Thursday May 29, 2014

Erin is off this morning to play in the Section 1 golf meet in Cannon Falls.  She and her teammates have a goal of finishing in the top 6 teams today, which gets you invited back for day two of the tournament on Monday.

This golf season has been one of those crossroads in our lives where we watch Erin become her own person while carrying her sister's spirit with her.  I can't explain it, exactly, but I know it's true.  Coach Myhro and I talked about it, and feeling that some how, some way, Erin carries on for both of them.

Yesterday, Erin had to perform a project she had put together for English class.  It included pieces from poems and movies and books and one from the musical, Wicked, which was Shannon and Erin's favorite.  Erin got up in front of her classmates and sang.  Excuse my French, but man that kids has balls...

Erin's English teacher sent us a note last night, letting us know that she felt Shannon smiling down on Erin as she performed.  That warmed our hearts.  These teachers of Erin were also Shannon's teachers.  They, along with the rest of us, lost Shannon before she could see the end of her 8th grade year.

I am feeling emotional about this stage.  I guess, seeing Erin complete middle school and become a high schooler maybe offers some closure.  Unfinished business in a way.

While that may seem unfair to Erin, she handles it with grace.  She is just being herself, and if others see a bit of Shannon in her or feel Shannon's presence through her, so be it.  She, like her sister, can light up a room with her spirit.

When Maya Angelou passed away yesterday, I immediately thought of the quote that I once used in this blog to describe Shannon.  I'd like to believe that it describes Miss Erin, too.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

Friday May 23, 2014

This in one of those really good Fridays - the kind where most of America has a three day weekend ahead.  And, for those of us who live in parts of the country where we endure 6 months of winter, Memorial Day Weekend signals the beginning of our outdoor season.  Summer in MN almost makes the long winters worth it.

It's hard to believe that it's been three years now since we all rallied to support Shannon, wearing our I heart Shannon shirts and basking in the love and strength that would help us navigate the journey ahead.  I don't ever want to forget that feeling.

This year, Dan will again run the Med City 1/2 marathon.  He's been debating whether or not to wear a Shannon shirt.  He's sensitive to Erin and her feelings.  How long will she live in Shannon's shadow?  In some ways, it will be forever.  And, thank goodness, Erin embraces that.  She's found a way to be her own person while still honoring her sister.

Erin's golf season - and school year - are rapidly coming to a close.  She competed in the Big Nine conference meet yesterday, and the Section tournament is next week.  Miss E has had a chance to compete on the varsity all year and be a contributing member of the team.  Last week she shot her best ever score (91) and helped her team win that meet by 1 stroke.  Coach Myhro walked with her on several holes, and he felt it was a special day.  He felt Shannon's presence.  Seeing Erin go where Shannon wanted to is rewarding for all of us, including Erin.

Erin's middle school years are coming to a close as well.  10 days left. Again, she will go where Shannon never got to - high school.  I am feeling a mix of emotions about entering this new stage.  I guess I still have some anger and sadness that Shannon never got there.  I suppose I always will.

This is the world we will always live in - we are mostly content, things are good, and yet there is something missing.  We will always have that something that will always make us feel that pit in our stomachs when we allow our minds to wander to things that should have been.

But, if you ask me today, I would say I'm happy.  A holiday weekend, some sunshine, and time with Dan and Erin.  Life is good.

Monday May 19, 2014

Gratitude is not something I thought about much before our journey with Shannon.  Now, it's an everyday theme.  Another one of Shannon's gifts, I suppose.

It's not that I was ungrateful before.  I was a good person, I thanked people when necessary.  But, I didn't take the time to appreciate the moments - little moments, big moments, any moment that meant something.

Now, I am not claiming to be exemplary or above the fray.  I still get pissed when someone is driving too slow or writing out a check in front of me at the grocery store.  I am human, and sometimes I forget. And, there are things out of our control like rained out golf meets or a tooth that has abscessed. (Yes, this is a current issue at our house.  Dan this time, not me.)  These kinds of challenges can certainly harsh my mellow from time to time.

But, as we played golf yesterday with Erin and her friend Andrea, we laughed and smiled and I can honestly say it was a beautiful day.  It was not the foursome we envisioned in our lives, but it was still wonderful.  Our trio (plus one) was truly happy.  And, I realized, I felt lucky to feel so happy.

Our perspective has changed.  We are learning to live with that.  Learning to live with the knowledge that things don't always work out.  Learning to accept that, and cherish the moments when things do - little moments, big moments, and moment where we feel at peace in our little corner of the world.

"When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday May 15, 2014

It has been a whirlwind of activity over the past week... but I am never too busy to notice some Shannon moments.

Erin has been playing so much golf, it's incredible.  Four meets last week, three more this week, and she still played with us on the weekend.  She did the math and figured out that in 7 days, she played 89 holes of golf!

She has surprised herself with how much she is enjoying the experience.  Erin has set goals for herself along the way - making varsity, having her score count, breaking 50 for 9 holes - and she's reached them all.

Yesterday was picture day - a break from the routine and a little time for fun.  Like this:

I love working with the team in my volunteer role and getting to know the girls.  And, I get to peek in on Erin's life a bit, which is also fun.  Erin's Mother's Day card said "thank you not only for being a great mom, but being a great best friend, too."  You can't beat that...

But even in this world that is now Erin's, Shannon is present.  The photographer who took our team photos told me yesterday that he just finished reading Determined to Matter. Then, a mom who was dropping off her daughter told me she was walking through the bookstore and saw the picture of Shannon on the cover.  She stopped and bought the book.

