Sunday April 29, 2012

A little bit of Shannon O'Hara was returned to the earth today.  We sprinkled some ashes into the ground as we planted a new tree in the front yard.  It's a snowdrift crabapple given to us in memory of Shannon.  A beautiful reminder we will watch grow.

Soccer games, thankfully, were cancelled on Saturday - sleet and 35 degrees doesn't make for ideal playing conditions!  So, we filled our day with family.  Grandma and Grandpa O'Hara were here for a visit and enjoyed checking out our new family room set up.  Papa O might have even snuck in a little nap.

We filled the rest of our weekend with friends - a birthday party for Erin, a little golf for Dan, a reservoir walk for me, and brunch at the Shives for all of us.  Good times, good fun.

We continue to heal, for sure.  We try find joy and happiness when we can.  Still learning to accept that it's o.k. for us to be happy and its o.k. for us to be sad.  Always.

We still think about her every day.

Friday April 27, 2012

Erin has rebounded nicely and the allergic reaction - or virus - has run it's course.  We don't know what caused it, but we're glad it's over.  She returned to school yesterday and was able to play in the 6th grade Willow Creek spring band concert last night.  It is fun to see Erin with her classmates during and after the concert.  These girls that are her friends lift her up and make her happy.  We will take all of that we can get.

It's going to be a low key weekend for us, which is just fine.  Last night we looked at the whiteboard calendar on the wall and realized that tonight is the only night in the whole month where we didn't have an activity of some sort planned!  So, after a long week of travel for Dan and a tough week on Erin physically, we'll take a night of quiet.

Tomorrow the Thunderbolts have team pictures and our second soccer game of the season.  The forecast is for 40 degrees and rainy.  Bring it on ...

Tuesday April 24, 2012

I think I jinxed Erin today.  While walking with my friend Kula this morning, we chatted about our kids, as we always do.  One of the topics of conversation today was trips to the ER.  I bragged that Erin only went there once as a toddler when we thought she might have broken her foot.  Once until today.

Erin had an allergic reaction this morning, so she called from school, and by the time I got there, the hives were all over her torso, neck, and face.  A quick call to Family Med had them directing us to the ER to get her checked out.  Vitals were fine, and we are hoping that Benadryl and Zyrtec will alleviate the itching and that the hives will disappear in the next 24 hours, although they are still very present tonight.

It could be viral, but if it is an allergy, we probably won't know the cause unless it happens again.  One of the doctors joked that maybe Erin is allergic to school and Erin said she would gladly take that diagnosis!  In all seriousness, we're hoping it runs it's course quickly, but if not, we will investigate further.  The ER attending did mention that persistent hives are sometimes treated with steroids.  Erin looked at me as if the doc had said a four letter word and then chimed in: "I do not want to take steroids." We've all got some scar tissue...

We continue to carry on and live life, but in an effort to keep it real, we need to admit that some days we just kind of suck at it.  Erin has been struggling with "living up" to the standard that Shannon set.  This makes for a difficult parenting dilemma, because any time we ask or expect something and she feels like she falls short, Erin immediately equates it with failure to live up to the Shannon Standard, for lack of a better term.

Now, first of all, rarely does Erin not meet our expectations.  But, we do expect her to be considerate of us and, well, eat some fruits and vegetables.  Not too much to ask, but some days, that's enough to set her off.  On top of everything else she's been through, she's a hormonal tween, and her emotions can surface quickly.  There is no doubt that she feels more pressure than ever.  She told Dan and I that it's really hard because she is the only one we need to pay attention to now, and that's too much attention!

I think that my work on the book is also creating some confusing emotions for Miss E.  On some level, it feels like it is just more stuff about Shannon, although it's really about all of us.  We did share a funny moment last week, talking about when Shannon and Erin were younger and remembering that Shannon wasn't always kind to her little sister.  I had been going back through things that I have saved, and came across the journal that Shannon's second grade teacher, Mrs. Raasch, had them keep:

We had a good chuckle over Shannon's description of "lightly pushing" her sister, and that being able to make Erin mad actually made Shannon feel happy.  It was good to laugh with Erin about it and remind her that Shannon made mistakes, too.

