New Year's Eve 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, I feel the need to take stock of things.  This is a good practice that reminds me to be aware of all I have.  And, of course, it gives me a chance to remember the things lost along the way...

For Erin, 2013 was a heck of a year.  Last year at this time, she was really struggling.  Struggling to make sense of it all, struggling to find her niche, struggling to find happiness.  Judging by the smiles and giggles we see and hear, she is navigating things nicely at the moment.  Busy with golf and volleyball and friends... and a little homework here and there.  Hard to believe she will be registering for classes next month, preparing to enter high school.  She will begin passing milestones that Shannon never reached.

Dan had his "best" year ever on the work front.  13 years into working in the fuel card industry, he feels like he finally knows what he's doing!  I say that in jest, but there is some truth to that.  He's grateful to be with a company that recognizes the value of a veteran sales guy.  Another career year, and another year of sobriety through it all as well.  It's something he never forgets and he's diligent about working his program.  That is something for which I am grateful every day.

As a family, we traveled abroad for the first time, and our trip to London and Paris was definitely one of the highlights of our year.  We've agreed that it's time to start saving for our next adventure, possibly Ireland in the summer of 2015.  It's good to have goals.

Of course, publishing Determined to Matter and and sharing our story was a big part of our journey in 2013.  It gave me a new role as an author, speaker, and advocate.  We've got some events and ideas to try to push the book forward to a wider, more national audience.  I'll keep you posted.  And, I may need your help...

Learning to be a family of three is coming more easily now.  Thank goodness.  Dan, Erin and I are settled into a nice rhythm, looking out for each other and sharing friendship, love, and laughter along the way.

As for me, this year left me with a little less breast and a few more teeth.  I survived radiation treatment, lymphedema, and oral surgery.  And, I'm happy to report that as 2013 comes to a close, I am feeling good, and I finally own my new teeth.  After 18 months and many correspondences between me, WFMC, and insurance, the insurance company denied coverage for the teeth.  They paid for the posts under the premise that they were medically necessary, but apparently the teeth that go on those posts are optional.  Luckily, after pleading my case yet again, the Mayo Clinic agreed to clear the remaining $6700 from my medical bill.  I guess I count that as one of my best victories of the year!

There we some happier endeavors for me this past year:  I took a writing class, I traveled with girlfriends, and I started looking for a job.  All these things feel like progress, and that's what I want.  I don't know where I'm going, but I don't want to stand still.

Just like last year at this time, I find myself wondering about this blog.  It still feels so good to me to write, and I still hear from you people from time to time that reading it is still a part of your routine.  I guess I feel like that's enough to keep it going.  I worry that it's arrogant to write a blog about your own life all the time, but maybe it's more than that.  Maybe it's a touchstone for things going on in other people's lives.  Maybe it's a chance to share some humor, some sorrow, some connection.  If it works for me, and it works for you, well, we should keep going...

So, tonight we shut the door on 2013.  725 days without Shannon.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday December 29, 2013

We've spent the past three days checking out the holiday basketball tournament here in town.  It's been a good activity for us and kept us on the move.  Erin got to hang out with friends at the arena, and so did we.  It's fun to see how connected Erin feels to the Mayo Spartan community.  Truth be told, Dan and I feel pretty connected, too.  

Now, we are ready to hunker down for the next few days at home.  Our coldest temps of the year are on their way and we plan to avoid feeling that arctic air as much as possible!  Overnight low tonight is predicted at -18 actual temperature.  Erin asked us yesterday, "Explain to me why we live here, again?"

The Christmas holiday is behind us now, and I have to say, we not only survived, but managed to enjoy ourselves.  It was a good mix of large gatherings and small groups.  Time to enjoy each other, and some time to ourselves.  Although we felt some sorrow, we felt some joy, too.

At my bereavement support group the other night we talked about making new traditions and changing up what's always been.  The same things that worked in the before may not work in the after.

This year we lit a candle for Shannon everywhere we went.  We talked about her often.  I don't know that we settled on any new tradition, but we got through Christmas, 2013.  


Christmas Eve

I am the first one up today, drinking coffee in the dark out of my Santa Claus mug, writing by the light of the Christmas tree...

It's been a good start to our winter break.  Harkins family Christmas was a success.  We decorated cookies and played games and ate prime rib.  We also talked a lot about Shannon.  Tears were shed, but that's OK.  It would feel worse if we didn't acknowledge the pain we carry.

Erin is making the most of her time off - sleeping in, hanging with friends, but still happy to hang out with me and Dan as well.  It's a wonderful dynamic we have developed as a threesome.  Erin has her say in things.  Not an equal to me and Dan, but pretty damn close.  She's earned it.  But, her excitement about Christmas has been a reminder that she is just twelve.  She wants to know when she gets to open her presents...

Today we will head to St. Paul and Minneapolis, stopping a few places to wish people a Merry Christmas before an O'Hara gathering this evening.

We received a lovely note yesterday from one of our followers, thanking us for this blog and letting us know it's helping her deal with grief in her own life.  Yesterday, Dan and I both had encounters with people who have stories of their own.  Stories of struggle, pain, and suffering.  We did our best to comfort, console and encourage.

If we've learned anything, it's that human connections are what matter the most in this life.  We hope that each of you can enjoy this special time of year with those you love.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday December 21, 2013

We are celebrating Harkins family Christmas this weekend here at our house.  Grandma and Papa flew in from Nevada earlier this week, and Eric, Jen, Laurynn and Jack arrived in Rochester last night.

While Eric and Jen went out with friends last night, the rest of us spent the evening decorating Christmas cookies.  Everybody got in on the act, trying to be more artistic than the next person.  Frosting, sprinkles and commentary were used in abundance!

Erin, the Queen of the Selfie, captured the moment:

Today we will be hiking, sledding, opening presents, and eating prime rib.  It feels good to be together.  

Shannon is not forgotten, and we shared some memories last night.  That feels good, too.  As we make new memories, we pull her spirit along with us into the now.  She is here with us, helping all of us carry on...

Sunday December 15, 2013

We are home, exhausted, and satisfied...

We spent 13 hours at Graham Arena yesterday.  I had forgotten that feeling you get when you spend all day at the rink - tired feet, cold fingers and toes, and a warm heart.  I miss hanging out and shooting the breeze with my hockey friends.

This weekend was the 12A tournament.  Add to that 4 high school games, and several other youth practices, and it was a busy day at Graham Arena.  If you have a kid who plays hockey in this town, we probably saw you yesterday.

Thanks to all that traffic, it was a great day of fundraising.  Through tournament t-shirt and SOF novelty sales, we added another $1500 to the foundation coffers.  We are pushing towards $40,000.  The goal is to get the fund to $100,000 some day.  We will keep working...

Seeing these girls playing their games and hanging around the rink, it brings back so many good memories.  These 15 girls all know the story of Shannon.  They wore stickers on their helmets and green ribbon in their hair.  Shannon serves as a reminder for them to enjoy these experiences.

Today we were back at the rink to watch the Rochester team in the championship game.  (Erin was slightly over-dressed for the occasion, having come directly from her piano recital!)  While the Rochester team came out on the short end, there was much appreciation from those girls and their families for our efforts to support girls hockey in this town.  Despite the loss, they were all smiles for us as we congratulated them on their tournament.

Shannon would be proud of us, I think.

