Dan and I were in two different states today, physically, but somehow we were in the same state of mind mentally.  He called me this morning from South Dakota to say that he was feeling a little down.  I had just finished showering and I had spent those quiet minutes under the hot water feeling the same way.

Hard to believe that a silly holiday like Halloween could trigger melancholy.  But here we are.  Dan is in SD, Erin is off trick or treating with her buddies, and I am home alone handing out candy, thinking about the days when we would take our two girls up and down the street trick or treating.

For years, Shannon and Erin would trick or treat with our neighborhood buddies Abby and Tessa.  Then they would come home with their buckets full of candy and dump them out on the family room floor.  Shannon taught Erin to organize her candy by type so they could see how much they had of each kind. Then they would decide if there was any trading to do.  I think we caught Shannon trying to dupe her younger sister into an unfair trade on more than one occasion.  Erin was a quick study, though, and soon learned to be skeptical of her big sister's offers.

Now, of course, intellectually I know that Shannon wouldn't be trick or treating with Erin at this age, but it's the memory of those days when they did that has me feeling a little off kilter.

There have been a lot of Shannon related interactions this week.  These are good things - talking with hockey teams who want to honor Shannon, and working on paperwork for the foundation - but they also have me feeling blue.

On the one hand, it's exactly what we are aiming for - ways to remember Shannon and keep her spirit alive by helping others.  I don't doubt that that's where my energy needs to be.  I know that I must do these things as part of my own healing process and to make some sense out of this whole tragedy.

But I realized today, that there's a piece of me that's angry that this is my life.  Of course I want to honor Shannon, and I will, but I wish I didn't have to.  On some level, I still wish it wasn't so.  I didn't sign up to be a crusader or an example for others.  I didn't think I'd write a book about losing a child.  I signed up to be a mother and then 12 years later, all hell broke loose, and now I have these new roles that I am not completely comfortable with yet.

But, anger is a part of grief and I just need to remember that whatever I feel, it's o.k.  No right answers here.  This is one of those times when I just need to give myself a break and admit that I don't have it all figured out.  

So this silly little Halloween holiday has me thinking about Shannon, and remembering her in her  costumes through the years. In chronological order:  cat, cow (twice), elephant, tiger, princess, cheerleader, witch, vampire, soccer player, football player, nerd.

While I was in charge of the costumes in those early years, it was pretty standard fare - animals.  Once Shannon took over the costume choices, she tried on a few different personalities.  For those of you who knew her later in her life, it might be hard to picture her as a princess or a cheerleader, but trust me, as a six and seven year old, she owned it!

Thinking of her in each of those get ups makes me smile... and cry.

Erin is out there tonight dressed as Barbie complete with blond wig, tight pink dress, and shiny leggings.  Maybe when she gets home, Erin will sit on the family room floor with me and organize her candy by type...

Sunday October 28, 2012

It was a good productive weekend here and we are now prepped for Halloween.  Erin's costume is ready, pumpkins are carved, and the candy has been purchased.  Of course the forecast calls for lows in the upper 20's here on Wednesday, but that's pretty typical Minnesota Halloween weather.  Erin won't let a little chilly air keep her from collecting free candy...

Basketball season started today with our first practice.  I say "our" because I am helping coach Erin's team this year.  We've got a dozen girls playing on the 7th grade team, so Coach Olson is glad to have a few assistant coaches helping out so we can give the girls a little more one on one attention.

Basketball was my first favorite sport to play when I was a kid and it stayed that way through high school, so it will be fun for me to help out with these girls this year.  It will also keep me busy 3 nights a week all winter, which is probably a good thing.

Hockey season is also underway and Dan and I have been thinking about that, too.  Teams have begun practicing and preparing for their seasons full of games and tournaments and fun.

Shannon would have been a U14B player this year and that's where 9 of her Rebel teammates from last year ended up.  The 14 B's consist of those 9 girls, plus 6 more - most of whom also played with Shannon as some point through the years.