So, we continue to try and counsel and console Erin, while still expecting her to forge ahead and do good things - not because Shannon would have done that, but because it's the right thing to do.  That's the cold, hard reality of day to day living.  Be the best you can be, and remember, nobody's perfect.  We've got written proof of that ...

Monday April 23, 2012

My training for the Med-City Half Marathon continues.  On days like today my running time gives me a chance to put on my music, burn off some anxiety, reflect and reset. Today I sorely needed the training and the reset.

Saturday, Jen and I saw Eric Hutchinson at First Ave - so today I listened to his new record as I pounded out a run over the lunch hour.  The show was great.  E Hutch is a super-talented performer;  great vocal range, mad instrumental skill and fully engaged with his audience.  The dancing comes easy.

I recommend a listen to a song off his new record Moving Up Living Down - Best Days;

I get myself up every day
To fight this woe is me demeanor
If things had gone another way
Now would my grass be any greener
And as I’m struggling on my own
I have to think I'm not alone

Give and take, we catch our breaks
We all learn to survive
But don’t look now, say don’t look now
Cause here we are
Living the best days of our lives

You fake it until you make it, right?  Obviously, these are not some of the best days of our lives but we can still dance!

Metaphorically, these lyrics represent the choices each of us make each day to "suit up and show up".  It's all pretty good out there.  If I can keep my "woe-is-me demeanor" from cropping up I seem to be able to handle this recovery from Shannon pretty well.

We are still experiencing growing pains as a family of three but if we remain grateful for what we still have we will be OK.

Saturday April 21, 2012

It's been a busy Saturday already with a soccer game and several volleyball matches under our belt.

Our soccer team looked really good this morning. Obviously, they are well coached. Lots of smiles for the Thunderbolts as they passed and scored and laughed their way to a 7-1 victory. Then is was a quick change of attire for Smiley and off to the Med City volleyball tournament for some action.

Now Erin is in the capable hands of the Langs for the night as Dan and I have made our way to Minneapolis for dinner and a rock show - we're here to see Eric Hutchinson perform tonight at First Avenue. It's been a long and emotional week for us, and we are looking forward to getting lost in a little live music...

Wednesday April 18, 2012

After a couple of days of recovery, I am starting to feel human again. I managed to shower and drive a car to pick up Erin from volleyball today. It's the little things ...

I am relieved to be done with the procedure and to know that it's nothing to worry about. It is hard to hear a doctor say, "It's most likely nothing, but we need to check it out ..." Those words will never again be reassuring to us...

The other difficult part is understanding that I could have a cyst the size of a grapefruit along with a couple of reproductive organs taken out through three small incisions and be home hours later. Shannon had a tumor the size of a shooter marble and there was little that could be done. Now I know that's comparing apples and oranges, and the abdomen is different than the brain stem. But there's a part of me that wants to make sense of that. Modern medicine is amazing, but it couldn't save Shannon...

As I look at the date on this entry I am reminded that we posted our first blog entry a year ago on April 18. It was originally an e-mail to family explaining what was ahead as we started Shannon's treatment. As I've been doing some work on putting material together for the book, I've been going back and reading the blog. It's full of optimism and energy and fear. It's hard not to feel like we were a little naive. But, that naivety served us well. We really did want to fight the good fight and enjoy the time we had. If that meant we had to be foolishly optimistic, well, so be it. We didn't know what we didn't know ...

Reaching the point on the calendar where it all began a year ago has been emotional. These are the days a year ago when we learned that the world doesn't always make sense. What happens to us isn't always a result of our actions. Life is arbitrary.

But not all the memories are bad. This is the time a year ago when we began relating to people, to the world in a different way. We quit sweating the small stuff. Our relationships deepened because we needed them to. We learned that people will be there to help you if you let them. We learned that life can be both painful and beautiful at the same time.

All is well ...

Just a quick note to say today's procedure went smoothly and I am home and resting as comfortably as can be expected. Pathology report showed that the cyst was benign.

Thanks for the notes and well wishes. Give me a few days and I'll be up and at 'em again...

