Sunday November 30, 2014

We are back in MN, safe and sound, and we promise not to bitch about the weather... Palm Springs was a wonderful getaway for me, Dan and Erin.  We got to be together, play golf, and enjoy a great break from the routine.

But, I am a little emotional about it all.  I can't shake this feeling that we wouldn't be living this way if Shannon were still here.  Survivor's guilt or feeling selfish or something.

I mean, intellectually, I know that I'm allowed to be happy.  Of course that's what Shannon would want.  But, emotionally it's hard to let myself feel that happiness sometimes.  How do you go on vacation and laugh and act like you don't have a care in the world when you know you are only going to Palm Springs because Shannon is gone?  If Shannon were alive, we would have been in Rochester, watching her play hockey at Graham Arena.  Instead, we were soaking up the sun in the California desert.  How can that make me happy?

I don't even know how to articulate all that I am feeling, but guilt is the word that comes to mind.

Of course, our lives got worse when Shannon passed away.  It crushed a part of me that I will never get back.  But, some things in our lives are better now because of it.  Our relationships with each other have deepened and Dan, Erin and I know that we are closer now than we would have been if... With only one kid, we have the time and money to vacation and do things we wouldn't have if...  We have these deep, meaningful friendships that wouldn't have developed if...

So, I am feeling conflicted.  Grateful for all that I have, and trying to come to terms with the things in my life that are different because Shannon is gone.  I would never, ever say that my life is better, but my relationships are, and living in the moment is a good way to be.  It is hard to reconcile that losing a child made life simpler in many ways.  You know I'd give it all back to have Shannon here with us.

But, that's not an option, dammit.  So, I have to remember to look at life through the lens of what Shannon taught me, and remain open to accepting the gifts she continues to give as we go on, doing the best we can without her.


For the first time in our lives, Dan and I chose to travel away from home and family on Thanksgiving. We've been hearing about the snow back home, and we are feeling like we chose the right year to get away...

Palm Springs/Palm Desert is beautiful.  We are staying at a lovely JW Marriott resort thanks to DanO's travels.  Those nights he spends in places like Fargo, ND, Sioux Falls, SD, Grand Rapids, MI earn him platinum elite status.  Those points make this trip possible.  Talk about something for which to be thankful!

We are here with our friends, the Shives family.  This is their Thanksgiving tradition to spend the week here.  This year, they invited us along... or maybe we invited ourselves... either way, the time together with our dear friends is wonderful.  We have been laughing so much it hurts.  

Yesterday, we all played golf - boys in one group, girls in the other.  The weather is a perfect 10 and we are feeling really fortunate.  Being with my pal Kula and seeing Erin interact with her friend Ariana warms my heart.  Erin no longer has a sister to share things with, but she's lucky to have friends to step in and fill the void.

Today, Erin and Ariana will pass on golf to take advantage of some pool time/girl time.  I am going to attempt to play again today, hoping to make a few more pars and a few less 7's.  As Erin would say, that's a first world problem.  Then later this afternoon, we will gather at the Shives condo for a traditional thanksgiving meal.  That qualifies as a pretty good day...    

It is difficult not to think of Shannon today, on this national holiday where we count our blessings.  She continues to be one of mine, even if she's no longer physically present.  She changed me in ways that have enriched my life, and she brought people into my life who have eased my burden.

So, on this day, I am thankful for our family who understand that the rules have changed, and the old way of doing things doesn't always work for us.  We are missing them today, for sure, but happy to be taking care of ourselves and doing something different this year.  

Today I am also thankful for the friends who have become our chosen family.  Not only Tom, Kula, Ariana, and T. Connor, but our network of people in Rochester.  Texts have been coming in this morning from my girlfriends.  How great is that?  There is much to celebrate today.  

Today and every day, we are grateful for those friends who will talk about Shannon.  The people in our life who help us move forward, but who always remember.  

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday November 23, 2014

Tonight I'm hanging out with Erin, watching the American Music Awards.  She's rooting for her favorite boy bands (One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer) and I'm in it for some good music and some time with my girl.  We are singing along whenever possible, and there may even be some dance moves happening...

It's an incredibly close relationship that Erin and I have developed.  We're both grateful for it, and we're both aware that our circumstances made it this way.  If I had two kids to split my time between, it would be different.  That's just a fact.

But, we can't change that and we can make the most of what we have.  So, we make a point to be kind to each other and to have each other's backs.  We root hard for each other and we share an extra little bit of tenderness because the loss of Shannon made the mother/daughter dynamic all that much more poignant.

