New Year's Eve

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving." - Albert Einstein

We have reached the end of December, and this date on the calendar where we all look back at the year that was. Reflection is often difficult, reminding us that it's been another year without Shannon.

But as I look back at the photos we took in 2015, I am reminded to remember the good. Successful high school activities and academics, a wonderful amount of travel and rewarding work for me and Dan.

That's life, right? You can focus on what's missing or you can concentrate and what you have...

This is a constant dance for us as we can't ever forget what we've lost, nor do we want to. Shannon is with us always and her spirit is sometimes the rudder that rights my ship. I must go on because she wasn't able to...

Yes, life presents struggles and illness and death befall those that we love. But, the love is the thing. It wouldn't hurt so bad if we didn't love so much. And I understand now that in that love, we find warmth and security and healing. The love is worth the pain...

2015 saw us continue our work with the Shannon O'Hara Foundation. We are so close to reaching $100,000 raised. January could see us top that mark. That work is as rewarding as anything we do all year. Difficult and heart wrenching at times, but the love is worth the pain.

2015 was another year of growth for miss Erin. She's cruising through her sophomore year of high school, enjoying HS sports and the high school social life. That social life is improving every day as a new friend seems to get his or her driver's license every week! Erin is still a ways away from driving herself, but it's so much more fun to ride with friends than to be driven places by your mom...

So, on we go. The anniversary of Shannon's passing is just around the corner, but for today, I'm going to remember a successful year for our trio. Me, Dan and Erin continue to grow closer as each year passes. What more could I ask for...

Happy New Year!

Sunday December 27, 2015

In times of introspection, I always fall back on music. What an age we live in now where you can think of a song you'd like to hear, and it's immediately at your disposal via a download to your smartphone.

We've been listening to our fair share of Christmas carols this past week. While I love a good holiday song, I don't think I ever need to hear Mariah Carey sing "All I Want For Christmas is You" again...

We hosted both of our families over the past week and there are so many reminders of what really matters. Four living parents for me and Dan, brothers and sisters, cousins galore for Erin. Lots of laughs, lots of memories of Shannon, lots of heartfelt well wishes.

Every day, it seems there is a reminder that the circle of life is unrelenting. A friend of Shannon and Erin's lost her grandpa yesterday. Death of an elderly man is expected, but it's still a death, and it's still an adjustment for them to a new normal.

We have another week at home together, some down time to gear up for the busy month ahead. January holds four Shannon O'Hara Foundation events for us, so this is the calm before the storm. Erin is the only one with an agenda, taking Driver's Ed each afternoon. She's none too happy about it, but it's a means to an end, and she can't wait for that end!

So, 2015 is rolling to a close. Another year, more ground covered... Hopefully, I'm a littler wiser. I'll keep trying...

A love like this won't last forever
I know that a love like this won't last forever
But I, I don't really mind, I don't really mind at all 

Kodaline - Love Like This - From their album, In A Perfect World

Christmas Eve

Let's just start with the good news - I had my yearly mammogram and bone density test yesterday and everything looks good. I'm now 3 years post DCIS diagnosis. I've got another year and a half on the Tamoxifen, but taking a pill once a day to lower the risk of recurrence isn't too hard. Seeing my friend Kula start chemo this week reminds me how lucky I am. I had the best kind of breast cancer :)

Speaking of Kula, she tolerated her first round of chemo with no problems. She is a determined lady and I just have to believe that her feisty Greek blood will serve her well in her fight.

There's no doubt that Kula's diagnosis has muted things around here over the past few days. And, celebrating another Christmas without Shannon is no small task. It doesn't get easier with time. 

But today is the beginning of the holiday week, and we're going to muster up some good cheer and enjoy friends and family that we'll see over the next few days. There is so much comfort in being loved.

I read this quote from Alfred D'Souza this week:

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."

The point is, don't wait for just the right moment to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. It sounds so trite, but it's true. Life is hard, but that doesn't mean you can't find joy and meaning along the way.

Merry Christmas, everyone. 

Tuesday December 22, 2015

As I sit to write this morning, a friend of mine is starting her chemo treatment today... yet another reminder that life is so fragile...

I hate it when things don't make sense. My friend Kula is in perfect shape, doesn't eat or drink too much, exercises every day. She got her mammogram every year, but this year she insisted on getting an MBI (molecular breast imaging) because of her dense breasts.

Invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3... chemo for the next 5 months, then a double mastectomy.

I found myself being so mad this weekend. Life just ain't fair...

Kula has been a rock for me for the past five years, from Shannon's diagnosis through today. It's my turn now.

