June 29, 2012

Happy Birthday Jennifer!

She's currently in bed with an iced mocha frap from Dunn Bros and ice bags and mouth pain like you can't imagine.  Oral surgery 3 weeks ago and it just won't heal.  Hot packs, ice packs, ibuprofen...she's having no fun.  Of course, she would not want me posting this but I have my own password.

The only bright spot is that she is in bed with Roger Federer (on TV, 3rd round Wimbledon) but even he's struggling.  We need some birthday mojo channeled our way.

Last year, Jen celebrated her birthday with Shannon in an MRI tube attempting to diagnose what was making the kid so sick.  June 29th.  Damn.

That was a long week also.  Shannon finally turned the corner after IV fluid infusions on July 3rd and July 4th having slipped down to 79 pounds.  Shannon eventually rebounded and worked really hard to build her strength back up.  We made a lot of milkshakes over her final 6 months of life.

So delivering Jen a frozen drink for lunch gave me some ishy flashbacks.  Mostly, it made me recall how desperate we were for help.  God's help.  Anyone's help.  So that's what I am praying for Jennifer on this her 43rd birthday.  Thankfully, Shannon learned her toughness from her Mom.

Tuesday June 26, 2012

Erin has me playing taxi driver this week:  To and from the gym in the afternoon for basketball, home in time to rest a bit, eat some dinner, change shorts, and then back to the gym for volleyball in the evenings.  By the time we get home, Erin needs a shower and a nighttime snack.  Once we've accomplished all that, this mama is tired and needs to go to sleep.  I do believe my 11 year old is capable of staying up later than I am these days!

Erin is growing in front of my eyes, but I've really been struck these past few days by seeing Shannon's classmates at the gym.  Guess what - they are growing up, too.  They are high schoolers now.  It's hard to reconcile in my mind as I watch those kids mature that Shannon will always be that tiny, 13 year old girl who left us too soon...  Seeing her peers progress and grow and thrive will be hard for us, and there will be so many milestones that will make us feel our loss again and again.  But all we need to do is remind ourselves that Shannon would want the best for all of them, so we can honor her memory by wanting that, too.  

Time does march on.  And, slowly, we are finding our stride, incorporating our thoughts and memories of Shannon into our lives that are happening right now.  Her name comes up often when Dan and Erin and I are talking.  As we travel through our first summer without her, we are visiting familiar places and remembering when she was there with us.  We are really comfortable with that.  We want others to be comfortable with it, too.  We find that most times, even though we miss her like hell, sharing a memory of Shannon can make us feel good.  

I realize now that most people who have been through some type of life changing event - even a terrible loss - still want to talk about it.  Even many years down the road.  I didn't know that before, back when I was a "civilian"... you don't know what you don't know.

But, I now believe that I won't hesitate to ask someone who has suffered how they are doing.  Not just the small talk version of "How are you?" but the genuine, "I am here and I am listening.  How are you?" And, I now believe we will always be ready to talk about Shannon, about our loss, if someone feels comfortable asking.

I came across this quote in our daily readings this week.  Couldn't have said it better myself.

"There is no more ridiculous custom than the one that makes you express sympathy once and for all on a given day to a person whose sorrow will endure as long as his life.  Such grief, felt in such a way, is always 'present', it is never too late to talk about it, never repetitious to mention it again..." - Marcel Proust  

Saturday June 23, 2012

Grandma and Papa Harkins are showing us a fine time here in northern Wisconsin.  Golfing, paddle boating, pizza.  Erin and Dan jumped in the lake today.  The rest of us vowed to get in tomorrow... We've been sharing Shannon memories and making new ones.  It feels good.

Thursday June 21, 2012

How can it be the 21st of June already?  Summer is off to a fast start and my part time job as Erin's taxi driver has been keeping me busy this week:  to and from volleyball camp each day, to and from her friend's houses, to and from more volleyball with open gym at night, to and from a sleepover with our old neighbor friends, the Gushulaks, etc...

Erin continues to amaze and inspire us with her attitude, staying positive and keeping active.  Lots of confidence and maturity in that 11 year old body.  Thank goodness.

Today we will finish up with volleyball camp and prepare for our first road trip of the summer.  Sunny, Erin, and I will head to the little Wisconsin town of Barnes to spend the weekend with Grandma and Papa Harkins at their cabin in the north woods.  Hoping for some good weather and some solitude amongst the trees.