As a team, the 14B's had to come up with a team name.  And, as a team, they wanted to somehow honor Shannon.  They shared with us their team logo:

So, the 14B's will play this season as the Rochester Cannons and hopefully, they will have a lot of fun playing the game that Shannon the Cannon loved so much.  Maybe, just maybe, they will feel her with them out there on the ice.  Dan and I are looking forward to watching them play.

Wednesday October 24, 2012

I still find myself playing the calendar game.  This is something I've always done, comparing one year to the next, gauging progress and change.  It's common for me to comment on something by saying, "A year ago at this time..."  Since April 15th, the calendar game has been less fun than it used to be.

Actually, these days a year ago were some good ones.  Shannon felt good and we were carrying on with school and sports and life.  Reading and re-reading and re re-reading the book in recent days means I know what we were doing almost to the day throughout our journey.  Erin started reading me something from the book the other day and I could recite it back to her, verbatim.  Erin laughed and said "Geez, Mom.  Do you have this thing memorized?"  Um, yeah...

So, that means that I can tell you that last year during the last week of October we were getting the hockey schedule set for the year, starting basketball practices, getting ready for Halloween, and going to celebrate Papa O'Hara's 88th birthday.  I wrote a sentence in this blog last October that read "We continue to try not to be overwhelmed by the big picture because the little picture looks good."  Damn.

It struck me today that, if I think about it, those words ring true for me even now.  I shouldn't project to the future and worry about the big picture.  That's when the sadness and fear creep in.  Stay in the present.  If I look at the little picture that is today, it's a good one.

I taught tennis classes to some fun kids today, and Erin did all her homework and made herself dinner while I was teaching.  Excellent!  Then we were off to Erin's piano lesson where she and Glenna spent part of the lesson talking about the Broadway show we saw.  Glenna just happened to have a book full of Gershwin tunes, and she played a little 'S Wonderful for Erin before sending the book home for us so we could hunt and peck out some of these toe tapping tunes.

Dan is having a good day, too.  He's at the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Annual Show in Green Bay and this year it includes a tour of Lambeau Field.  Even a Packer hater can appreciate a chance to stand on that field.

So, if I look at the little picture, it's a happy one.  If I start to worry about what's ahead - winter, the holidays, etc. - I get scared.  I also know that the calendar game gets tougher in just a few weeks time.  A year ago this was the beginning of the last good month of Shannon's life.  I can't quiet my mind enough to forget that.

This weekend we will prepare for Halloween, and then go celebrate Grandpa Ed's 89th birthday.  Just like we did a year ago.  Same as it ever was.  And totally different.

Saturday October 20, 2012

Home sweet home.  We have returned safely to Rochester and it feels very quiet and spacious here!  Three days in NYC was fantastic, but it's good to be back to our house and our dog and our yard.

Yesterday was a rainy day in New York, but Erin helped us kill of the morning by sleeping in until 11am.  While she snoozed, Dan and I enjoyed our coffee and surfed the web as we peered through the windows at the people hustling up and down the streets.  We are fascinated by people who live and work in that city.  It's a super place to visit, but I don't know if I could live that way.  I like being able to hop in my minivan and run to Target when we are out of milk or toilet paper.  Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  Maybe in my next life.

Once Erin was awake, we spent our afternoon taking the subway to the Upper East Side and checking out the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is a cavernous building and it would take many, many visits to see the whole thing.  We chose a few areas - Ancient Egypt, 19th Century European painting and sculpture, and even some modern and contemporary art.  It was a great way to spend a rainy day, and we all learned a thing or two from listening to the audio guide at various exhibits.

Pondering Pollock

Our final NYC adventure last night provided us with a "full circle moment" as my aunt and uncle Brian and Julie joined us in the city for dinner and a Broadway show, just as they had done 18 months ago when we visited NYC with Shannon and Erin on spring break.  We had a great time with them in March of 2011 just two weeks before Shannon's diagnosis.  We had a great time with them again last night, and that felt good.

