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...