Now, this doesn't mean that I don't drive her crazy when I ask her repeatedly about how much homework she has.  And, it doesn't mean she doesn't drive me crazy when she procrastinates and makes it so I have to bug her about her homework.  (See, it's her fault...)

Yes, I am still the mom and she is still the teenager and that creates a certain dynamic.  It would be weird if we didn't clash a little bit.  But, she's not mean to me and I'm not irritated by her and it's all pretty dang good.

I still consider myself the mother of two, but there's only one who needs me now.  Luckily, I like her and she likes me.  That eases the burden for both of us.  We are doing our best to enjoy the ride we're on, and we're throwing in a few dance moves when we get the chance...

Wednesday November 19, 2014

So, it's official.  Sylvie the cat loves me... damn.  She likes to be where I am - on my desk, on my computer, on my bed, on my chest... last night I had to kick her out and shut the door because I'd had all the loving I could take...

I can't help but be a little sarcastic about owning a cat.  It's an unexpected turn, but she's here to stay.  She actually loves everyone.  And we love her back.  If Sunny can come to terms with it, I guess I can, too.

This November is acting like January and it's making Dan, Erin and me grateful that we planned a Thanksgiving getaway to warmer climates.  We just have to survive the next 6 days and then we're off to Palm Springs.  So, we don't feel we should bitch about sub-zero windchills...but, this is ridiculous!

Erin's in the midst of a busy week as she preps for a debate competition this weekend.  Dan is traveling, of course, and I am in the process of rolling out our first real fundraising campaign for the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.

I've been feeling conflicted about this.  Asking people for money is way out of my comfort zone.  But, this is the business end of running a foundation.  You have to raise money so you can continue to give away scholarships and help donate to brain cancer research.  That's the deal we made when we started this, so now it's on me to keep pushing forward.

So, with the help of SOF board members/friends, we have crafted a letter, compiled a list of names and addresses, and printed up letterhead.  The campaign will roll out right after Thanksgiving.

Part of me thinks it's easier to raise money one $20 t-shirt at a time, but that's not sustainable.  I don't want to be hauling boxes of t-shirts to Graham Arena when I'm 70!  So, I will set aside my emotions as best I can and think like a business person.  Yet another new skill that I must acquire in the "after".  Fake it 'til you make it, right?

OK, I'm getting the signal that it's time to get off my computer.  There's a creature who needs feeding.  Fancy Feast, anyone??

Sunday November 16, 2014

Some things are always going to be hard.  Like the kind of hard that hurts in your gut.  Watching girls HS hockey for the next couple of years is going to be like that.

Last night, we went to see the Century vs. Mayo girls game.  It would take all my fingers and toes to count the girls on the ice who played with Shannon.  I mean, these are Shannon's line mates now, playing real minutes in a varsity hockey game.  Girls who Shannon was equal to in ability. It's impossible not to project...

We sure miss those parents, too. There were lots of friendly faces in the crowd last night. People we spent weekends with in shitty hotels so we could watch our kids play.  People who rooted as hard for our kid as they did for their own.  We had some good yuks with those people last night, just like the good ol' days...

When we make eye contact with the girls out on the ice, we always get a smile.  They want us to be there.  They love seeing coach Dan there watching them play.  I hope when they look at us, they can see Shannon in their minds.

So, we really have two options - avoid going to the rink so we don't have to feel the pang of loss and sadness and emptiness.  Or, try to hold our chins up and go watch Shannon's friend play, knowing that's what Shannon would want, knowing it's the right thing to do.  Sitting home, avoiding it isn't going to make me feel better.

If I'm being completely honest, we went to the rink because we needed something, too.  We needed that look of acknowledgment from others that they remember.  That Shannon isn't forgotten.  That they know she should be out there.

It's a dance we will always have to do.  Giving and taking.  Knowing we have to honor Shannon and support her friends, but also needing to still feel included.  Knowing we want to see those girls grow and play and do the thing they all loved to do together, but also needing to see the hole that Shannon left.

I guess, going to the rink makes us feel -  we feel some happiness, some sadness, some support, some loneliness.  Truth is, we have to go.  We walk past her jersey and her memorial display and we can feel her there.  It's this mixture of pain and joy that's hard to articulate.  But it's real.

"The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday November 9, 2014

We are home this morning and prepping for the first snowfall of the season.  Erin is preparing by hibernating in her bed as long as possible.  I am preparing by going to the grocery store.  Dan is preparing by playing one more round of golf...

We've had a great weekend together.  Three days at the volleyball tournament meant lots of time together for our threesome.  While the Spartans didn't finished quite has they had hoped, the experience of watching those girls compete was wonderful.  Dan and I reminded Erin that it's pretty special to be a part of a successful program.  In her three years of playing, Erin has seen Mayo get to three section finals and two state tournaments.  She hopes she's a part of that some day.