We invited cousin Grace along as well so that Erin would have someone to converse with who was not middle age!  So the six of us went to see "Nice Work If You Can Get It" -  a comedy set in the prohibition era that features a couple dozen toe-tapping Gershwin tunes.  We all laughed and enjoyed stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara playing their campy characters perfectly.

Dan and Erin and I talked about feeling that, in the grand scheme of things, we are doing all right.  I was relieved to find that a Broadway musical can still make me smile and laugh and want to sing and dance.  Erin, too.  We still laugh at Dan when he's being a dork on the subway. They still poke fun at me being a control freak when I over-coach Erin on what she should wear. We still call Erin out when she gives me or Dan that awful, mean look that only a teenager is capable of giving.  We still find ourselves laughing often.

A part of me, of us, can't believe it, really.  How can we be going off to NYC and having fun and just going on with life?  It seems almost crazy.  Yes, the dynamic is different and we so miss having Shannon with us.  We talked often on this trip about our adventures here last time and Shannon's name was spoken many times. We like that.  She's still with us in so many ways.

As we got off the plane this afternoon, Erin thanked us for a great trip.  Dan and I told her she is so very welcome.  We are feeling grateful today that the three of us have each other.  We three still enjoy an adventure and our lives must go on.  Shannon would want it that way, I just know it...

On Broadway

NYC Adventures

Today we started our adventure by taking the subway to the Empire State Building to check out the view.  It was a gorgeous, warm day and the 360 degree observation deck on the 86th floor provided some breathtaking views.

From there, we walked and shopped our way up 5th Avenue all the way to Central Park.  Erin enjoyed the shopping, Dan enjoyed the people watching.  Both are pretty solid here in Manhattan.

Along the way we stopped in at St. Patrick's Cathedral, an amazing Neo-Gothic structure.  We lit a candle at the shrine to St. Patrick for Shannon.  Of course we find ourselves thinking of her and missing her as always.  We have lots of memories of our last time here as a foursome.  But, we are seeing some different sights this time and we are making new memories now, just the three of us.

We put off the Broadway show until tomorrow and instead hung out with Erin's cousin Grace tonight.  Taking a jam-packed subway ride 60 blocks from 42nd street up to Columbia University at 116th street was an adventure.  Grace loved showing us around her campus, and Erin was taking it all in.  We talked about Erin's desire to be a part of the Columbia class of 2022.  It's good to have goals.

Time now to rest our tired feet and re-charge for one more day NYC...

Just another Wednesday...

We woke Erin up this morning and told her it was time to shower and get ready for the day.  She thought she was going to school.  We told her we had something else in mind - New York City.

Dan and I hatched this plan a few weeks ago and we've been biting our tongues and trying not to spill the beans.  There were a couple of close calls where we almost blew it, but I'm happy to report that Erin was completely surprised and it felt really good to see the sheer joy on her face.  We'd give our kid the world if we could...

So we walked around Midtown Manhattan tonight and ate some pizza.  We took in the freakshow that is Times Square.  I mean, where else can you see Hello Kitty holding hands with Mickey Mouse while listening to a singing cowboy who is wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, boots, and a speedo?  It's quite a sight to see.

Dan and I told Erin this trip is for her so she gets to help plan the agenda.  Tomorrow she wants to see the view from the Empire State Building, do some shopping, and then hopefully take in a Broadway musical.   

That sounds perfect...

Tuesday October 16, 2012

Things seem to be moving fast around here, but it's a good kind of busy.  We are making progress on things that matter to us.  Here's a quick rundown:

Tonight brings us to the end of the 9th grade volleyball season with the last home match against Winona.  Erin had a two hour practice yesterday and still came home wanting to spend more time practicing in the driveway while she waited for dinner to be ready.  I think it's safe to say, she loves volleyball.

