Sunday September 30, 2012

These past few days have provided us with some of that gorgeous fall weather that reminds us why we live in Minnesota.  Cool nights, warm days, and brilliant colors on the landscape.  We feel more acutely aware of these things, grateful for what we can see and feel and experience.

Shannon's hockey buddies are all in the midst of hockey tryouts.  It's an excruciating time - for parents and kids alike!  We received some sweet text messages and Facebook posts from several of the girls, remembering Shannon, missing her.  One friend commented that she was missing Shannon's positive attitude out there on the ice and another friend wore her Shannon shirt so that Shannon could be there in spirit.  So sweet and dear... and painful.  A year ago, Shannon was there, fighting off the fatigue of a post-chemo week and giving it her all.

This week will also be homecoming week at Mayo High School.  Again, there will be friends missing our girl, and we will be missing her, too, as another rite of passage passes without her.  We remember very clearly having a conversation with Shannon last year where she talked about how fun homecoming week is and that it will be "even better next year when I'm in high school".  I still find myself wondering how can it be that she is not here?

So, we are feeling this convergence of people and events and it seems that our memories of Shannon are all around us.  Erin's volleyball team played in a tournament here in town yesterday.  It warms our hearts to watch Erin out there having fun and working hard.  She is enjoying being a Spartan.  All four local high schools were playing in the tournament, so there were lots of Rochesterites around.  We saw people from church, former tennis students of mine, and former hockey teammates of Shannon.  Lots of conversations, and much of it centered on Shannon.  One of the lessons we've learned from writing this blog, is that everyone has a story.  People suffer loss and heartache and people search for meaning and perspective.

By sharing this piece of our world, we've opened up the lines of communication in a way.  People share a bit more of themselves with us now.  What a gift that is.  What a nice way to live, knowing that no one is alone, that we all struggle, and that people can persevere and maybe, along the way, become stronger and wiser.

I was reading this week about the progression of grief and the turning points along the way.  Things like anniversaries and songs aggravate the pain and loss and that may always be so.  But, with experience and through time, we can learn to treasure these memories and see them as reminders of the things that make up our lives.  All that has happened to us - each of us - becomes a part of us.  Some of it is bad, some of it is good, but all of it is ours.  There's no denying it and no escaping it, so we need to do our best to accept it.

The sun is up and shining now.  It's another beautiful autumn day here in our corner of the world...

Thursday September 27, 2012

Music and pictures.

Two things that can bring out the emotions in very short order.  But that's not all bad.  While they conjure up memories, they can also provide inspiration.

I put Erin's school picture up.  Just one 5x7 frame was needed this year.  I couldn't use the same old frame, the one where each year I just put the new picture over the top of last year's picture.  I've put away those frames.  Yesterday I bought a new one.  Erin's picture looks good in it's brand new frame, alone on the shelf...

I've also spent some time this week getting Erin's scrapbooks up to date.  You might wonder why I would torture myself with such a project, but it's important to me to keep documenting Erin's life in the way that I always had.  She deserves it.

Music has kept me company while working on these projects.  I've even been listening to some country music lately.  Erin thinks I'm going through a phase, but I think I just needed to hear something other than the same old stuff.  Plus, where else can you hear songs with titles like "Truck, Yeah!" and "I like Girls Who Drink Beer"?

I do have a new musical recommendation - not country, per se, but more of a modern bluegrass sound.  Check out The Avett Brothers, and especially their newest album, The Carpenter, which has a strong theme about life and death and fear and hope.  Some of the inspiration for the album comes from the struggles of Bob Crawford, the bass player, who is watching his two year old daughter battle a brain tumor.  Hallie Crawford is being treated at St. Jude.

So, we continue remembering, moving forward, looking back, carrying on.  Memories and inspiration are both welcome any time.