So, week one of four Shannon Cup events is in the books.  We will be back at the rink again after the holidays.  Maybe my toes will be warm by then...

Tuesday December 10, 2013

"Gratitude makes what we have into what we need..."

This anonymous quote was posted outside my yoga class yesterday.  I use the term, "my yoga class" loosely.  I am the heaviest, least flexible person in there, but I'm giving it a go.

I think it's good for me to practice a little letting go, a little mindfulness, a little time to not think.  And that does take practice.  So does balancing on one foot.  Seriously, though, the mind/body connection is a strange thing.  Sometimes both are in knots.  I am trying to undo one or two of them...

We have been talking a lot about Shannon this week.  We talked to two more hockey teams - one high school team about the scholarship, and one girls team about this weekend's Shannon Cup.

We also had a little impromptu Shannon fundraiser this past Saturday, thanks to a dear friend of ours.  What started out as a get together for a bunch of his high school buddies turned into a chance for us to share our story with a new group of people.  That's all it took.  Thanks to the Lourdes class of '74, the Shannon O'Hara Foundation is now $1100 richer.  That's more than the "few bucks" we were expecting.  People are amazing...

Shannon came up in our every day conversation this week, too.  Erin, Dan, and I were sitting around on Saturday morning in our upstairs living room.  Just hanging out, chatting, eating breakfast.  Nobody was in a hurry to do anything. Then, Erin announced she was going to go down and watch some Netflix on the family room TV.  Dan set her straight, "I'm just about to come down and watch some college football."  "Dad, you're just like Shannon.  She didn't want something until I was going to use it, then she'd say, 'that's mine!'"

It was a funny memory, but what struck me about it is that Erin has made amazing strides.  She's done as good a job as any of us at integrating Shannon into her being.  She can tell a matter-of-fact Shannon story without it bringing her down.

We've been having a good time, the three of us, and sometimes that gives us pause.  Dan asked me this weekend if I thought we were in denial about how much we miss Shannon.  A little survivor's guilt?  How can we be laughing with Erin when Shannon's not here?

I've given it some thought - when I allow myself to think - and my answer is no.  We are not in denial.  We are coping.  We like to talk about Shannon, and we have to be able to do that without crumbling under the weight of what has happened.  I think we are truly coming to accept that we will never get over it.  That this is how it is.  And we are OK.

There is plenty for which to be grateful around here.  Practice gratitude.  Maybe we do have what we need...

Wednesday December 4, 2013

First off I need to wish a Happy Birthday to my little brother, Eric.  Truth is, he's getting old just like the rest of us...

It is raining/sleeting here today.  I am grateful for my fireplace, Pandora radio, and good coffee.  Those are my writing tools this afternoon.

Two years ago today, Shannon skated for the last time.  December 4, 2011, at Graham Arena.  Her Rebels scrimmaged the boys that night.  Shannon's balance was failing her, and she fell hard and hurt her wrist.  It was bugging her the next day when we headed to St. Jude.  Needless to say, with the way things went in Memphis, the wrist injury was soon forgotten. But, I remember how adamant she was that night about continuing to play in the scrimmage, even though she was hurting.  Such a stubborn little girl.  That part makes me smile...

I wonder if I will always remember those little details?  Those little stories about Shannon and who she was.  I hope so.  I don't want to forget anything.  When I'm 90, I want to be able to tell the other people in the nursing home about my little girl...

Last night I was back at Graham Arena.  This year's Rebels had sent me a request for some new Shannon stickers.  Girls that had grown out of their old helmets or girls new to traveling hockey needed one to update their equipment.

I went and poked my head in their locker room as they were getting ready for a scrimmage.  Guess what?  They were scrimmaging the boys last night.  Spooky.  Anyway, I introduced myself as "Shannon's mom" and they all cheered.  So spontaneous, and so sweet.  Everybody got a green sticker with the #9 winged logo for their headgear, and then they asked me if I would stay and watch them play.

I stayed a while and visited with some of the parents.  It's the same as it ever was.  The kids love it.  The parents love it.  I left there feeling good about connecting with those girls and their families, but also realizing once again how much I miss being around the rink.

We will be at the rink quite a bit over the next couple months, starting with our first Shannon Cup weekend, Dec. 13-15.  The 12A tournament will be taking place that weekend, there will be new Shannon Cup t-shirts for sale along with our other goodies.  We will be there, watching those kids compete.  It's the best we can do now.  It's how we honor Shannon.

So, this is an anniversary of sorts.  Her last skate.  Dammit.  I'm doing my best today to remember #9 skating hard, and loving every minute of it.  That's how it was, right until the end...

Friday November 29, 2013

We are enjoying our holiday weekend - and it's only Friday.  That makes Erin and Dan very happy.

Thanksgiving was a good day spent hanging out with cousins Laurynn and Jack, having plenty of turkey and plenty of laughs.  Dan and my brother Eric are in a tight race for who qualifies as craziest uncle.  They convinced us to walk out on the ice on the local pond.  As Jack said, "If Uncle Dan says it's ok, what could go wrong?"

We didn't talk about Shannon much, but she is certainly on their minds.  They proudly wear their Shannon stocking caps, and Jack even has a Shannon wall in his room featuring pictures of her and momentos of his big cousin.   They remember.

We actually kicked off our giving thanks on Wednesday.  I had my one year post-cancer mammogram and my scan was clear.  Both Dan and Erin accompanied me to my afternoon appointment.  Erin wanted to be there and hear the details with her own ears.  It reminded me of the days when she would attend Shannon's appointments so she could ask her own questions.  Erin knows her way around an exam room. My doctor walked in the room, saw Erin and said directly to her, "Your Mom passed her mammogram!"  Perfect.  

We got a rundown on the plan going forward.  I will continue taking Tamoxifen and will have checkups every six months for the next 5 years, but for now, we can set the worry aside.   The three of us had all been carrying some angst about this appointment, and needless to say, we were all relieved.  Walking out of there, Erin turned to me and gave me a high five...

Today, we slept in to combat the food intake from yesterday.  Then, we actually pumped ourselves up and did some shopping.  You heard it hear first - Dan O'Hara was at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on Black Friday.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  A broken coffee pot cannot be tolerated in this house...

While we were out, we picked out a Christmas tree.  Erin was pumped to start decorating.  Little Miss Craft Project got the hot glue gun going and created some new holiday decorations - a homemade wreath, a tiny tree, a cute shadow box.  We've also got lights, fake snow, and a door wrapped like a Christmas present.  The tree is up and decorated.  We are looking pretty good.

Some poignant decisions had to be made - Shannon's stocking?  It is hanging next to Erin's.  Right where it belongs. The ornaments that Shannon made?  They, of course, still belong on our tree.  

I was struck by how many angel ornaments we now own.  It must have been a popular gift to us last year, but I honestly don't remember, which is strange.  I can tell you about all the ornaments pre-diagnosis - where they came from or who gave them to us.  But, this bevy of angels we now own,  they are a mystery to me.  Last year, I must have been in a fog.  Even though I can't remember where they came from, I like them, and they now hang on our tree.

I've been taking part in a bereavement group for parents who have lost kids to cancer, and this very thing was our discussion topic this week.  How do you honor your lost one during this festive time that's about celebration?  There are no right answers, and as we've said before, the second year is no easier than the first. 

But, everything we did today felt right, and Erin is on cloud nine.  She thanked us for decorating and told us, "I love Christmas."  