We received our incorporation papers in the mail, so the Shannon O'Hara Foundation, Inc. is officially underway.  Applying and receiving non-profit status is quite a process, but that's the next step.  We would like to create a distribution list for those who are interested in receiving updates on the foundation.  If you'd like to be added to the list, log onto the foundation website - shannonoharafoundation.org  - and click on the "Join our e-mail list" tab.  We will keep you updated on fundraising and upcoming events.

I turned in my final edits on the book today.  That's means I have to be done obsessing about my words and sentences.  Easier said than done for this rookie...  I do feel like it is really taking shape and the marketing efforts have begun.  I sometimes still can't believe this book is going to become a reality, but we're on target for publication this spring.  

So those are the things that have been been occupying my time and it does feel like I'm doing what I'm suppose to be doing, and that feels good.

Dan and I attend Will Canan's funeral yesterday.  Of course I was thinking of my sweet Shannon as I sat there honoring Will's life.  Attending the funeral of another child reminded us again that life is so fragile, so precious.  I wish for peace for the Canans as they walk the road that is ahead.  With awareness of what's around us and gratitude for all that we have, we carry on.

Sunday October 14, 2012

I'm drawing inspiration these last few days from gospel music.  Gospel music from none other than The Boss.  Bruce's Wrecking Ball record includes a song called Rocky Ground that Springsteen tells NY Times John Pareles "The verses are the blues, the chorus is gospel".

Jen and I will see Bruce next month in St. Paul, so I have been spending more time listening through Wrecking Ball.  Like most Springsteen recordings, the more times you hear the more you like it.  And learn from it.

Rocky Ground features sampling from gospel singer Michelle Moore who soulfully recites;

You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best 
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest 
You raise your children and you teach 'them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times, come no more 
You try to sleep, you toss and turn, the bottom's dropping out 
Where you once had faith now there's only doubt 
You pray for guidance, only silence now meets your prayers 
The morning breaks, you awake but no one's there

I feel like this last week has been filled with challenging news and hard times, hard times.  A colleague lost his brother to a motorcycle crash; a father of three young kids.  Our community lost a warrior in 14-year old Will Canan to brain cancer.  I just can't get the images of these beautiful kids out of my mind.

I think it remains a critical that I stay in the present and remain grateful for what is right here in front of me.  Today is all we have.

We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground 
We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground

Thursday October 11, 2012

We are just about to head out to watch some volleyball tonight.  It's the Mayo Spartans at the Century Panthers in a crosstown rivalry match.  Erin's season is coming to a close soon, but not before a match tonight, a tournament on Saturday, and one final match next Tuesday.  She's really enjoyed being a part of this squad and it's certainly made the last two months fly by.

Sad news here in Rochester today.  14 year old Will Canan passed away today after an almost 9 year battle against recurring brain tumors.  Shannon and Will had some mutual friends in this great community of ours.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Canan family tonight.

Another reminder to cherish the ones who matter to us for we can't know what the future holds.

"All I know from my own experience is that the more loss we feel the more grateful we should be for whatever it was we had to lose.  It means we had something worth grieving for." - Frank O'Connor

Tuesday October 9, 2012

I want to share details of an interaction I had today that is not uncommon in our “new normal”.

I’m at O’Hare waiting for my connection, sipping on a bold at Starbucks sitting at a communal table with just a seat between me and the cutest family of four.  When you are out on business you can spot leisure travelers from a mile away.  I try not to be bitter but deep down I wish I was them.

Eventually, I strike up a conversation with the mom and the two daughters who are decked out in Chicago touristy gear – their dad had just run Chicago Marathon and they were returning home to Palmer, Alaska.  The girls were super cute, engaged in our conversation, not shy and not at all inappropriate in sharing stories about their dad’s limping from the race.

It was like I was talking to Shannon and Erin two years ago.  Sure enough, the oldest is 11 and the younger daughter is 9.

Invariable, the conversation turns to me and my girls and I just seized up when Mom (Leslie) asked how old my kids were.  I stumbled and stammered before lying and telling them my girls were 11 and 13.  “Just a stage ahead of your girls”, I told Leslie.   To use Erin’s words, it was totally awk.