There's no fortune at the end of the road that has no end
There's no returning to the spoils once you've spoiled the thought of them
There's no falling back to sleep once you've waken from the dream
Now I'm rested and I'm ready, I'm rested and I'm ready to begin

- lyrics from February Seven by the Avett Brothers

Monday September 24, 2012

We are getting used to life without Shannon - and that sucks.  Acceptance is hard.  Sometimes it just smacks you in the mouth. That's what happened to me.  Today I just don't want to accept that this is our life.

I recognized that we had a good weekend with Erin - who is so much fun to be around.  We had a fun morning as we shared breakfast and she headed off to school.  We negotiated a relatively painless dinner plan with spaghetti winning out over tacos.

I keep thinking she is doing great.  She's still Smiley, alright.  And then, I realized she's getting used to being an only child.

Jen and I are working really hard to make sure her life is fun.  Erin is not real comfortable with the bright spotlight we focus on her.  She sort-of jokes that Jen is a "helicopter" mom.  Which Jen replies "I am your Mom and you are 11".  That's easy to forget.

But we are giving her everything we've got and trying to save some for each other too.

So I just felt like taking a few sentences to recognize that we are settling into a routine; I work, Erin goes to school, Jen works on her stuff, it's the weekend, and then we do it all over again.  Without Shannon.
Erin and Shannon St. Patrick's Day 2010

Thursday September 20, 2012

I wanted to put a quick reminder out here about the Brains Together For A Cure walk that's coming up on October 6th.  Dan will be speaking this year and we'd love to have a big representation wearing Shannon shirts in her memory.  So, if you can join us for the walk and talk, register here:

If you register by tomorrow (9/21) the cost is $20.  After that, registration will be $25 and you can register right up until the morning of the walk.

Days are whizzing by here... Dan is traveling and working, Erin is schooling and volleyballing...

I've begun to teach a little tennis again and it feels pretty good.  I got big hugs this week from some middle school girls who I hadn't seen since I quit teaching when we left for Memphis in December.  They were glad to see me back and the look on their faces warmed my soul.

Lots of stuff happening on the book, but it's all behind the scenes work right now.  Nothing you all can see yet, but it's coming, I promise!  Publication is set for spring of 2013.  

I had a meeting this week to talk about marketing and publicity and events where we can sell the book and share our story.  It's exciting stuff and it's hard to be patient, but I had no idea how many steps there are to getting a story out there into the marketplace.  I'm hoping that 2013 will be a very interesting year for us.  Also, I promised my publishers that everyone who is a blog follower will buy a book, so I'm expecting all of you to come through for me!

Fall is definitely in the air.  Cold mornings are a sign of what's ahead.  But, the sun is up and the temperature is rising, so Sunny and I are off to the reservoir because we need to just enjoy the here and now.  I need to constantly remind myself not to worry about what's ahead, because, as I should know by now, the future in unknown.  Maybe I'm a slow learner, but I'm trying.  So, I'm making a conscious effort to enjoy today...  

Sunday September 16, 2012

Another week has flown by and, while it's been productive, I don't know if, in the big picture, I can say that I made progress.  Hard to explain all the feelings I have sometimes.  I'm not myself... the world looks the same and the people are the same, but everything is different.

Productivity is easy to measure - Erin is getting into a rhythm with schoolwork and her busy schedule.  She went to the football game with friends on Friday and today she did some volunteer work.  She's busy in a good way.  Dan had another productive week on the road and seems to have lots cooking right now as far as potential business goes.  Good places for them to spend their energy, no doubt.

As for me, sure, I can say I was productive.  It was hockey registration this week and with help we sold t-shirts and bracelets and we took donations for the scholarship fund.  Preliminary numbers tell us that the scholarship fund will be over $20,000 with this latest round of donations.  The plaque went up on the Shannon memorial at Graham Arena this week as well.  Dan and I stopped in there on Friday to take a look.  It's a beautiful tribute.

A bunch of my time this week was also spent securing release forms for material that I want to use in the book.  Minors who appear in photos and people who wrote material that I used needed to be contacted. People are more than willing to help out, but I found this tough work as it meant re-visiting those memories over and over.  The pictures and the letters are such beautiful, gut wrenching memories.