We will take each day at it comes, but today was a good day...

Tuesday November 26, 2013

Just in from a brisk hike around Willow Creek Reservoir with my BFF Sunny the Wonderdog.  According to my weather app it is 19 degrees with a north wind at 12-15.  A nice cup of hot tea and I am ready to lay down some thoughts.

Sunny operates at peak efficiency in these conditions; her shepherd, collie pedigree keeps her plenty warm - heck - she pants.  When it is hot she lags behind on the hike.  But not tonight; her senses were on high alert with a tail wagging high in the evening sky.  She even helped me notice the bald eagle pairing watching over the open water and the fresh food in the creek on the 16th at Willow Creek GC.  I said hi to Shannon. The eagles just stared back at me.

The reservoir is mostly enclosed by ice, except for about a one acre patch of open water.  At dusk, Canadian geese from all over the county gather in this opening.  Must have been a thousand of em' packed into that open water.  It was cool watching them glide in and land with the sunset in the back ground.  Happy hour for geese.

I am home on this Tuesday night; working from the office this week as most customers are not interested in a visit from their favorite sales guy on this short holiday week.  Home sweet home.

It's a short week for Ms. Erin too.  The Thanksgiving break has started for her.   I will chauffeur Erin and her friends to the movie theater - check that - I will drop them at the movie theater.  I'm not invited.  The girls will take in the latest adventures of Ms Katniss Everdeen.  Then, they will have a sleepover because that is what 8th grade girls do.

A friend flagged me down at the health club Monday.  She was excited to tell me her daughter plays on the Rochester Rebel U12 girls hockey team this season.  She told me the girls are proud as punch to be linked to Shannon's final team.  She said her daughter owns every Shannon shirt we've sold and wears the black workout shirt under her hockey gear every chance she gets.  It struck me that this next generation of Rochester hockey players are going to carry on in Shannon's memory - it's happening.  That made my day, made my week.

Music has been working for me again over the past month or so.  I have satellite radio in my car and found a Classic Vinyl channel that makes Erin roll her eyes.  For me, music is all about a time and a place and a space in life.  Listening to old Neil Young, Bob Seger and Jackson Browne even inspired me to call a friend from a space in life a long time ago.  Took a chance.  It was way worth it.

As I write tonight I am listening to Eric Hutchinson;  I have to recommend a download of the ballad Breakdown More. Personally, I think E Hutch's 2012 release Moving Up Living Down is a must for your collection.

That's all for now.  Good to be back with ya.  I think I will take my other BFF - Ms. Jen AKA Wifey - to see Captain Phillips (of course, for Erin's dignity we will go to the other theater in town). 

Life is good.  Much to be thankful for.
Home sweet home

Monday November 25, 2013

Dan and I were discussing our exhaustion over coffee this morning.  Is it possible that we're too old to survive back to back busy days on a weekend?  Say it ain't so...

The good news is that our fundraising was successful.  Thanks to our supporters, we raised $2000 for the kids of St. Jude and another $1500 for the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  Well done, people.

The St. Jude walk was absolutely freezing, yet our crazy families still came out to walk with us.  We did the best we could, but let's just say we might not have walked the whole 5K.  The hot coffee and warm breakfast was too enticing...

Luckily, we got to warm up by heading to the hockey rink.
Our foundation fundraising efforts got a nice jump start with a $500 donation from the Century Girl's Hockey program.  The continued support of the hockey community means the world to us.

Dan and I enjoyed our day at the rink on Saturday, catching up with old friends.  Seeing Shannon's buddies playing varsity hockey was just as we imagined it - exciting and heartbreaking at the same time.

But every conversation we had with one of Shannon's friends made us smile.  They are beautiful, funny young women now, and maybe it allows us to imagine what Shannon might have been like at this age.  We are forever connected to those girls and we must just do our best to enjoy watching them grow, not letting our minds wander too often to the what if...

We wrapped up the weekend with book sales at St. John's during the Sunday masses.  Another great show of support from our church community and over two dozen people purchased Determined to Matter.

We continue to share Shannon's story and hopefully inspire others to live each day with purpose and meaning.  I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but I guess I feel our experience affords us the right to say it out loud.

It's Thanksgiving week.  Time to practice gratitude...

Emily, Erin, & Laurynn - St. Jude Walk

Friday November 22, 2013

Our first dose of winter has arrived, just in time for our St. Jude Give thanks.  Walk. tomorrow, outdoors, in the concourse of Target Field.  But, we support the cause come hell or high water... or windchill...

That will be just the beginning of a busy weekend for us: the walk in Minneapolis, hustle home for a Shannon O'Hara Foundation day at the HS Girls Hockey games, and then finish off the weekend with book sales at St. John's before and after masses on Sunday.

All good stuff, all worthwhile endeavors, all to support our mission.

I am going to admit to some trepidation about going and watching the HS games tomorrow.  This is the first year where kids that were Shannon's peers are an integral part of those high school rosters.  We've been reading the tweets and looking at box scores and there are Shannon's line mates from her years on the Rebels.

Now, understand that this makes us happy.  We love those girls.  They each hold a special place in our hearts, and we've got so many happy memories that include them.  We can still picture Shannon skating down the ice, celebrating each goal and each victory with those girls.

 But, those Rebels teammates are going where Shannon never got to.  So it makes us sad, too.  Shannon wanted to play high school hockey.  That was on her bucket list.

Now, we are left to root for others.  And we will.  We know that they carry a little piece of Shannon with them every time they hit the ice.  We even heard that Shannon's name was written on a hand, under a glove, when one girl scored her first varsity goal.

So, feeling happy and sad, moving forward and looking backward...

Monday November 18, 2013

I'm sitting at Starbucks in the shadows of the WFMC this morning.  It's been a familiar stomping ground for us these past three years.

Today it's Dan's turn to take advantage of the services offered at the Mayo Clinic.  It's a routine procedure that they recommend once you turn 50... I'll leave it at that...

So, I sit and wait and think about the many times we have been here in this space, seeking medical help, waiting for answers.  It has been a rough few years on that front, and my next mammogram is looming next week.

I'd be lying if I didn't say it causes me a little angst.  We no longer have the luxury of assuming that everything will be all right.  But, we are also not fatalists, and we still hope for the best in each situation.  We just have a little scar tissue to fight through.

Medical procedures aside, we are having a good stretch of days.  Dan, Erin and I are really settling in to a rhythm as a family of three.  There is lots of good in our lives.  We are fleshing out our holiday plans, and mustering up some positivity and gratitude to carry us through.

I spent much of the weekend trying to design a our Christmas card.  I love giving and receiving these yearly updates on family and friends.  It's been two years now since I've sent out a card.  I've decided it's time to get back on that horse.

So, it's taken me two days to come to terms with what our card should look like this year.  How to share the family that is, the family that was, and the family that will always be in a few pictures and words.  I did my best...

We've got a busy week ahead - volleyball banquet, class for me, the St. Jude walk, and then SOF sales at the HS hockey games and at St. John's.  All good stuff.  All things that the three of us want to do - together.

And so it goes... we are making progress, we are moving forward, we are still remembering.  That's what we hope for, each and every day.

Wednesday November 13, 2013

The sun sets so early now... 6pm is black as midnight.  I find I have to fight the urge to put on my pajamas before dinner...

