are still surfacing...

St. Paddy's Weekend, 2012

I am crediting the freakish meteorological conditions to the Irish spirit of Shannon O'Hara.  We smashed the record high for St. Patrick's day in Rochester by 15 degrees - it was 81 Saturday.  Sunday was also warm and windy so I honored Shannon's spirit by playing 36 holes.

 As Erin noted, we had an extremely social weekend with visits from friends and family - fun in the sun with lots of activity.  Lots of golf.  Lots of grilling.  Lots of laughs.  I would have to say, our best weekend as a family of three.

We received extra attention because of the Irish holiday - people recognizing that this might be another tough "first".  They were right.

But here was the part that kind of got to me;   there was so much good sports action on TV and she would've been sidled up next to us enjoying NCAA hoops, WCHA Final 5, PGA Tour...whatever was on Shannon would've loved.  (Jen and I chuckled Friday - Shannon would've have been really mad at Gopher hockey.  North Dakota was not her favorite college hockey team.).  I miss her so much.

So even when we are feeling good about our progress there is a tinge of guilt about feeling that way.  And how can we keep writing about Shannon when Erin is alive and well right here in the flesh?

For me, there is a fine line between honoring Shannon's spirit and moving on.  Here's what I come back to every time I find myself feeling good about something - Shannon would want us to to move on.  She would wants us to have fun and laugh and make this life all about Erin.  She would want us to play golf and go on vacation and enjoy life just as we did with her.

So that's what I feel today.  This has been a really good day - I'm feeling good about that.

Friday March 16, 2012

"How are you doing?" If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that ...

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Some people just say it in passing, but a lot of people genuinely want to know. My problem with the question is, I don't have a good answer. It's an innocuous, common greeting that leaves me perplexed. I guess my answer is too complicated ...

Most of the time, I could say "We're mostly doing pretty well, but ..." There's always a but. We get up every day and try to forge ahead, doing what needs doing. But, I think of Shannon every day. And that means if you catch me at the right moment, then my honest answer would have to be "I'm struggling right now because my heart just aches, but ... I can get through this moment of sadness and carry on." That's way too much info to share in passing with someone. So I usually just say "We're doing ok, thanks." It's just easier ...

This week we received cards and e-mails from people who wanted us to know that they are still thinking about us - and about Shannon. The most touching one was a hand written note on half a piece of notebook paper from an 8th grade boy. He just wanted to let us know that something happened this week at school and it reminded him of Shannon and that made him happy to remember her that way. Wow. So kind and thoughtful of him to do that.

There's a certain duty we are feeling to carry on in Shannon's spirit - be a good example and hold our heads high, acknowledging those around us. Some days that's a tall task, but when we do that, we are reminded of the good in the world. It's out there if our minds and our hearts are open. Wasting our time living any other way seems foolish...

Tuesday March 13, 2012

You know that first perfect day of spring?  The one where everyone in the neighborhood is out and about.  Grills are smoking all through the neighborhood.  That was today all across the frozen prairie.  Just shy of 70 degrees, sunny, no wind and no clouds.

I remember making bad choices on these kinds of days in college.  Dang, that was great.

25 years later I am making more responsible choices but these kinds of days still trigger all sorts of happy memories.  For many reasons, we choose to live in the north - for me - this is where my family is.  This is what I know.  There are some brutal days to endure in the winter.  Almost fascinating that nature can be so harsh.

But when spring has sprung it is as though we find another gear.  Hope springs eternal.  The only thing missing is one Shannon Anne O'Hara.

Time to put burgers and brats on the grill for three.  So grateful for what I have.  What I have had in this life.  Grateful that another cruel winter is history.

Sunday March 11, 2012

A weekend with little agenda served us well. Dan returned to a couple of old hobbies, and Erin spent some time practicing a new one.

Golf season is on Dan's mind and the spring-like temps meant it was time to get the golf cart out and ready for action. The excitement of hitting some golf shots was tempered a bit by what Dan found on the cart: the last person to use the cart was Shannon and there, on the steering wheel, was her scorecard in her handwriting: Shannon 6, 4, 5, 7 ... She was out there practicing, by herself, trying to get better. And her golf bag, just as she left it - her glove, her ball, and her tee tucked in the side pocket. As if to say, "until next time ..." Gut shot. But, Dan and I are both hoping to find some joy in playing golf this year. It's something we like to do and we like to do it together. Last summer was such a blur and focusing was a challenge. Maybe this year ...