Why couldn’t I just tell the truth?  Well, they were really happy and I didn’t feel like buzz killing their fun. And they only had another 20 minutes before their flight boarded.  But why didn’t I just say; “I have an 11-year old daughter named Erin”?  IDK.

So that’s how it goes out here sometimes.  

Sunday October 7, 2012

Yesterday marked nine months since Shannon's passing and the Brains Together For A Cure walk brought together family and friends to support us an remember Shannon.  There were aunts and uncles and cousins and hockey teammates of Shannon and basketball teammates of Erin and teachers and classmates of both girls.

Dan was the keynote speaker and he spoke about awareness and gratitude.  He talked about how relationships - connecting with others - is what matters most in this world.  He recognized the connection of those people there in that room who had all been touched by brain cancer in some way, and he encouraged everyone to continue to live each day being aware of what is around you and grateful for the good in our lives.

I did my first public speaking about Shannon, reading a piece I wrote for the book.  I read the opening to the chapter titled, Hope.  My message was there is always something to look towards, to work towards.  There is always a reason for hope.  Dan and I received some nice feedback afterwards, and that felt good.

Awareness, gratitude, hope... these things carry us through and help us keep getting up each day and doing the best we can.

We also shared the news that we are starting our own foundation in memory of Shannon.  We have filed for incorporation and once that's approved, we will apply for non profit status that will allow us to increase our fundraising efforts in Shannon's memory.  Check it out at:


We have already committed to our scholarship efforts with Rochester Youth Hockey, but what if we can do more?  What if we can help fund brain tumor research each year?  What if we can grow the fund big enough to help out more local youths through donations to other endeavors in Shannon's honor?  What if?  We feel compelled to do good things in her memory, so this is a start.

So, after an emotional week, we ended on the upswing.  It's been a good weekend sharing our story and remembering Shannon, and we had lots of help.  Thanks to Team Shannon for being at the walk yesterday.  Especially those hockey teammates who came directly from tryouts, all sweaty yet ready to laugh and cry with us.  And a special thanks to Shannon's classmates who came out to walk.  Seeing those 9th graders - especially the boys - there to honor Shannon was pretty damn cool.  I love that you liked my kid and you're not afraid to show it.

People were remembering Shannon in other ways on Saturday, too.  We saw many posts acknowledging the 9 month anniversary date.  And, as Shannon's friends dressed up for the homecoming dance, they were remembering the one who was missing, and in their own way, they were taking Shannon with them...

Thursday October 4, 2012

It's homecoming week for Mayo High School.  Erin was busy this afternoon making a sign for the Mayo Volleyball float and she will be throwing out some candy during the parade tomorrow.  Sounds like it will be a chilly night at the football game, but Erin will be there no matter what so she can hang out with her buddies.  She loves that.

Shannon's classmates are getting ready for their first official homecoming as high schoolers.  Many of them are going to the dance on Saturday.  Some are going just with friends, some are going with a date.  Would Shannon be going?  I think so. Would she have a date?  If she wanted to.  Would they be going as friends or as something more?  Hmm...  I just can't piece it all together in my mind.

All the chatter about it brought me to tears earlier this week.  In public.  Damn, I hate when that happens and trust me, it still happens.  Creeping up on nine months without Shannon and tears are still close by at times.

So, there's a heaviness in my heart this week, but we will get through it.  Another step in the journey, another marker in time, another chance to persevere.

We're gearing up for Saturday's Brains Together For a Cure walk.  Remember to wear your Shannon shirts - green ones, white ones, black ones, grey ones - anything goes.  According to the forecast, you might have to have some layers underneath!

The walk starts at 10am at RCTC and Dan will speak during the program following the walk.  If you can, come and help us support the research efforts taking place here at the Mayo Clinic.

Come and help us remember and honor Shannon.

Tuesday October 2, 2012

"You will lose someone you can't live without, and you heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.  But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up.  And you come through.  It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp." - Anne Lamott