November is feeling like January and we are steeling ourselves for a long winter.  We continue to muddle through some days and do better some others.  We continue to make the best of life as a family of three.  We still laugh a lot.  Thank god for that.

I think we are all coming to the realization that this has to be integrated into who we are now.  We are not the same people we were before.  We will live as these new people for the rest of our lives.

I know that the approaching holiday season is weighing heavily on us this year.  Last year we prepared ourselves for "the first", and we had a plan.  (Who knew that "the first" would be overshadowed by my own cancer diagnosis?  That one still makes me shake my head at the universe...)

But this year, the holidays just feel like a reminder that things aren't as they should be.  And, we realize we have to do this every year...every year without Shannon.

But, this isn't unique to me, to us.  This is the human experience - struggles, up, downs... we live, we love, we lose.  All of that changes us.  People are born, people die.  Yes, losing a child is an extreme example.  But, like all experiences in life, how you react to it, recover from it, learn from it, and integrate it into your being determines your happiness.  That is living.

She is always with us.  Some days it's an anchor, but some days it gives us wings...

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thursday November 7, 2013

I had an experience this week that really threw me for a loop.  I've been debating for two days whether or not to share it.  I asked Erin whether she thought I should blog about it and she said, "Mom, there's no downside."  So, here goes...

Tuesday was a gloomy day around here, so I spent it cleaning out some closets.  I found my old letter jacket and Dan's old Twins bat boy stuff.  Those things made the cut.  The bowling trophy of mine from 1978... well, I was finally able to part with that one.

I'm a bit of a saver and I have always kept things for the girls that they might want to one day show to their own kids.  Damn.  Anyway, one pile of things was a stack of schoolwork - some of Erin's and some of Shannon's - that I had set aside, intending to pick out a few items to keep for each girl.

As I picked the pile up, a binder of Shannon's fell to the ground and the three rings snapped open.  Out popped one sheet of paper.  It was an alphabet project where they had to come up with a vocabulary word for each letter of the alphabet.

The page that fell out was the letter D.

There, in her handwriting, in her favorite color, was the word that Shannon chose:  Determined.

Mind you, this was done in 5th or 6th grade, long before her diagnosis.  Why did she chose that word?   Why did that page fall our for me to see?  Why was that page done in that color?

I was in the process of just throwing that whole binder away and I would never have seen that page if I hadn't dropped it.

I hesitated to share this story because I don't want any of you to think that I'm going off the deep end or looking for meaning in scraps of paper.  That's not how I view the world.  For better or for worse, I usually need it to make sense to believe it.  I'm still the same old concrete-sequential Jen that you know and love :)

But, I have no choice but to believe that Shannon wanted me to see that.  She wanted to remind me that when I struggle, I need to persevere.  Stay determined.  Something bigger than myself is telling me to keep going.  Keep sharing, keep working, keep trying to make a difference.  Some days it's so hard, but it's what I have to do.

When we were working on the book, we spent a long time coming up with the title.  If we ever doubted whether we chose the right one, there's no question now.  Shannon had picked it out herself.

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Sunday November 3, 2013

Exciting day for the Mayo Spartans yesterday as the volleyball team qualified for the state tournament.  Erin and the rest of the C squad and B squad were out in force, cheering the varsity on in a thrilling 5 game win over Owatonna.

Erin knows all these girls now from practicing with them throughout the year.  It's fun to see how excited she was for them and how connected she feels to this program now.  It's her thing, for sure.  She's also very happy for her buddy, Lexie, who will be a part of the state tournament squad as an 8th grader.

Shannon's buddies were all there, too, cheering on their classmates.  More memories being made without our dear girl.  There are a few sophomores on the varsity, and one of them, Anna, is a part of the famous pyramid picture.  It struck me yesterday that we always refer to her as "Shannon's friend Anna".

The other day at practice, it was Anna's job to block the setter's attempt, and Erin found herself matched up against Anna, a.k.a Bomber.  Erin vs. Bomber is not a fair fight.  After Anna stuffed it in Erin's face, Erin looked up - way up - and responded with a dry witted retort:  "Good one, Bombs."  Erin's levity made the coaches laugh.

Erin and Bomber continued to razz each other - Erin standing on a box, pretending to be Anna and Anna crouching as low as she could go, pretending to be Erin.  Too funny.

So Thursday we will be off to the state tournament to root the Spartans on.  We will be cheering for all the girls, including "Shannon's friend Anna".

It might be time to start calling her Erin's friend, too...

Wednesday October 30, 2013

Tonight, Erin and I were on the move:  I picked her up from Mayo HS after practice, off to Chipotle for a quick dinner, then a haircut for her, and finally a piano lesson.  Sometimes I drive 80 miles and don't go anywhere...

On our ride home, we were discussing the homework on her docket tonight.  I mentioned an assignment that she has to finish.  This exchange ensued:

"You're about halfway done with that, right?"
"Um, not exactly."
"But, I thought that's what you told me?"
"Mom, sometimes I lie to you to make you happy."

We locked eyes... and both started laughing...

Miss Erin makes me laugh and smile almost every day.  I'm grateful she's here, showing me the way.

Sunday October 27, 2013

We spent the weekend gathered with the O'Hara clan to celebrate the patriarch's birthday.  Ed O. will turn 90 on Tuesday.

All nine kids gathered along with most of the spouses and some of the grandchildren.  You think turning ninety is a challenge, you should try to organize this crew for a group picture!  After many directions were given and several opinions were voiced, we managed this:

So, another event, another milestone, another marker of time passing.  We laughed plenty this weekend, but we had our solemn moments as well.

We went to mass as a whole family this morning at Christ the King in Minneapolis.  There, we got a chance to see the memorial brick that Ed and Tess purchased in Shannon's memory.  There it is at the front entrance:

Shannon O'Hara
small but wise
7/29/1998 - 1/6/2012

We have written about our pain and our angst often over these past few weeks.  In some ways it's comforting to know people are still following our journey via this blog.  So many kind words have been sent our way recently.  

I think it's just hard to put into words all the things we are feeling.  It's the forever thing that's weighing so heavily on us.  We made it through our first holiday season without Shannon, but now another one is approaching.  And then they'll be another, and another, and another...

Acceptance continues to be our goal.  Acceptance that this is who we are now.  Life is still good, although not exactly as we imagined it would be.  There is some freedom in realizing we don't really have control and so it's not worth worrying.  What will be will be.  We have learned that lesson.

We also recognize that new pains, new hurts, new tragedies come every day in this world.  We want to be of help to those who are traveling a similar path.  In the past couple of weeks, I have been a part of a planning committee for a Brain Tumor Patient Symposium, and also been taking part in a bereavement group for families who lost their children to cancer.  We continue with our work on the foundation and the book.  In the next two weeks, we will be visiting with the high schoolers who are eligible to apply for the Shannon O'Hara Memorial Scholarship this year.  We continue to try and make Shannon's life matter.

Life continues to be very busy for Dan and Erin, and I continue to want to figure out what's next for me.  

So many people have been asking me how my writing class is going.  I don't exactly know how to answer this question... My hope was that I would be prompted by this class to expand my writing chops and begin to write about other things.  I don't want to be a one-trick pony.  

But, in class, the prompts we are given and the assignments we have seem to always lead me back to my favorite subject.  

The exercises we did in class two weeks ago illustrates my struggle.  The first prompt was to close your eyes and find the first image that comes to your mind, then go to the page and write about it for five straight minutes straight without stopping.  Guess who paid my mind's eye a visit.