Erin's new pursuit - volleyball - required a quick trip to the sporting goods store. Believe it or not, there was a type of ball that we did not yet own. So, with a new volleyball in tow and warm temps, we spent some time with Erin in the driveway practicing our bumping, setting and serving. After only two practices, Erin thinks she is the expert, and she felt completely confident to tell her dad that he was doing it all wrong...

As for Dan's second hobby, I selfishly am glad that Dan felt like cooking this weekend. Dan has always loved to cook. From our early days of courtship, he would make a meal plan and create some magic. Just another sign that we were meant to be together since I can't cook a lick! Over the course of the last year, partly due to living life in fast forward and partly due to stress and lack of motivation, Dan hasn't felt as much like cooking. But this weekend, he said to me "I'm excited to cook something." So, I'm taking this as a sign of progress, a sign of healing. The menu was fabulous: Saturday we had rib eye steaks, scallops on orzo, and asparagus and tonight, he grilled chicken and made parsley new potatoes and green beans. He's still got the touch...

We continued to try and put ourselves out there this weekend as well - a basketball game at the Civic Arena, a tennis event at the RAC, and mass at St. John's - and we are still seeing people for the "first time". Dan and I discussed how it's hard when people want to tell you how sorry they are or give us "the look", but then we're angry if people don't acknowledge our loss. Damn, we are hard to please. We're a work in progress, for sure. But, we will keep on trying. Each day. Persevere.

March 9th / Scholarship Fund Update

The people in my house are happy it's Friday. A long week of travels for Dan and a busy week of activity for Erin are coming to a close. I've been fighting a doozie of a head cold that's kept my eyes watering and my nose running, but at least it's made my voice sound really sexy! We don't have a lot on our agenda for the weekend, which is just fine with all of us.

It's seems silly that just a couple of weeks ago I was worried that Erin and I would have too much idle time on our hands once basketball season ended. Ha! This week she started a new sport with two volleyball practices, resumed piano lessons for the first time in 5 months, had a friend over to hang out one afternoon, and did her water girl duty at the last home game for the Mayo boys basketball team. Erin has kept us busy and busy is good.

She is really liking volleyball, but what's not to like: time spent with your buddies and a cool coach who makes it fun, so she wants to stick with it for this spring season. Of course, a new sport requires some new gear, so we will be shopping this weekend! Glad to do it - I'd buy that kid the world if I could...

I find myself thinking about this shift in priorities for Erin. She was always our child who wanted down time and just needed to chill out at home. As we've said before, she's finding less satisfaction in that because it's less fun doing it all alone. But, I think there's something else. I think she learned from Shannon that making connections with others makes the world a happier place. Spending time with good friends makes for good fun. Erin has had to grow up so quickly and navigate a path that no one wants to travel. But, seeing her laugh and smile at volleyball practice or confidently make her way around the Mayo gymnasium during the boys basketball game gives me hope that she's got the chops to survive this.

That leads me to thinking about myself and my own path. I, too, learned something from Shannon about sharing yourself with the world. I never would have believed that my circle of friends and acquaintances would expand the way it has. A definite silver lining to this tragedy. It took me almost 43 years to learn that if you look for the good in people and are open to sharing yourself with others, friendship and love can come your way. My 13 year old taught me that. What a gift ...

Speaking of that 13 year old, here's the long promised information on how to donate to the scholarship fund in her memory. I have also added it to the sidebar on this blog, so you can access it any time.

Checks can be made payable to:

Fidelity Charitable Account #1045621
Note in the memo area: Shannon O'Hara Scholarship Fund

Mail your donation to:

Fidelity Charitable
P.O. Box 770001
Cincinnati, OH 45277-0053

You will then receive a confirmation from Fidelity of your tax deductible donation. If you have questions or are looking to donate by transferring funds or stocks or bonds, you can call 1-800-262-6039 to inquire about other donation methods.

This feels really good to get this up and running. Shannon didn't get the chance to pursue her dreams, but if we can help others do it in her memory, that feels right. We are well on our way to handing out those first scholarships in the spring of 2013. Thank you to those of you who want to help with that goal. We will do good things in honor of Shannon the Cannon.

The 6th

It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day here today and that gave way to a bright, almost full moon tonight. Little hints from the universe that we are just tiny players in the big picture.

On this two month marker since Shannon's passing, I found myself feeling pretty good about the ground we've covered. A dear friend sent me a note today that reminded me that on this day, while we think about Shannon, we should also recognize that the three of us are functioning quite well. We are coping. So far, we are making it.

Erin continues to go to school, hang with her friends, and sees her psychologist to help her work through the tough stuff. Erin showed some confidence in herself by trying a new activity this week - she went to her first ever volleyball practice on Monday. She loved it and she's going back tomorrow. All her basketball buddies are volleyball players, and Erin wants to stay busy and stay in the loop with her peeps. So she will give volleyball a try and see where it goes...