Dan will join us there on Saturday.  He's on a 9 day road trip adventure.  This week, we could play a game of "Where in the World is Dan O":  Tuesday - Rochester to Sioux Falls, SD;  Wednesday - Sioux Falls to Brookings, SD to Moorhead, MN;  Thursday Moorhead to Fargo, ND to Brainerd, MN.  Somehow, by Saturday, he will make his way to Wisconsin to join us at the lake ...

I find that we can get going with life and get busy and you can almost forget for a moment where we have been.  Almost.  But, little reminders can bring us back in a hurry:

-  I got notification that the scholarship fund hit $15,000 this week.  People continue to be kind and generous.  

-  One of Shannon's friends texted me this week asking if she had a headstone or a memorial somewhere because they wanted to go and sit with Shannon.  

-  Last night, I picked Erin up from volleyball open gym and there were a couple of Shannon t-shirts being worn out there.   

While it's hard on one level to have these reminders, we are still so grateful for those of you who are helping us remember and honor her.  

On some basic level, in our minds we still wish this wasn't our life, we wish things were different.  But, in our souls we know that we are healing, coping, finding strength for the life that's still ahead of us.  You can't always control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to it.  
"Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing:  the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." 

Victor Frankl said it.  We are attempting to live it.

Father's Day

Check.  Check off another marker on the calendar.  Another poignant holiday that shines more light on what we have have lost.  We'll have many more.

My first Father's Day without Shannon Anne O'Hara was no more difficult than any of the other 163 days since she left our world, but I did need some extra deep breaths. There were many people who reached out to let me know they were thinking about me - about us.  That made a difference -  thank you.

But my Father's Day was nice.  I was able to get out for a round of golf.  (I closed like Jim Furyk...not pretty)  I was able to talk to my 88-year old dad Ed who showed me how to be a father (we were both pulling for the Irishman Graeme McDowell)  And I got to hang out with Jen and Erin.  We played some cards, watched the US Open, watched the Twins, hung out with some friends.

Our balance as a trio keeps getting more solid with each passing day.  We keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We keep laughing.  We keep leaning on each other for support.  I guess that is what a family does.

I am grateful to be Erin O'Hara's dad.  I love you E.

Wednesday June 13, 2012

The last couple of weeks have been very unproductive for me on the writing front, and I've had all kinds of handy excuses:  the Memorial holiday, then the end of school craziness, and oh yeah, the loss of another body part.  Just a tooth extraction this time, but jeez, all of a sudden I feel like I'm sliding downhill and aging in a hurry!  Getting old is a bitch, but as they say, it's better than the alternative.

But, I'm back to writing this week, and my mantra is:  You won't go where you've never been if you don't do what you've never done...  I am feeling moments of confidence amidst my self doubt.  Belief takes practice.  And some cheerleaders.

My editor reassured me that I should keep doing what I'm doing.  He will help with editing and transitions and flow of the story, but since this is a memoir, he can't really help much with the content.  This is my story - our story - to tell.

I will continue to write for the next few weeks and then we will meet in person after the 4th of July to assess our progress.  I am also hoping to finalize contract details with my publisher in the next week or so. Pretty exciting stuff for me.  Somewhere I've never been, that's for sure...

My parents are en route from Nevada to Minnesota and will arrive here in Rochester on Friday.  They are getting out of the Vegas summer heat to spend some time near family.  Today, they texted a picture from an IHOP in Utah and they were reminiscing about Shannon eating at IHOP each day in San Francisco last summer.  That memory made them think about what a trooper she was, so determined to eat a good breakfast each day so she would have strength for all the activities that she had planned.

Dan is in Michigan for work this week and took the ferry across Lake Michigan to get there.  Just a year ago, we did that as a family and enjoyed some time on the beach at South Haven.

Earlier this week, the three of us were driving and a Katy Perry song came on the radio.  It instantly sparked a memory of driving Shannon and Erin and their friends home from a football game, and all 6 of them were singing the completely inappropriate lyrics at the top of their lungs - "yeah we danced on tabletops, and we took too many shots, think we kissed but I forgot..."  That memory makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Memories - what a double edged sword for us.  Happy and sad.  My writing brings me to these feelings each day.  Tears flowed again today - looking at a picture, remembering the moment, remembering the loss.  So bittersweet.

And yet, there is no acceptable alternative.  Denial?  Avoid the topic?  Try to forget?  No way.  She lived, she loved, she died, and we remember.