The next exercise was to use color as a prompt.  Our instructor pulled out a giant box of crayons and said, "when the box gets to you, pick the first color that catches your eye, then color with it, write with it, write about it, dive into that color."  Yep.  Lime green.

So, there I am, trying to expand my world, and I keep coming back to the same place.  I have been frustrated by this, but I have also received some sound advice:  if this is what comes, then let it flow.   I guess it just means I still have things to say about my favorite subject... 

My new strategy is to just let the assignments take me where I need to go.  

For our homework last week, we carried the color idea further, paying attention to a time during the week when color affected us and writing from that experience.  Here's my piece:

This morning at 1:17 am, my dog woke me for a trip outside.  She was unsettled last night.  I have been unsettled for days.  

In the darkness of the middle of the night, snow was falling.  The first white flakes of the season for us.  White, almost translucent snow.  It’s beautiful and pure and always a shock when it happens again.  You think I’d be used to it after 44 years of living in Minnesota.  But, year after year, it catches me by surprise.

So there, in my pj’s, at 1:17am, I watched the white, white snow fall to the ground.  Even snow reminds me of Shannon.  Everything leads me back to her.

We used to make a giant sledding run in our backyard.  It had twists and turns and we even needed to create a berm to keep the sleds on the track.  Shannon was fearless, younger sister Erin a little more cautious.

Over and over they would come down the hill, fast enough to make mom nervous.  Adjustments would be made to the track - holes patched, snow added - all in the hopes of speeding it up.  This was Shannon and her dad’s specialty:  push it to the limit.  

We haven’t had the sledding run for a couple of years now.  Two years ago, Shannon was too sick to sled.  Last year, our first winter without her, we tried.  Erin and Dan went out and worked on the run and attempted to get it going.  They didn’t succeed.  They got too sad.  It was too lonely without her.

So, this is how my day has started - 1:17am, the white snow, and Shannon...

Come Walk With Us - November 23rd

We are excited to take part in this event for the first time this year.  The St. Jude Give thanks.  Walk.  will take place on Saturday, November 23rd at Target Field in Minneapolis.  On that day, similar walks will be taking place in 75 cities all around the country as the kickoff of the St. Jude annual holiday campaign, Thanks and Giving.

Registration for this family-friendly event is free.  It's just a 5K walk, three laps around the Target Field Concourse.  All participants are encouraged to raise money to help save kids battling cancer and other deadly diseases.  We have a team already formed, so when you register, make sure you join Team Shannon O'Hara Foundation.

Click the link below and choose one of two options:

1.  Join our Team -   If you can join us, register for the walk.  That's all you have to do.  If you would like, feel free to do some fundraising or make a donation on your own as you register.  Every little bit helps, so no donation is too small.  Dan, Erin and I got us started.

2.  Support our Team - If you can't join us but would like to donate, you may choose any member of Team SOF and make a donation to their walk.  I suggest you choose Erin O'Hara :)

We hope our Twin Cities friends and followers can come out to help us support St. Jude and raise money in Shannon's memory.  We will be out there in our "I walk for Shannon" shirts, and we'd love to have some company.

Here's the link:  Register or Support Team Shannon O'Hara Foundation

Tuesday October 22, 2013

It was a productive weekend around here as we are doing our best to pull ourselves forward.

Erin made the most of her MEA break - doing a lot of catch up on homework and hanging out with friends each day.  She managed to write three papers, read 200 pages and still had time to watch a volleyball tournament here, a Gopher volleyball game at the U of M, and check out a Halloween event, Fright on the Farm.  She and her buddies laughed and screamed their way through the zombies and ghosts.

Dan and I just take one look at her, and it reminds us why we need to keep plugging along.  If nothing else, we do it for Erin.

When we get too far ahead of ourselves, we get worried about how we are going to cope with all the days ahead without Shannon.  The holidays, the anniversaries, the milestones, the rest of our lives...

But, there are still things we want to do, places we want to go, milestones that we will reach, even without Shannon.  Life is still good.  It's not as easy as it once was, but it's still good.

So, back to the basics.  We can do it if we take it one day at a time.  I shouldn't be worried about Thanksgiving or Christmas or January 6th.  I only need to focus on today.  Get up, do what needs doing today, and don't worry about the rest.

That's my plan for this week.  I'll keep you posted...

The Shannon Moon

We're hoping the beautiful reminder of our Angel watching overhead will show us the way out of the current "dark period" we are experiencing as a family.

It's interesting how grief comes in waves for each of us.  In the past, I've drawn analogies between alcohol recovery and recovery from loss. But there is a major distinction;  the further I get away from alcohol the better it gets.  Our world will never be better without Shannon in it.

Thursday October 17th, 2013

I had a good cry yesterday.  I might have another today.  I wonder if it will still feel raw when I'm 50?  Or 70?

I'm just feeling the loss of Shannon so acutely lately and missing her so much.  It seems like I've had a lot of contact with her friends in recent days -  there they are at the Mayo HS sporting events, supporting their friends.  Some of them are even driving themselves around these days.  I wonder if Shannon would have been a good driver...

At the volleyball game the other night, all of Shannon's best buddies were there.  One was playing, and the other 4 were in the stands to cheer their friend on.  These are the same five girls that were by Shannon's side, sitting at her lunch table, rooting her on.

We have this picture of those girls from Homecoming 2011.  Shannon and her friends made a pyramid with Shannon on the top.  She looked good, happy.  So, fast forward two years later and I found myself looking at those girls, sitting in front of me at the volleyball game.  One of their Grandmas took a photo of them and showed it to me.  They all look beautiful and happy.  It made me so sad.

As time passes, people are less aware of my loss, or less sensitive it seems.  People don't want to revisit the sad things, people want to move on.  It's perfectly normal behavior, and it's what you'd expect, but it doesn't make it any easier.

For us, we don't have that luxury.  Yes, we move on and move forward, but we have no choice but to revisit the sadness from time to time.  That is a part of who we are, and I think it always will be.  We have to keep Shannon in our memory, because that is where she lives.  That's why I am pretty certain I'll be able to muster up a good cry, even 30 years down the road.

The changing of the seasons, the impending holidays, and the anniversary are all looming, and I am feeling it.

Wednesday October 16, 2013

Volleyball season ended last night for the 9th grade squad.  It's been a really positive experience for Erin - learning a new position and getting the opportunity to play all the time.  She's got good leadership skills, and teammates respond to her.

A friend of ours watched her play last night and sent me a text afterwards saying "I saw a little bit of Dan out there."  I think its the facial expressions...

So, another season is behind us.  MEA break starts tonight.  Time marches on.

Sunday October 13, 2013

Ahh, Sunday.  A day of rest is always welcome.  Dan's chili is simmering on the stove and we are settling in to watch a few hours of football.

It's just a three day week ahead for Erin and it will also bring the end of the fall volleyball season for her.  One more match on Tuesday night, and that's that.  It's been a great one and Erin is looking forward to playing club volleyball this winter.

Erin has decided not to play basketball this year.  She is relieved to not have to commit so much time to an activity where she didn't get many opportunities to play.  Volleyball and golf will suffice.

I've been keeping busy, including driving to the cities each week for a writing class.  It's been engaging for me to meet new people and try to develop my writing skills.  I'm still not sure where I'm headed or what exactly I want to do, but at least I am doing something.  And, I get to go hang out in Minneapolis once a week and pretend I'm an artist.