So, while I can say I'm being productive, if my goal is to forge ahead and move forward, I'm not sure I'm making progress.  So much of my time is spent working on these things that keep me thinking about the past. Can I be moving forward while still looking back?

On the other hand, would I want it any other way?  Probably not.  I don't want to forget.  What I want is to incorporate the loss of Shannon into our lives, into my being.  So, while I may not feel like myself lately, maybe that's because I am changing, finding the new me.  Maybe it's not that I'm not myself, but that I'm becoming my new self - forever changed, forever different.  I am that mom, the one who lost her daughter.  I am that woman, the one who's writing a book about it.

It's no wonder that familiar things don't feel the way they once did.  I guess that's the thing about life changing events - they change you.  We're still learning to navigate our changed world.  It takes time.  These are still the early stages of figuring out how we go on, how we move forward, how we honor the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future.

Accepting my new world - and the changed me - is a work in progress...

Wednesday September 12, 2012

I am posting tonight from Lansing Michigan.  I had a so-so business day but I am happy and content sitting in my hotel room watching White Sox v Tigers.  I fly home Thursday afternoon.

The highlight of my trip was a run this afternoon on the campus of Michigan State University.  There is something magical being on a college campus in the fall.  Even more so on Notre Dame week.  I ran around the tarped off football practice field (these guys are so paranoid that a spy is stealing plays) and could hear the crunch of pads, the compression of punted footballs and coach's whistle.  Although, I doubt Mark Dantonio blows one.

Around the tennis complex, past field hockey practice and around the Breslin Center where a statue of Magic Johnson directs traffic. Past dorms and around the Education Building I followed the sound of the marching band and found them rehearsing their routine for Saturday night.  The big sound of a large and tight marching band makes me smile.  (If you want to win a bet as you are watching Saturday night they will be playing The Black Eyed Peas I Gotta Feeling and Dancing Queen from Abba).

It's impossible not to pull energy from that atmosphere.  My run was a piece of cake.  It's also hard not to look around that campus and be grateful for all we have in this country.  We are privileged.  I just hope we can afford it by the time Erin gets there.  She tells us she wants to go to Columbia like cousin Grace.  Yikes.  I better have a better business day tomorrow.  LOL.

Shannon Fund Bracelets

We've been getting requests from people wanting one of the new bracelets, so we're just letting you know there are a couple of opportunities to buy one.

We're excited that the bracelets are available for purchase at the Spartan Shack at Mayo High School so Shannon's classmates and friends will have a chance to buy one if they'd like.  We are also going to have them for sale at Rochester Youth Hockey registration this week, so that will be another chance to purchase them.  $3 each with all proceeds going into the scholarship fund.

We're making a big push on the fund here this fall during hockey registration time.  Every dollar helps and we will be giving out scholarships in Shannon's memory starting with this year's senior class.  The fund is over $18,000 and counting.  Really cool.

We want, in fact, we need to do some good in her memory...

Sunday September 9, 2012

How can I possibly describe the events of the past 24 hours... it involves a good walk, a good cry, and a dinner party that went completely off the rails...

Dan's sister Molly and her husband Norv were in town for a visit and we hadn't seen them since Shannon's funeral.  They, along with Dan's brother Mike joined us for our morning trip around the reservoir.  As soon as we crossed the golf course and reached the top of the ridge where the path starts, Dan looked up to see the bald eagle soaring right above us.  The five of us stood there, looking up, and it was as if the bird hovered there, positioning itself against the wind so that it could stay directly over our heads.  Unbelievable.  We enjoyed the walking and talking and shared Shannon memories all along the way...