Music can not only spark memories, but also can provide inspiration - for exercising, for working, for writing.  So, today, a genius mix of my favorites accompanied me while I wrote.

The lyrics that stuck with me came from Gavin Rossdale's song, Love Remains the Same:

I never thought that I had any more to give
Pushing me so far
Here I am without you
Drink to all that we have lost
Mistakes we have made
Everything will change
But love remains the same 

Sunday June 10, 2012

The second sleepover of the summer is on tap tonight.  It hasn't taken Erin long to find that summer vacation groove!  The mall, swimming, golfing, sleepovers... all good stuff when you're 11.  Tomorrow, it's basketball camp.

In the past, Erin would happily follow Shannon's lead and always knew if no other activities came up, well, at least they'd have each other.  Things are going to be different this summer, and Erin is wisely taking control.  The cell phone and the ability to text is quite handy when filling a social calendar!  

But, all kidding aside,  no one would blame Erin if she had chosen to isolate herself and be sad and mad, but that's not her plan.  Erin seems to have realized that she is in charge of her own happiness.  Erin wants to be happy.  Take control, take action.  What a gift to figure that out at age 11.  I'm still working on it at almost 43.  Sometimes the student is the teacher.  

Erin is not in denial.  She talks about Shannon and the things they used to do, and there will always be a sadness and a loss.  We talk about Shannon a lot.  We still like it when others do, too.  She is a part of our family, and there will be dates and people and places that remind us of what is missing.  Always.  

But, feeling a loss is different than being consumed by it.  It's a conscious effort to stay in the present and enjoy what is right here, right now.  Being happy today or making plans for tomorrow doesn't mean we have forgotten yesterday.  It just means that we are living. 


The sun is shining and it's going to be another beautiful day here on this June 6th.  The 6th.  Another marker in time as Shannon has now been gone 5 months.  Her physical time on this earth is getting further away, but her presence in our thinking and living remains strong.

The school year draws to a close tomorrow, but today is the last day that the 6th and 8th graders will be in the building at Willow Creek.  Tomorrow they enjoy all day field trips to the Mall of America (6th) and Valleyfair (8th).  Shannon was really looking forward to that one...

That means today at Willow they will clean out lockers and classrooms.  The last few remnants of Shannon's time there will disappear.  Shannon's English class has left her desk vacant since she left for Memphis.  The one vacant desk in a crowded classroom - the one with the green chair.  The kids wanted it that way.  She was still a part of them.

The yearbooks arrived this week and both the Willow Creek Middle School and Mayo High School yearbooks have dedications in them to Shannon.  She made the Mayo HS yearbook, even if she didn't make it to ninth grade.

On a happier note, our fundraising efforts at Willow last week added $2000 to the scholarship fund.  Amazing.  We are so grateful for the help and support.

Today I will go out and feel the sun on my face and get ready to turn another page.  School's out for summer in two short days.  Time continues to march on and we must too.

Sunday June 3, 2012

We are all struggling a little this week.  At a time of year when most kids and families are celebrating the end of a new school year we wish we could just rewind.

Erin continues to live up to her nickname.  Plowing through the final days of 6th grade, Smiley gets up each day prepared to do battle with finals, hormones and constant reminders of the love she lost.

Can you imagine going to school and more than 500 teachers and students are wearing a shirt to honor your dead sister?  Many of the kids in Shannon shirts barely knew her.  Shannon was Erin's best friend and soul mate.  No one knew Shannon better or loved her more than Smiley.

I just know I think of Shannon constantly and if you are kind enough to ask me about her I might go on for 10 minutes with a funny or sad story to try to give you a feel for what kind of a kid she was.  Erin plays it a little closer to the vest.  But I have to think it's a fine line between pride and profound sadness.

Saturday we hung out at a grad party for Gunnar Olson.  Erin was bopping around with all her pals.  Most of Shannon's pals were bopping around too.  Mostly, they all bop around together.  Jen and I try not to stare.  They are all changing and growing up so fast right in front of us.  Nature is working perfectly.

Just like the new moon that is shining bright again this week, reminders are everywhere that the universe will be fine without those that are gone.  It is up to us to honor them by living good lives.

Last week of the school year ahead. Last week of 6th grade for Smiley. The weather is fabulous.  Playing some golf today.

I'm due for a good cry...just not today.