Dan has been getting in the last licks on the golf course for the season in between his busy travel weeks.  Michigan has been requiring his attention about once a month, and that involves air travel.  The next couple weeks he will stay on the ground, traveling to North Dakota and Wisconsin.  Nothing but glamour out there on the road.

So, we are heading into the late fall/winter without much on the calendar.  That's OK.  I think.

Thursday October 10, 2013

It's Erin's half birthday today.  This struck me today when 10/10 came up on the calendar.  I found myself thinking about those years when every six months was a milestone.  One of my favorite Erin stories took place around one of those "half birthdays".  Erin was being precocious and I commented to her - "You are one of a kind, Erin."  She looked me straight in the eye and said, "No I'm not, I'm two and a half."

Yesterday after I spoke to the IBM employees, many people came up to me and shared with me some connection they have to our story.  Shannon's tentacles still reach many people, and Dan and I always love to hear from people about how they knew our daughter or, knew of our daughter through some connection.  It's sort of a "Six Degrees of Shannon" thing.

The most special connection yesterday, though, was a lady who had been Erin's student teacher in third grade.  She had been following the story and she told me, "All along the way, I've been thinking about Erin.  How is she doing?"

It's easy to get caught up in our Shannon events.  They've become such a part of who we are and what we do.  The calendar turns over and we begin again with walks and hockey tournaments and fundraising.  Sometimes I do have to stop and think, "What must Erin be feeling about all this?"  It's a part of who we are, and it's become our new normal (yet again). 

I do my best to be there for Erin and to let it be about Erin whenever possible.  I try not to wear any of my Shannon shirts when I'm going to one of Erin's games.  (This is becoming more difficult as the percentage of my wardrobe occupied by Shannon shirts continues to increase.)

This is the age old parenting dilemma with a whole new twist.  Don't we all strive to treat our children equally?  Play no favorites?  How can I possible succeed at this?  Shannon will never make another mistake or disappoint me or roll her eyes at me again.  Let's just say, Erin is in a really tough spot.

So, I find myself thinking about Erin.  I love her to pieces.  I hope she can feel that.


Just a heads up - if you work at IBM in Rochester, or if you know someone who does - let them know that Dan and I will be speaking tomorrow morning (Wednesday, 10/9) at 10:30 as part of the kickoff for their Employee Charitable Contribution Campaign.

We'll be sharing our story and a few lucky people will win a signed copy of Determined to Matter.  Hope to see some of you there!

Sunday October 6, 2013

Another 6th of the month, and another "Shannon" event behind us.  She's been gone now 21 months...

Yesterday's event was the annual Brains Together For A Cure walk.  In 2011, Shannon was there with us, in 2012 we walked in her memory, and in 2013 we walked to raise money and honor Shannon's wish to make a difference.

Seeing our faithful friends show up and support the cause warms our hearts.  For me, Dan, and Erin it helps us to know that people remember Shannon and that they continue to fight with us for a cure.  Erin's friends showed up, my friends showed up, Dan's friends showed up and yes, Shannon's friends showed up, too.

We heard yesterday that the research started by a grant from Brains Together For A Cure is now a 1.1 million dollar federally funded project.  A doctor who treated Shannon right here at the Mayo Clinic is pushing ahead to improve the science of radiation treatments and eventually, hopefully improve the standard course of treatment.

When I sometimes feel defeated, wondering how will things ever change, I will try to remember that story.  Local fundraising that supports local research means that all those $20 walk registrations added up to a $50,000 grant that turned into a $1.1 million research project.  That's why we walk, now.  Not only to remember, but to help make a difference.

After all of the "Shannon events" of the past few weeks, we wanted to do something for Erin yesterday, too.  What she really wanted was a chance to meet her new first cousin, once removed.  So, off to St. Paul to meet baby Oliver.

While we were there, baby Ollie slept peacefully in Erin's arms.  (To the slight chagrin of Ollie's parents who knew that sleeping the afternoon away meant staying up all night.  Again.)  Erin had never held a baby.  Up until now, Erin has been the "baby" of the O'Hara family.  But not anymore.

I'm sure we will be headed back to St. Paul again soon for some more cousin time, once removed...

Friday October 4, 2013

Don't forget - tomorrow is the Brains Together For A Cure walk - rain or shine at RCTC.  If necessary, the walk will take place on the inside track.

Registration starts at 9am, the walk begins at 10.  Team Shannon will be sporting our sweet new t-shirts.  Hope to see y'all there!

Tuesday October 1, 2013

Well, the world hasn't gotten any less crazy since my last post.  Our government is now shut down in protest of a law that was already passed.  Hmm... I'm going to try and take the advice of my fortune cookie and look not for people's weaknesses, but for their strengths.  Congress is making that a difficult task...

At least there are some positives for Team O'Hara this week.  Erin had a fun weekend playing in a volleyball tournament.  She played every minute of 8 straight games and then came home and took a three hour nap.  Tonight is parent's night at the home volleyball match, and while Dan has to be in Michigan, I will represent.  Just two weeks left in their season.  Time does fly...

We are gearing up for this weekend's Brains Together For A Cure walk.  Rain or shine, we will be at the RCTC Fieldhouse wearing our new t-shirts and walking for Shannon.  Two years ago, she walked with us... Sometimes I hate that time flies...

In any event, if you can join us - even last minute - we'd love to have a big crew wearing any variation of Shannon shirt that you own.  Determined to Matter will be for sale as well, so it will be a good day for the Shannon O'Hara Foundation as well as Brains Together For A Cure.  Registration starts at 9:00am.

The most positive news for Team O'Hara this week was the birth of Erin's new cousin, once removed.  Oliver Henry Mackaman was welcomed into the world by Erin's cousin Maggie O'Hara and her husband, Doug.  A healthy baby boy, the first of the next generation for our family.  When the circle of life works perfectly, it's a beautiful thing.  Erin can't wait to meet the new little guy.

So, October is here, the government is closed, and this weekend we will walk for Shannon.  That about sums it up.

Erin has been listening to music a lot lately and she's even been deejaying for me in the car via her iPhone. She played a song for me the other day from The Fray, and it's called Ungodly Hour.  Erin's favorite line from the song has become mine, too:

"They say the best way out is through..."

Wednesday September 25, 2013

Sometimes the crazy in the world just takes hold, and things don't seem to make sense.  

The big news the past day has been a US Senator who spent 21 hours speaking on the Senate floor, accomplishing nothing, and wasting everyone's time.  Not to mention mass shootings in a shopping mall in Kenya and a park in Chicago.  It is unsettling when the order in the world seems to be in chaos.

On a much smaller scale, in my own little world, there's been some crazy going on, too.  For example:

Two weeks ago, I spent some time on the phone trying to get through to the IRS and find out why our Shannon O'Hara Foundation exempt organization application has not been approved.  This has been a long and frustrating process as we first submitted our forms in January and were told February 1st that we would know within 90 days.  Then the IRS "dumped" our application from the system.  Meaning, it inadvertently wasn't being processed for over 3 months.  Now, they are ready to process it, but the fee has gone up, so it requires an extra $100.  And, of course, they don't take credit cards, so a check had to be sent via snail mail.  Really?  We are just a lowly local organization trying to do some good.  Can you please just expedite this process...