Sunday April 15, 2012

On Friday April 15, 2011 we were given news that changed us - and many people in our lives - forever.  365 days later I can still recall in vivid detail the look on Dr. Kotagal's face as he came in to deliver the news.  He asked Shannon to leave the room and I collapsed on Jen's back.

 I remember the snowflakes blowing across the window of the exam room on Mayo 16.  I remember the quiet ride home and the phone calls we had to make.  All the phone calls.  365 days ago.  The first time I had ever heard the words brainstem glioma used together.

So here we are.  Changed forever.  Changed for the better as people.  Not better without Shannon in our lives.  But, we go on.  And we are doing pretty dang well...most days. Sunday, we were just a little distracted by the memory of that chilling April day.

We are also a little distracted by a surgical procedure Jennifer will undergo Monday to have an ovarian cyst removed.  It will knock her out for a few days.  Her doctors are confident she will recover well.  We have been unsettled all weekend.  Jen is our team captain.  Anytime your captain under goes surgery...

Still we did our best to enjoy Erin's first ever volleyball tournament as her South Side Juniors took to the courts at Minnesota State Mankato.  We did our best to let our competitive juices distract.  Erin loved it.  She is getting better with every point and I think volleyball has a chance to be her sport of choice.  We shall see.  Erin chose her uniform and took her sister's favorite #9...

Checking off another milestone.  365 days since we were changed forever.  Damn, that happened fast.

Friday April 13, 2012

The birthday sleepover extravaganza is in full swing.  Here's the cupcake gang: Emily, Erin, Katie, Gretchen, Lexie, and Hallie. Frosting and smiles are everywhere!

Thursday April 12, 2012

Another week is flying by. In some ways it's the last week before the calendar turns over for us - the calendar that starts with the day our lives changed forever: diagnosis day, April 15th...

But today is a good day. The sun is shining and soccer practice will be a little more pleasant tonight. I spent my day meeting with book publishers in the Twin Cities. My head is spinning a bit and there are too many details to share right now, but the gist of it is, I believe I'm going to get the chance to tell Shannon's story - our story - by writing a book. I've got a lot to learn and I feel like I'm over my skis a bit, but I'm also confident I'm working with a group of people who who can help me. It's exciting and scary as hell. I hope I can do it justice...

So, getting this project going has been occupying my thoughts. So much so that I haven't done any preparations for the birthday sleepover we are hosting tomorrow night. (It shouldn't be called a birth day, it's more like we have been celebrating for the whole birth week!) I will need to be very productive tomorrow morning to get ready ... Erin has 5 pals coming over to make homemade pizzas and then have a cupcake decorating contest. Erin's favorite shows are Cake Boss, Cupcake Wars, Sweet Genius, etc. so that's the inspiration. Dan is threatening to play the role of the mean judge... It should be entertaining!

Friday, April 13th tomorrow... oh, my ...

April 10 - E.I.O. turns 11

It was a good day for Miss E on this, her 11th birthday. Lots of messages via Facebook, text, and phone helped her feel the love. Thanks to her friend Emily, everyone at Willow Creek Middle School knew it was her birthday. Emily walked around all day carrying a sign that said "Wish Erin O'Hara a Happy Birthday!" Gotta love that friend who wants to embarrass you a little bit ...

After school it was breakfast dinner - pancakes and bacon - to fuel us up for the spring's first soccer practice. If it's cold and windy, it must be time for soccer! Coach Bart, Coach Dan, and Coach Jen are ready for another season of shaping young minds...

The best part of the day was the surprise cake and ice cream gathering. Godparents Uncle Tim and Aunt Suzi, along with cousin Maggie made yet another trip down Highway 52 to celebrate. That's a big effort on a weeknight and so very thoughtful. Uncle Mike and Aunt Connie came as well as our good buddies the Shives and the Olsons. Erin didn't know any of them were coming, so it was a fun surprise that all of a sudden, there were 16 of us to sing happy birthday to her! After everyone left, Erin gave Dan and I big hugs and a heartfelt "Thanks, you guys." She was surrounded by people who care so deeply for her and she appreciated it. So did we.