In the afternoon, we attended the Mayo Clinic's Children's Day of Remembrance.  It's a memorial service to honor those children who were treated by Mayo and have passed away.  Needless to say, Dan, Erin, and I were pretty uptight about taking part, and Erin was ready to pull the plug and head home 10 minutes into the service.  But, I'm glad we stayed.  There is something communal about being in a room with dozens of other families who know the same pain as us.  The speakers touched on the theme that we are all on a journey none of us wanted to take, but it's our path now and we must find ways to navigate it as best we can.  Sharing stories and remembering those that we've lost helps.  By the time they showed the remembrance slides on the video screen, the three of us had all worked up to a really good cry and my only mistake was not having enough kleenex in my purse.

After that, we were ready for some comic relief...little did we know, there would be plenty of that as the evening wore on.

Norv and Molly had planned to make dinner at our house for the seven of us including me, Dan, Erin, Mike and Connie.  Norv, who is quite the chef, had grocery shopped in the afternoon and was just beginning to prepare the meal when our power went out just a little after 5pm.  So, we took our happy hour out onto the deck and waited... and waited... and waited.  After an hour, Dan began checking for info on Twitter and found out that the power outage was widespread, some 3,800 customers were without power and it might be a while.

In the meantime, we began texting around to find out who had power and who didn't.  Dan texted our friend Kula to ask if they had power.  Kula said yes, why?  Dan said we were just getting ready to boil pasta when we lost power.  Kula generously offered to let Dan come boil pasta at her house.  Here's where something got lost in translation...

Kula thought Dan was coming with one pan to cook the pasta.  Dan thought Kula understood that we had 7 people waiting to eat dinner.  So, we loaded up the minivan and headed to the Shives house...

The seven of us show up at their door with 3 open bottles of wine, uncooked pasta, raw meat, bread and salad.  Kula comes to the door and says "You're ALL here?" and then invites us in and tells us to make ourselves at home.  It probably comes as no surprise - that's exactly what we did!

Norv and Molly began rifling through Kula's kitchen drawers to find what they need.  We used the Shives' wine glasses, their utensils, their table, etc.  We had no problem getting comfortable and Kula's husband Tom and daughter Ariana arrived to find 7 people making dinner in their kitchen.  So, our dinner party turned into a party of 10 and we ate and drank and laughed.  Kula just happened to have an ice cream pie made, so she even provided the dessert!  It was an absolute cartoon.

You gotta admire our gumption, though - here we are, can we use your kitchen and dirty your dishes and impose on you?  OK, thanks!  Ariana tweeted last night:  "This is what happens when O'Haras show up unannouced at 7:00 at night - #soloud #whatishappening"  Thank goodness, that when we first arrived at their house, Connie and Molly made Kula promise that, no matter what happened, she would still be my friend come Sunday.

So, another day in our lives, another day on our journey.  We saw the eagle soaring and thought of Shannon.  We went to the Day of Remembrance and thought of Shannon.  We imposed ourselves and people who have become such dear friends over the past year and a half, and guess what?  We have friends like this because of Shannon...

The 6th

I woke up this morning fully aware that Shannon has now been gone 8 months.  A lifetime and yet, the blink of an eye.

But, I didn't awake to sadness or dread today.  I feel good.  Not that you all care how I "feel", but it's just a reminder that each day on this journey is different and acceptance of what you "feel" at any given moment makes the journey easier.  I think that's true for anyone in this crazy world, but it's just more poignant and frontal as we navigate the path of grieving.  Earlier this week I felt sad and mad, but today I feel good.

We spend a lot of time "thinking" about what we "feel"... part of the process, I suppose...

Before all this, I remember hearing stories where people claimed that life altering events had changed them for the better.  I thought that was a bunch of bullshit.  I naively believed that they were just saying that as a coping mechanism to prop themselves up enough to get out of bed and go on.  How could a loss like this make your life better in any way?

But, I get it now.  I now have an understanding that it's not all within my control.  I now see a bigger, wider, world.  There are more shadows, but also more light.

I am working on patience, acceptance, and gratitude.