Last week, my Mayo Clinic bill arrived and after all my dental work was completed and sent through insurance, I was left with over $6000 to pay.  What the what?  It seems that my insurance company agreed that the three titanium posts I had put in were a medical necessity as a result of the medical condition I had, osteomyelitis, so those were covered by insurance.  But, apparently the dental implants - the teeth - that go on these posts are not considered a medical necessity and therefore, are not covered by insurance.  So, you're telling me I need the posts, but I don't need to put anything ON the posts?  Needless to say, countless hours are being spent in correspondence between me, the WFMC, and my insurance company.  I'll keep you posted... no pun intended...

Yesterday, I spent over two hours dealing with two different banks.  It seems my bill pay from one bank never arrived at the second bank, which happens to be where our mortgage is held.  It seems the check was lost in the mail.  What?  You mean, they mail a check from one bank to another?  I just assumed that electronic bill pay meant it was done electronically...  So, I had to get my bank to stop payment on a check that I didn't even know existed and put the funds back in my account so I could go to bank #2 and physically write them a check for last month's mortgage payment.  Argh!

So, I was going to wash all this away by having a little "Jen time" in Minneapolis tomorrow.  I'm suppose to start my writing class and then maybe I'll treat myself to lunch or a little shopping.  Guess what?  I just got a call and my writing instructor has the flu.  No class tomorrow, we'll start next week.  Hmmph....

But, the truth is, none of these things happening in my world is really that bad.  Irritating, frustrating, but nothing life shattering here.  I know what that feels like.  I now know what's worth getting worked up about, and what's not.  I didn't always, but I have been changed.  This part of the change is good.  Better to laugh at the little stuff, because it's just little stuff.

Perspective that's hard earned, but much appreciated.  Now if the world would just start making sense...

Sunday September 22, 2013

Uff da... what a week we have had.  We are exhausted this morning, but satisfied with the week that was.  We returned home last night after our second fundraising gala in 5 days.  In between, we had two volleyball matches and Mayo HS homecoming parade and football game.  Team O'Hara has been on the move...

Last night's event was Humor to Fight the Tumor - a fundraiser for the American Brain Tumor Association.  Shannon was a posthumous honoree, and the video they produced about each of the 4 honorees - two who were there celebrating and two who had lost their battles - was very touching.  I'll share the link when it's made available on the HFT website.

Humor to Fight the Tumor
We were able to have both of Shannon's grandmas in attendance along with cousins Laurynn and Jack.  One of the toughest parts of the night was convincing Erin that we couldn't afford silent auction item #5:  a yellow lab puppy!

While last night's event was a success, the biggest event of the week for us took place on Wednesday.  The annual St. Jude Fall Festival of Hope gala in Minneapolis where we were the featured St. Jude family and were a big part of the program.  I spoke to a room of 600 people, and sent each and every one of them home with a copy of Determined to Matter.  We were surrounded by family and friends who have been with us on our journey, and it was a very special night for all of us.

I truly feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to share our story with these people who support St. Jude.  Often at these events, St. Jude focuses on the successes they have had.  There is an 80% cure rate now for pediatric cancers as opposed to 20% when St. Jude opened 50 years ago.  But, it is important for people to know that the work is not done.  Kids are still dying, and more research is needed.

I do believe this is what I am supposed to be doing.  Sharing our story, sharing Shannon.  People in that room were inspired by Shannon and it showed when it was time to give.  With a little help from my angel, we raised $311,000 for St. Jude in one night.  Amazing.

St. Jude Fall Festival of Hope
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Miss E here.  She handled herself with such grace and poise at these events.  Having complete strangers know the details of your life and want to engage with you is a lot to handle for anyone, much less a soon to be teenager.   Luckily, she is wise beyond her years, and is coping admirably with a set of circumstances that I wish she didn't have to endure.  That makes me happy and sad at the same time.

On the way home last night, Dan and I downloaded from our week, sharing our thoughts and feelings about all that had transpired.  We did some good this week, and that is our mission.  But, we also acknowledge that sharing Shannon's story makes us miss her so.  We look at images of Shannon and tell tales about her life and her spirit and it brings our loss front and center in our minds again.  Even 20 months after her death, that pain is still so difficult.  I think it always will be.   
So, we are home today, exhausted but satisfied.  Our week of Shannon events is behind us, and we are ready for a little normalcy.  This week, Dan will travel, Erin has two volleyball games, and I will start my writing class.  It's late September, it feels like fall, and time marches on...  

Tuesday September 17, 2013

We have reached one of the busiest weeks of the season for our family:  two volleyball matches, two fundraising galas, hockey registration, and Mayo HS homecoming are all happening this week.  I know, I know - one day at a time...

Today Erin is off to Northfield for a volleyball match.  Grandma and Papa Harkins are arriving from Nevada today as well so they can be present at tomorrow's Fall Festival of Hope.  We've been looking forward to this night since we starting planning back in February, and now it's almost here.  We are excited and nervous at the same time.  I've got my dress, I've got my speech, I guess I'm ready...

While we are in Northfield and Minneapolis the next two nights, our faithful supporters will be at Graham Arena selling Shannon O'Hara Foundation goodies and taking donations during Rochester Youth Hockey registration.  We are grateful for the continued support of our hockey friends.  Another hockey season is upon us, and we wouldn't be able to do all this fundraising without their help.

Speaking of fundraising - I wanted to put out one more reminder that t-shirt orders for the new "I walk for Shannon" shirts are due by this Friday, November 20th.  To see the shirt or to place an order, visit

I received a note last night from a friend who also lost a child.  Different circumstances, but the same gut wrenching feelings.  Grief is not a linear process.  Some days are better than others, and some days it hits you like a ton of bricks.  This week might be a ton-of-bricks kind of week for us - lots of Shannon images, stories, and memories will be a part of this week's activities.

But, this is what we have chosen to do.  This is how we honor her wish to have her life matter.  Funding brain tumor research and funding scholarships takes money.  So we fundraise.  And, despite the incredible sadness we feel when we see those images of Shannon, what we are doing does feel right.

I better go practice my speech again...

Friday September 13, 2013

It is a gorgeous day in Rochester and our spirits are high.  Good things are happening around here, and we've got an exciting weekend ahead.

Dan made it home from Michigan last night in time to get to Erin's volleyball game.  The Spartans were taking on crosstown rival JM and it went to a third game before Mayo pulled out the victory.

Sure, winning is nice, but more importantly, Miss Erin has found a sport she loves.  She was thrust into being a setter this year - a position she has never played before - and it's turning out to be a really good fit.  For the first time, Erin is an integral part of her team.  She is a leader out there on the floor, and it's her responsibility to set up the hitters.  When it works and they get a kill (technical volleyball term), the look on Erin's face is priceless.  It usually looks something like this:

For me and Dan, it's not about playing a sport, it's not about winning, it's about the pure joy it brings our daughter.  She deserves that.  She had a whole slew of people there last night to watch her play.  I think she deserves that, too.

From here on out they have games every Tuesday and Thursday along with a couple of Saturday tournaments.  That should make September and October fly by quickly...

This weekend is going to fly by as well.  Tomorrow morning I am off to Minneapolis to do a TV interview on KARE 11's Saturday Morning show with Belinda Jensen.  (I need to wait until Erin gets home from volleyball before I can decide what to wear...)  If you get KARE 11, I'll be on around 8:15am to talk about Determined to Matter and the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  If you don't get KARE, you can find it posted online after the show.