Of course, the day couldn't pass without thoughts of the one who wasn't here. This morning over breakfast we recounted the story of the day Erin was born. Big sister came to the hospital with Grandma and Papa and told everyone that she wanted to hold "my baby". We've got a picture to prove that's exactly what Shannon did.

For Erin's birthday, we bought her a TV for her room - something we never would have done before, but, oh well, the rules of engagement have changed. Anyway, the TV has a built in DVD player for movie watching, so as I was setting it up this morning, I went to get a DVD to try it out, and when I saw the home videos lying there, I couldn't help myself. I fast forwarded to video of Erin's second birthday. There was little E, happy as could be, following orders from her big sister on how to open presents. Classic Shannon. And classic Erin.

Those home videos show that E was a patient little sister who allowed Shannon to lead. Now, E is a precious only child, finding her own way.

Happy birthday to my kid, Erin Irene.


The best laid plans ... today our emotional state derailed us. We just couldn't do what we intended to do. We made it to church as planned, but that was harder than we anticipated. Easter. Celebrating life. Families together. People watching us. Dan and I were both fighting back tears. So as we headed up highway 52, intending to join the O'Hara gathering at Bridgid's house, we admitted to each other that we didn't have it in us. We just were not up to socializing today. We turned the car around and headed for the safety of our home.

We broke it to Erin that we wouldn't be going to see her cousins. She gets it. She understands that right now, sometimes our emotions win out over our best intentions. Erin tearfully admitted to Dan last night that she was sad there would be no Easter egg hunt or coloring of eggs this year. I just wasn't up for it. And she didn't press me on it. Erin may have understood, but it still made her sad.

So, we are home, sitting and watching the Masters. Dan and I had a chuckle today about an Easter Sunday way back when we were newly married, before children. We didn't feel like socializing then, either, for entirely different reasons. We were selfish. We told my family we were going to Dan's family and told Dan's family we were going to my family and instead we played 36 holes together and then went home and watched the Masters! We thought we had it all figured out back then. We didn't know much at all, really ...

Chalk it up to another part of the journey. There will be days like this. We've covered some big territory in the last week, and there's more ahead.

Happy Easter, everyone.

3 months...

A quarter of a year has passed since Shannon passed. A season. Winter - which wasn't much of a winter, by the way - has given way to spring. You can see things turning green and plants beginning to bloom. It's Easter weekend. Spring is the season of growth and progress.

A season of progress, you say... so how do we measure ours? We are clicking off days, some of them mostly good. We went on a family vacation as a family of three. But our emotions and sadness and anger are still never far from the surface. Today, this 3 month anniversary, is hard. Shannon's friends are remembering her on their Facebook posts today. It's hard for them, too.

But, while we've suffered a great loss, we've gained things, too. An awareness of the human condition. Deeper friendships. We remember to not sweat the small stuff, and there is a lot of small stuff. We try to do our best each day - whatever we have in us - and then we go too sleep and get up the next day and try to do our best again. It's a pretty simple formula, really.

Now, of course we would trade all this awareness to have her back. We'd bury our heads right back in the sand if it meant we could hear her laugh and see her smile and listen to her enthusiastically tell a story. Why isn't she here watching the Twins home opener with us today? Her absence is painful.

But she is gone, so we must take what we have learned - to accept this knowledge that we've gained - and continue on. We are better people, more aware of others, more aware of ourselves because of Shannon. That is an incredible gift we have been given ...

Thursday April 5, 2012

The waves crashing into the beach outside our Hutchinson Island room sound like a freight train. Jen and I left the deck door to our bedroom open all week. The power of nature has been alarming. Sometimes the roars are "crackers" - our term for big ones that make a cracking sound when water slaps water.

Wednesday Erin and I spent hours body surfing and diving into the waves. We are both strong swimmers but at times you feel a little helpless as the wave energy jostles your body mass like a rag doll. Never-the-less, I am fully aware again of the teeny, tiny, place I occupy in this universe.

When you think, the whole time we were completely absorbed in our journey as a family and as a community with Shannon, these waves were still pounding this coastline with no knowledge, care or concern about our sitch. We are bit players. And this trip has given us a healthy perspective on that.