This has shaken Erin's world, too. She thinks of Kula as her second mom. They travel together, they chat about life. Erin is sad and scared and having to buck up for another cancer journey. Too many journeys by age 14 if you ask me.

This is the stuff of life, though. The longer you live, the more you love, the more vulnerable you are. I guess in time like these, I just need to remember the love is worth the pain.

So, hold a good thought for my friend today. She deserves it.

"As we advance in life it becomes more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed." - Vincent Van Gogh

New Merchandise On Sale Tonight! (12/16)

Just a reminder that I will be at Graham Arena from 5 - 8 pm tonight selling SOF merchandise. If you need to do some holiday shopping, stop on by. Here's what I will have on hand:

     * New travel coffee tumbler - $15
     * New 1/4 zip pullover - $40
     * Logo sweatpants - $25
     * Hockey lace sweatshirt - $40 (some sizes not available)
     * Visors - $10
     * Lanyards - $5

Sounds like the weather might get a little nasty, but hope to see some of you out there!

Thursday December 10, 2015

The weather doesn't indicate it, but the Christmas holiday is just two weeks away. Unseasonably warm temps had people playing golf this week here! That's a good day if you can golf in December in MN...

Yes, the holidays are approaching and I find that I can't remember the details of the past three years, but I can remember every detail of that December four years ago when we went to St. Jude with Shannon. These days were the worst - even worse than the day she died. Seeing her decline, hearing her say she didn't want to live like that - those are the December memories that I can't forget. Not that I want to...

I went to a girls hockey game this week, watching Shannon's Mayo Spartans play their crosstown rivals the JM/Lourdes team. Dan was on the road and Erin didn't want to go, so I went by myself. But, I knew I wouldn't be alone...

Shannon had dear friends on both teams, and so do I. I got to reconnect with my hockey mom friends and sit in the stands and watch the girls play... same as it ever was, except not quite...

These women also remember that December four years ago. Shannon skated with her Rebels team on December 3, 2011 and left the next day. She never skated again... I was glad to see these ladies this week. They were happy to let me talk about Shannon and it was comforting to know that they, too, try to imagine Shannon now... in our minds, she is the little spitfire 13-year-old who sang at the top of her lungs in the locker room.

The holidays are a season of reflection. I feel like I do plenty of that, but it's especially poignant at this time of year. We have been receiving some wonderful donations to the Shannon O'Hara Foundation and sometimes those donations come with a note, a memory, or just a thank you. We are humbled and honored that people support Shannon's memory in this way.

I stopped to pick up our dry-cleaning the other day, and the women working there said, "I don't know how to say this, but I read your book." She loved the book and she said "you had an amazing daughter." she apologized for bringing it up, but I told her, "I'm always glad to hear Shannon's name."

If you know someone who has lost someone - and we all do - don't be afraid. If it's too raw, they will let you know. But, more often than not, as we gather with family and friends during this season, what we want is to talk about our loved ones we've lost, so hear and say their name...

"Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality." - Emily Dickinson

Sunday December 6, 2015

It's a tough week to read the news... killings in San Bernadino, protests in North Minneapolis, and the news this weekend that two high school kids from a community north of here died in a one vehicle crash leaving school.

The world feels so arbitrary reminds me that so many things are out of our control.

In times like these, I feel the need to circle the wagons a bit. Dan, Erin and I have had a great weekend together. Dan and I had a date to the movies on Friday, and then yesterday the three of us spent the day together running errands and picking up a Christmas tree.   Erin and I decorated it last night, talking about the ornaments - which ones are our favorites... I continue to put the ornaments Shannon made for me on the tree each year. There's also the baby's first Christmas, complete with a photo of a bright-eyed girl. We hung Shannon's stocking on the mantle as we have done each year since she was born. How could we not?

I worked on our Christmas card this week. I do love sending and receiving these, catching up with family and friends. The photos, the letters... this is another thing that's so tricky for me since Shannon passed. Picking out just the right card... there is no card that says "We had a good year and we're doing all right, but we're not over it and never will be and Christmas will never be the same". How do you acknowledge Shannon in this yearly ritual?

As we were running errands yesterday, we made a stop at our favorite pizza place for a quick lunch. As we were sitting there, a young boy and his family walked in. The boy was dressed in his hockey jersey, complete with the Shannon logo on it. First time we had seen it in person. The family walked right by us with no knowledge of who we are... it was a strange sensation.

Our holiday fundraising campaign is underway and we've already received a couple of large donations along with several small ones. We're going to keep up this work that Shannon wanted. It's the way we can do some good in this world that's sometimes so bad...