Then on Sunday, Erin and I are volunteering at the Join the Journey Annual Walk, which supports breast cancer awareness in our community and supports those individuals who are on their own breast cancer journey.  I'll be out there wearing my survivor shirt, with Erin by my side.    

It's crazy to think about the things that are a part of us now that Shannon never knew.  Breast cancer, volleyball... those are a part of the after.  

But, as I sit here to write, the after isn't so bad.  The sun is shining, life is moving along, we are healthy and finding happiness...

Tuesday September 10, 2013

Today is our 19th wedding anniversary.  I'm willing to share this photo because you can't see the giant bow that was on the backside of my dress, nicely accentuating my ass.  If I knew then what I know now... I'd still marry him.  We won't be celebrating tonight, though.  It's a typical Tuesday - he's in Michigan, I'm in Rochester.  But, that's OK.  We're both doing what needs doing, and we've already had a sweet (and sarcastic) text exchange this morning.

I had a Shannon dream last night.  That doesn't happen to me very often, but I was packing up her hockey bag, waiting for her to come home so we could head to her game.  I had Shannon on my mind a lot yesterday.

I've been working on a speech and next week I will speak to 600 people at the St. Jude Fall Festival of Hope up in Minneapolis.  It's the biggest fundraiser for St. Jude in Minnesota and we are fortunate that they are honoring Shannon and donating a copy of Determined to Matter to each attendee.  It's going to be a great night.

While I was writing that speech yesterday, I was also putting together slides - Shannon's smile the day we all wore our "I heart Shannon" shirts,  Shannon's determination when she was on the ice, skating with the Rebels, etc.  These images can still evoke emotions for me even though I've seen them hundreds of times now.  So, it's no wonder Shannon crept into my subconscious last night.  It was nice to have a visit from her...

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in nine months.  I taught a tennis class!  I did have to dig deep in my dresser drawers to find my uniform...  It was actually very fun to be out there with the kids again and I will continue to do that on Monday afternoons through the fall.

Erin's school year is off to a great start.  She likes her teachers, she has friends in her classes, and she is loving her volleyball team.

The highlight this past weekend was a trip to St. Paul to see the Taylor Swift concert.  Erin's buddy, Lexie, was along, too and the girls had a great time screaming and singing along.  Even this old lady knew some of the words.  Taylor's favorite subject in her songwriting is love - and loss.

My current favorite TSwift song is the one she opened the concert with, State of Grace:

I'm walking fast through the traffic lights
Busy streets and busy lives
And all we know
Is touch and go
We are alone with our changing minds
We fall in love 'til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time

And I never saw you coming
And I'll never be the same

Brains Together For A Cure

We are preparing for this year's Brains Together For A Cure walk, October 5th here in Rochester.  We've been a part of this great event the past two years and last year, 760 people walked to help fund brain tumor research right here at the Mayo Clinic.  Amazing.

We hope Team Shannon can join us in full force because supporting BTFAC is one of the missions of the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  Determined to Matter will be for sale at the event that day, and we've also designed a new long sleeve lime green t-shirt to wear for this and future events.

So, here's what you need to do:

1.  Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 5th 

2.  Register for the walk here:

3.  Order a new t-shirt!

If you would like a shirt, you must pre-order.   Cost is $20, and the cotton shirts are available in S, M, L, XL, XXL.

To place your order, send an e-mail to with quantity and sizes.

Orders will be taken until Friday, September 20th.

T-shirt pick up day will be Friday, October 4th.  (More details to come)

**Even if you can't join us for the walk, you can still buy a shirt to support the cause.  The Shannon O'Hara Foundation will be making a donation of $1000 to Brains Together For A Cure.**

So, sign up to walk, order a t-shirt, join Team Shannon! 

First Day of School - 9/3/13

Erin headed off to 8th grade today, starting the same grade that Shannon never got to finish.

I can still picture Shannon heading to school for her first day of 8th grade, wearing her ever present headband that she positioned to hide the radiation burns.  Two years has gone by too fast.

Dan and I are both feeling a little melancholy about it.  Another start to another school year.  Not exactly how it should be, but this is how it is.

But, it's Erin's turn now.  She's her own person, making her own way, and we couldn't be rooting any harder for her...

Friday August 30, 2013

Wow, what a week it has been.  Here's a quick synopsis:  Shannon O'Hara Foundation Board of Directors meeting, St. Jude Fall Festival of Hope meeting,  IBM charitable giving meeting, a speech to the Kiwanis group, a meeting with our publishers, two volleyball games, and one visit to my grandma...

Uff da.

There is an internal conflict that goes on when I have a week like this.  Why am I doing this?  I hate asking people for money, but I love sharing our story.  In order to make a difference in this world, we have to be able donate to the research that will someday change the outcome for kids like Shannon.  And in the short term, we are helping kids through scholarships.  But, in order to do that, we have to raise money.  It's a vicious cycle.

Nevertheless,  it's been a really good week.  Erin's volleyball season is off and running.  There are games every week from here on out, and that's the fun part.  Erin is playing a new position this year - setter - and it means she's a part of the action on almost every point.  Pretty fun for her.  A lot of fun for me and Dan.

Between volleyball and Dan's work schedule, we've got a busy September ahead.

In my publishing meeting yesterday, we discussed the future of Determined to Matter.  We think it still has legs, although I haven't heard from Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah yet...

Like I've said before, if it helps one person at a time, that's good with me.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I'm going on the assumption that if you are still following this blog, you still care.

Earlier this week we received an email from a woman who had suffered the loss of her husband just a few days after Shannon passed away.  Her sister-in-law bought her a copy of Determined to Matter, and she took the time to write us and tell us that our story is helping her:

Jen & Dan,

I finished reading your book today and so appreciated your words which so often aligned with my journey of grief with losing my husband.  Our pre-loss experiences were very different, but your ability to share your grief reassured me that I am working through my feelings in a normal and healthy way.  I took my girls on a trip, money isn't as important as it once was to me, and we even read the same daily devotional book.  Again, I just want to thank you for your ability to blog about your experience.  It was so good to see you write so many of the same things that I have felt and said over the last year and a half.  Bless you all as you continue to make that new normal life for the three of you.  My girls are both now in college, and we continue to do the same.

Notes like these keeping us pressing on.  Good things are ahead.  I just know it.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone!  

Saturday August 24, 2013

The weekend is here.  Dan has returned from Detroit, and today Erin and I are off to a baby shower for cousin Maggie.  It will be fun to see the O'Hara women and celebrate the impending birth of Erin's first cousin, once removed.

Today will cap off what has been a good week for Erin.  It was schedule pick up this week at Willow Creek and Erin's 8th grade year is going to be a good one.  She has a lot of friends in her section, which means they get to eat lunch together.  Obviously, lunch is the best chance to socialize, so it is very important that you get to eat lunch with your buddies!

Erin also got the team of teachers she wanted, including a few that had Shannon during her fateful 8th grade year.  This is the first time all summer that Erin has shown any excitement about 8th grade, so I think that's progress.

Pre-season volleyball is winding down this week, too.  The 3 1/2 hour practices are coming to a close, and next week the games begin.  Before the season can start, though, you've got to have picture day.  So, courtesy of Matt Addington Photography, here's my little 8th grader, ready to represent the Mayo Spartans...