Patience with myself - and with others.  Earlier this week, I was listening to some kids complain about their schedules and their teachers and I felt so much anger because I took it personally.  How could they be taking it for granted?  Not everyone gets to go to high school, you know... which leads me to acceptance.  Those girls weren't doing anything wrong.  Their behavior was normal.  I am the one who is different.

I know that intellectually, but emotionally it is hard to accept sometimes.  I am realizing that my perspective on "normal" things will always be colored by my experience.  Sometimes that makes things harder, but sometimes it makes things clearer.  The events of the past 17 months mean I will always live in an altered reality.  I am learning to accept life as it is now.  Which leads me to gratitude.

Today, I "feel"good.  I took a walk in the cold, crisp morning air.  I am wearing a Shannon shirt as I do the 6th of each month.  I will think about her and Erin and Dan and our family and friends as I go through my day, and I will try and practice that gratitude, acceptance, and patience...

As I did some reading this morning, this passage jumped out at me:

"Look upon each day that comes as a challenge, as a test of courage.  The pain will come in waves, some days worse than others, for no apparent reason.  Accept the pain.  Do not suppress it.  Never attempt to hide grief from yourself.  Little by little, just as the deaf, the blind, the handicapped develop with time an extra sense to balance disability, so the bereaved will find new strength, new vision, born of the very pain and loneliness which seem, at first, impossible to master." - Daphne Du Maurier

First Day of School

This is the obligatory first day of school picture posted here...just as we did last year...the same, but different.  Erin was ready, yet not.  Excited, but a bit apprehensive.  The same as last year, but different...

It's impossible not to let our minds wander just a bit to Shannon's classmates starting high school today.

But, we are trying to focus on what's right here, right now for us, and that's Erin's first day of school.  Erin should get to feel excitement about that, not sadness.  So that's our goal as her parents - stay in the present and find joy in it.

Time for the change of seasons, time for some forward momentum... our girl is off to 7th grade.

Graham Arena Memorial

"Give sorrow words;  The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er fraught heart and bids it break" - William Shakespeare

Man, have I been taking Shakespeare's words to heart this week!  It seems all I've been capable of doing is remembering Shannon, memorializing her.  I keep wanting to tell stories about her.  I keep remembering events - mostly times where she was full of life and in control.  I guess like I said the other day, this time of year is so reflective - another school year starts, another hockey season is gearing up, it all seems so normal and yet, not.  

Grief does come and go in waves, but this week it's kept me in pretty close company.  Understandable because much of my time and energy this week was spent working on the memorial display for Graham Arena.  With the help of friends (thank you, Amy) and Rochester Youth Hockey, a permanent display case was placed to remember Shannon.  Yesterday, we filled it up.  

We've mentioned here that Shannon's favorite place on earth was Lake Hubert, but Graham Arena was a very close second.  From October to March each year, it was her happy place.  Oh, how I wish she was bouncing through those halls, carrying that ridiculously large equipment bag, prepping for another hockey season.

But, now her jersey hangs in remembrance.  I guess I can think of the display case as a way to continue telling the story.  All of Shannon's team pictures are in the case, and those girls who were her teammates through the years are a part of the story, too.   

A plaque is being donated by Shannon's team from last year, The Rebels, and it will explain the display to curious visitors.  It reads:

Shannon O’Hara:  July 29, 1998 - January 6, 2012

Shannon fought a nine month battle with brain cancer.  Hockey was her passion. She loved the game, loved the rink, and loved to compete. Her last skate was here at Graham Arena just 33 days before her death.         

In her memory, the Rochester Girls Hockey Tournaments will compete each year for the Shannon Cup.  A scholarship fund has also been established and the Shannon O'Hara Memorial Scholarships will be awarded each year to deserving seniors who participated in Rochester Youth Hockey.  To donate, please contact RYHA.                 

I read recently in one of my grief and loss books that grief can build up like a pressure cooker.  To release the pressure, we need to speak.  Tell a friend.  Tell another friend, or tell the same friend again.  As often as you need to, tell your story.  

Part of our story is now on display at Graham Arena.