Dan continues to travel and stay busy with work. This week he's in Michigan, which is a new territory for him. He is out there doing it, even though being away from home isn't ideal, and making small talk with customers sometimes leads to uncomfortable conversations, like the one he had today. Imagine: potential customer, trying to get to know sales rep guy, asks benign question "How many kids do you have?" I'm not sure we will ever again know the correct answer to that question...

I continue to manage things around the house and I am starting to think about what's next for me. I sent my first inquiry into the publishing world this week, wondering if this 12 month long blog could potentially be something more...

So, we made it through another 6th of the month. We didn't do it alone. Our dear friends and families are there for us, checking in, and encouraging us. While the loss of Shannon can still bring me to tears without warning, I am finding more joy, more happiness in the memories of her. And we find we are happiest when we are with people who are comfortable hearing Shannon's name. Maybe it's all a part of grieving - realizing that we don't want to forget, but that we want to remember...

Sunday March 4, 2012

Couple quick updates;

Shannon O'Hara Scholarship Fund - Is processing at Fidelity Charitable.  We will have details on account numbers, funding methods and tax implications coming up.  We hope to make a presentation to the RYHA board later this month.  The goal is to fund raise through 2012 and issue our first scholarships in Shannon's name in 2013.

7th Annual Spring Fundraiser Banquet Honoring Shannon O'Hara - This event to raise money for St. Jude's is March 31 at the Rochester International Event Center.  Tickets are available from a bunch of folks around town - (know anyone in Zumbro Valley Bassmasters?) - Dick Dorman is my contact at (507) 867-4079.  They are capping it at 450.  Dick tells me they are close.  So hurry up if you plan to attend.  We are excited to share Shannon's story.  It's a good one.
We wrapped up the basketball season as Erin's team went 1-and-2 at the State Grade Level Tournament in Prior Lake.  The Spartan 6th grade and 8th grade teams became a great source of strength and distraction for all three of us as we plowed through a winter that we will never forget.

Coach Olson's 8th graders - many of them Shannon's friends from Willow Creek Middle School - practiced with and after Smiley's 6th grade squad every week through the season.  So many of them seem to have adopted Erin as their own little sister.  Our teams shared a hotel and shared a party room potluck and shared a Bruegger's bagel session Sunday morning.  It just felt right to be part of something - part of a family.  Count Mayo Spartans girls basketball families among the "healers" for Team O'Hara.  All we can say is thank you.  We love you.

Getting better a day at a time.  Before heading back to Rochester Sunday, Erin, Jen and I shopped at Ikea for stuff for Erin's room and laughed frequently.  We are settling into a rhythm that is our family of three - plus Sunny.  Two months without Shannon in our lives.  We still look at each other some days and say; "did this really happen?"  Yepper.

John Mayer's Dreaming with a Broken Heart is in my head as I head for bed...

When you're dreaming with a broken heart
the waking up is the hardest part

Friday March 2, 2012

Another weekend is upon us and this one will bring the basketball season to a close. The 6th grade Spartans will play in the grade level State Basketball Tournament up in Prior Lake. Erin is heading to the cities this afternoon with the Olson mafia, as we affectionately refer to them: Tom and Brooke and their own three kids - Anna, Hallie, and Siri, along with cousin Lexie. Why not throw in an O'Hara for good measure! Should be entertaining. Dan is not looking to spend extra nights in hotels, so we are lucky that the Olsons are willing to let Smiley tag along so she doesn't miss out on any of the fun. Dan and I will join them in the morning in time for the first game and then stay tomorrow night with the whole team.

Erin has had a good couple of days. Always nice to have something fun to look forward to and Dan returning home from his travels last night also brightened her spirit. He brings the energy and fun around here. Erin may tease her dad about liking it when he's away, but truth be told, she's happy when he returns.

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, we've talked a lot with Erin about the things we can control and the things we can't. We couldn't stop the tumor and we can't bring Shannon back. Those things were beyond our control. And that brings us sadness and grief. We still catch ourselves at some point each day thinking, "I can't believe that Shannon is gone." Sometimes that makes us cry, and sometimes that makes us mad. Depends on the day, depends on the moment, actually...

But, the three of us are still here and we are going on living and it is possible to to carry on and to find bits of joy and happiness amidst the pain. This weekend will be fun and we are all looking forward to it. I read a quote recently from Helen Keller that said "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming it." That is our job, that is our goal. To keep on keepin' on ... even if some days we have to fake it to make it ...