After running around all day - work, golf, piano, dinner - we drove home and passed our neighbor on his lawnmower.  Wearing a Shannon shirt.  It makes me smile.  And it makes me ache.

On Mother's Day, after we finished golfing, the three of us were talking about what this golf season would be like if Shannon were still here and on the team with Erin.  What if Erin had become the better golfer?  How would Shannon handle that?  The three of us laughed as we agreed that Shannon would have been pissed!

Of course, we wish we had that problem to navigate, but that is not the case.  So, we carry on.  We look for signs, and when they present themselves, we try to take a moment to remember Shannon.

Mother's Day 2014

I woke up this morning thinking not about Shannon, but about my own mother.  Today is her first Mother's Day since her own mom passed away.  I wonder if it feels different for her - sadder, more emotional.  I know she's at peace with it, but it's still a "first" for her.

You may be wondering why don't I just pick up the phone and ask her how she's doing?  Well, she's in the middle of a 26 day adventure, cruising across Europe.  Mom and Dad are on a ship that's taken them to Portugal, England, France, The Netherlands, with stops ahead in Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway.  My mom is certainly setting a good example of how to enjoy retirement!

She also set a good example of how to love your kids unconditionally and how to champion them in whatever they desire to do.

When I was in the fourth grade, I wanted to play basketball.  Back then, 4th grade was when you could start playing, so it was brand new to all of us.  But, no one volunteered to coach us, so they said there would be no team.

Well, my mom wouldn't stand for that.  Now, she knew very little about basketball, but If her daughter wanted to play basketball, she'd make it happen.  So, she was our coach.  For exactly one practice.  At that practice, another dad realized that Gwen could "use some help" and volunteered.  It was a great year, and that group of girls continued playing basketball together all the way through high school.  I'd like to say we owe it all to my mom.

Today will be a good day for me.  Our trio will play golf together.  Erin is loving golf and continuing to play on the varsity for Mayo.  She wants to get better.  Spending 3 or 4 hours together on a Sunday afternoon sounds pretty darn good to me.

Of course,  I will think about Shannon throughout the day.  We wish she was here, growing and maturing right along side her sister.  I loved her unconditionally and I championed her in the best way I knew how.  No regrets.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

Wednesday May 7, 2014

Dan called on a customer yesterday, and instead of playing salesman, he found himself playing counselor.  This woman recently lost her husband at too young an age, and she's very early in the grieving process.  Dan allowed her to open up and share her anger and sadness.  She's been surrounded by civilians, so Dan was a welcome relief.

Dan left feeling good about doing something for another.  It's part of who we are now, and it's a good part.  We do "get it" when someone suffers a loss.  We are further down the road now - 28 months of living with the loss of Shannon - and maybe that gives us a little more perspective on the grieving process.

Dan and I talked about how, in those early months, we didn't know if we could ever be happy again.  We couldn't imagine life without Shannon, or how we would carry on and make any sense of this journey.  We were scared about the rest of our lives.

But, I can honestly say, there is much happiness and contentment in our lives now.  The three of us are each busy with our own endeavors, and we enjoy each other's company.  We make a good threesome these days.  

Shannon's spirit is with us, always, but we are gaining perspective and re-establishing our lives with each month that passes.  It's a process that's never over, but there's beauty in that.  We don't ever have to feel like we should be done grieving.  We are at peace with the fact we will grieve the loss of Shannon forever, but it doesn't have to hold us down.  Instead, it inspires us to be better versions of ourselves.

I received a sweet note yesterday from a dear friend.  On the 6th of each month, I send out the Shannon O'Hara Foundation Newsletter.  These words made my day:

"I cannot believe it as we mark another month since Shannon passed away.  I love receiving this newsletter each month.  Makes me smile & take a moment to stop & remember Shannon...big brown eyes, bright smile, mischievous behavior, her grit & determination.  I hope today is wonderful."

It was.

Friday May 2, 2014

Things I have learned this week:

1.  My brain still works
2.  Working is time consuming
3.  I don't own enough dress slacks

I say this in jest... sort of... It has been fun for me to be engaged in a project, and to have to think critically and write about something other than myself.

I am learning about Cardiovascular Diseases and Cardiology - of all the medical knowledge I have gained in the past three years, this is one area I don't know much about.  It is fun to work with a team of people - editors, information architects, social media experts - one of whom happens to be my brother in law!

Yes, Mike O'Hara, after retiring from Mayo, is doing some consulting.  He helped me connect with Reedbrook Consulting, and they liked my writing skills and hired me.  Now, low and behold, Mike and I are working together on this project.  It's kind of surreal, but also nice to have a familiar face this first time around.  Two O'Haras must be better than one...

So, this project will keep me busy over the next couple of weeks as we get the CV Blog up and running.  I hope this is just the beginning for me.  I am hoping to find that perfect balance of engaging work, and still time to help coach golf and be with Erin and Dan when they are home.  If I can find that balance, I'll consider myself very lucky.

I've thought several time this week about Shannon.  Having meetings downtown on the Mayo Clinic campus brings back memories.  Walking the halls, seeing some familiar faces, I can't help but think of her.

But, I've thought about Shannon on a deeper level this week.  Would I be a writer if Shannon's journey hadn't brought me there?  Probably not.  I am not the type of person - at least I wasn't - to venture out of my comfort zone.  If things hadn't changed in our world, would I have ever felt the need to change them?

So, as I work on this project, I owe a debt to Shannon.  I always will.