After the tournament finished yesterday, we were able to attend a dedication ceremony for the late Henry Mackaman. Henry, is the son of Erin's cousin Maggie's husband, Doug.  (Got that??)  Henry was a student at UW- Madison when he contracted meningitis.  He passed away in April of 2013 at the age of 21.

We spent a little time getting to know Henry at family events, including Thanksgiving in that last year of Shannon's life.  I have a grainy, dimly lit photograph of Shannon and Henry on that day, sitting on a bench together, just being kids.

Yesterday, Henry's family and friends gathered at the Mississippi River to unveil a memorial bench erected in his honor.  It's a beautiful spot in St. Paul, and the sun shone down as Doug spoke so eloquently of his son.  He spoke of learning to live in the after.  He spoke of viewing everything moving forward through the lens of what has happened.  He spoke about us - me, Dan and Erin - and how we are there with him in this awful club.  ( I think he referred to it as the fu&*ed over club... I kind of like that :)  We shared some raw moments with Doug and Maggie and Henry's brother Owen when we traveled with them in London and Paris a couple of summers ago.  We have this bond with them now that none of us would ever wish for, but it was thrust upon us.

The truth is, all of us view the world through our previous life experiences.  Everyone can only draw from their own experience.  We don't know what we don't know, and when a major life event - good or bad - changes the way we see things, we can never put that genie back in the bottle.  When that life changing experience is the loss of a child, it is sometimes hard to come to peace with this new world view.  You'd give anything to not have it be this way.  And yet, here you are.  So, you find a way...

Doug spoke about so many things that hit close to home for us three.  We were glad we could be there to support and honor and remember.  Others have done that with us in our journey forward, and we know that sometimes, just being present is all you can do.  Henry would have turned 23 tomorrow.

Thursday November 6, 2014

Some positive updates from the O'Hara household:

I had a clear mammogram this week.  Always happy to click another one of those off.  Almost two years have passed now since my lumpectomy.  This is a good thing.

I am happy to report that Sylvie has figured out the whole litter box thing.  Phew.  And Sunny and Sylvie are making peace.  Here's how I found them lying this afternoon:

(Just to be clear, I am not a "cat person".  I am a dog person who owns a cat...)

Today, Erin and I are playing hooky and going to the State Volleyball Tournament to watch Mayo play.  It's been a great season and Erin has enjoyed the ride as the B squad practiced with the varsity kids throughout the year.  Should be a fun day and we're hoping the Spartans can pull an upset today against Eden Prairie.

Go Spartans!

Monday November 3, 2014

Our news feeds this weekend were full of stories about brain tumors and what a cruel fate it is.

The story of Brittany Maynard, the young lady who chose to end her life yesterday under Oregon's die with dignity law has been in the news. She was a recurrent GBM patient, and she knew that her tumor growing again was going to mean an awful end.  She made a different choice, to go on her own terms.

I'm not hear to preach, but I can speak from experience.  Watching Shannon's brain tumor take control over the last three weeks of her life, I can tell you that no one wants to die that way.  Living like that isn't living anyway...

The story that hit even closer to home, though, was that of Lauren Hill.  If you watched any news yesterday, you probably saw her story - a college freshman who was diagnosed with DIPG and wanted to play one more basketball game.  Her college and the NCAA made it happen.  She scored 4 points yesterday in front of 10,000 fans.  

Watching the video clips, I couldn't help but think of Shannon.  Lauren's face is puffy from the steroids.  Her right side is failing her.  Her hearing and vision is a challenge.  She is going to die from this terrible disease very soon, and she knows it.  She's doing what she can to inspire others.  I knew a kid like that once...

I was already thinking about Shannon earlier yesterday.  We went to church and it was All Souls Day - a day of prayer for those who have died.  We did a processional into the church to start mass, carrying candles in remembrance of those we had lost.  Much of the music yesterday were songs that we chose for Shannon's funeral.

I'll always have these touchstones in my life.  Any time someone offers a prayer for the deceased.  Any time I hear about someone with a brain tumor.  Any time a child shows bravery and courage.  Those are all good reasons to stop and think about my sweet girl.

These stories this weekend are also a reminder to live your life the way that you want.  Be purposeful,  because who knows what lies ahead.  You can't control what happens to you while you are here on earth, but you can control your attitude.  I learned that from Shannon, and I try to remember it every day.

"Oh, my friend it's not what they take away from you that counts.  It's what you do with what you have left." - Hubert Humphrey