Erin has done her best to keep smiling - but she misses her buddy, her sister, her constant companion. No doubt that has been apparent in our first vacation together as a family of three. This puts pressure on me and Jen to step in and entertain or just play swimming games or play in the ocean - to be her play buddy. Sometimes that is annoying when you just want to chill. But the kid still needs to be 10. (11 next week!)

The other reality that has been exposed - it is hard to watch cute families enjoy each other like we used to. I would catch myself watching two little girls entertain each other and laugh and fight and compete for the attention of Mom and Dad - "Mom, watch this!". Erin noticed too.

All part of the process. We are trying to find our groove. Baby steps.

Our weather was fab - might've been too hot yesterday - but I better keep that to myself. We check out today and return to the 507 tonight and all three of us are ready. It's Master's weekend, Opening Day and Easter. We have a few days to recover before returning to the meat grind Monday.

Music, words and lyrics are catching my emotions again...I think that is a good thing...

Jack Johnson captures it well;

Shocking but we're just nothing we're just moments
We're clever but we're clueless we're just human
Amusing but confusing but the truth is
All we got is questions we'll never know
Never know, never know

Tuesday April 3, 2012

Spring break is in full swing and we have had a low key, relaxing day here on Hutchinson Island in South Florida. Our balcony looks right out at the ocean. The sun coming up over the Atlantic gave way to a perfect, steamy afternoon.

We alternated between playing in the ocean waves and swimming in the hotel pool. People watching is always entertaining! Erin looked older than 10 sunning herself poolside while listening to tunes and texting with friends. I guess she will be 11 next week...

Dan and I took turns exercising this a.m. and both noted that the solitude allows the mind to wander. That's ok. We need to acknowledge that this is different and we are starting anew. Shannon is missed. She always will be.

But we are relaxing and enjoying a new place. Today was a good day. Tonight we are headed out for some seafood. Not too shabby ...

Sunday April 1, 2012

The days have gone quickly since my last post. Thursday was a whirlwind of activity as Grandma and Papa Harkins arrived, and Dan returned home from his work week in Michigan. Friday, Erin, Grandma and I had some girl time that involved pedicures, shopping, and lunch. It was some good quality time for Grandma to be with Erin and see that things are mostly going pretty well for Miss E.

Saturday, Dan and I were able to play a round of golf with Papa and my brother Eric while the grandkids hung out with Grandma and had some cousin time. Saturday evening brought the main event, the Zumbro Valley Bassmasters 7th Annual St. Jude Fundraiser.

Dan O spoke to over 500 people last night, many of whom didn't know Shannon or don't know us. Sure, we had some family and friends in the audience: basketball parents and hockey parents and close friends came to hear Dan's speech. Our families were representing as well - the Harkins clan was all there, two of my aunts and uncles came to be with us, and Dan's sisters Megan and Bridgid made the trip down from the cities to support their kid brother.

But, for the rest of the crowd, Dan told the tale of who Shannon was and why it matters. We played the tribute video done by Chris Conte after Shannon's passing. Dan told stories about playing JV golf and playing for the Rebels. He told stories about the letters we received from kids who were touched by Shannon and her spirit. He told of our experience at St. Jude and why St. Jude is so important in the fight against pediatric cancer. He told the crowd that Shannon's cells are alive and growing in culture and they are helping in the research necessary to find a cure.

Dan spent 30 minutes standing at the podium and I never saw anyone in the audience get up. They were captivated. Those of us who knew Shannon were in tears. Those who didn't know her were in awe. He nailed it. Dan says there's no question, Shannon helped him get through it.

Erin was in the audience, looking so grown up. It's as if she's skipped a few stages and gone right to being a teenager. There were tears flowing for Erin as she watched the video and heard her dad talk about her best friend. The pain is still fresh and real for Miss E...

The other item on the agenda last night was selling some Shannon shirts to raise funds for the scholarship. We enlisted the help of the Rebels and Shannon's buddies Samantha, Paige, and Olivia were up for it. Hard to resist three cute girls raising money in honor of their friend.

So, another day in the journey. Another first - sharing our story to try and help others. It comes back to what would Shannon want us to do, and there's no question - she'd want us to make a difference if we could.

Today the calendar says April. Tomorrow morning we will head out on spring break.