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...