I've been reading and listening to music this week, trying to sooth my soul from the madness in the news. This season is hard, yet my life is good. I do remember that, even as I feel the ache of loss.

"Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning." - Anna Quindlen 

Sunday November 29, 2015

We are home safe and sound from our Thanksgiving away in California. Four nights at a lovely resort, waking up to the sun rising on the mountains each day, time golfing and sitting by the pool, Thanksgiving with friends who are like family... the trip certainly checked all the boxes.

Erin tolerates time with us pretty well for a teenager. She said to me at the airport last night, "I can't believe how much time I spend with my parents!" This was not said in anger, but acknowledging that we are outside the norm. We are a tight knit unit of three. We need each other in ways that other families do not. When you've been where we've been, you lean hard on each other.

Erin knows we hold on tightly - how could we not? I joke with her that I can't wait to see where "we" are going to college. I think she's a little bit afraid that I an serious and will move into an apartment across from her dorm.

I hope we are just holding on tightly to the time we have together knowing that it will end. She will spend less time with us as she gets older. I know that. Intellectually, I know that. Emotionally, I admit that it's going to be hard. She's one of my best friends...

While sitting by the pool yesterday, we watched these two little sisters playing together. The big sister bossing the little sister around, and the little sister getting irritated and frustrated. We took the opportunity to talk about Shannon. We laughed about how Shannon would always be in charge. If they we playing house, Shannon was the mom and Erin was the kid. If they were playing school, of course Shannon was the teacher and Erin the student. The best of all was when they played restaurant. It was Shannon's show and Erin was just her employee.

It's good to share these memories between us three. I sometimes feel guilty about all the new memories we are making, the three of us, without Shannon. So much has happened in our lives now since Shannon. And that makes me sad.

But, if the options are to withdraw and live in the past, or continue growing and changing, well, I'll choose the latter. The pain of missing Shannon is worth the experience of living life. Erin deserves it.  So do I.

Tuesday November 24, 2015

I am blogging from the sky above Colorado… Dan, Erin and I are on our way to Palm Desert for our second annual Thanksgiving in California. It has been a whirlwind fall and we will try to soak up some R & R before we head into the holiday season back in Minnesota.

This past weekend was full of “Shannon moments” - from the high school musical starring one of Shannon’s friends, to a book signing where people asked about our story, to speaking at a hall of fame induction ceremony for a local area high school. Three and a half years gone, but her picture on the screen still evokes emotion, not only for me and Dan, but for those with whom we share our story.

When we return from the holiday break, we will be in our 10 week stretch that involves a capital fundraising campaign for the SOF, 6 Shannon Cup hockey tournaments, a SOF night at HS girls hockey, the Rochester Area Sports Commission Banquet, and finally, wrapping up on February 13th with our 4th Annual Shannon O’Hara Memorial Scholarships. It’s all so good and so worthwhile. But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy…

We made this decision last year, to travel at Thanksgiving time. It’s OK to do what we want, right? We want to go play golf together. We want to recharge our batteries and fire up for the season ahead. 

I heard in the news this week that Lloyd Carr, the former University of Michigan football coach lost his 5 year-old grandson to a brain tumor. When I hear of someone young dying so quickly, I immediately check to find out what kind of tumor it was. Sure enough, DIPG. Damn it’s an awful disease. I hope that I see some change in life expectancy in my lifetime. I wish I had millions of dollars to give to scientists doing the research…

But, instead, we will give what we can and will keep giving scholarships in Shannon’s memory. 

I’ve really been loving Adele’s new album, 25. Lots of great songs on there, but one particular song, A Million Year Ago, is about living with regrets.

Sometimes I feel it’s only me
Who never became who they thought they’d be

I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky not just the floor
I feel like my life is flashing by
All I can do is watch and cry

I definitely didn’t become who I thought I’d be. But it wasn’t all my fault… things happened and the loss of Shannon changed me. It’s a part of my life every day, sometimes in big ways, but often in small ones that go unnoticed. We continue every day to try and stay in the moment and enjoy what’s here and now. So, we are off to California, trying to live a little more…

Determined to Matter

If you haven't had a chance to read Determined to Matter, or if you'd like to buy a copy for a friend, I will be taking part in a local authors event this Saturday from 2-4pm at the Rochester Public Library.

Several talented authors will be on hand with copies of their books for sale, so come by, say hi, and buy a book!

Sunday November 15, 2015

They say all good things must come to an end... and Erin's volleyball season ended this weekend.  The results at the state tournament weren't what the Spartans had hoped for, but in time, they will remember the experience with fondness.

Dan and I enjoyed every minute of it. Hard to believe that Erin only has two more volleyball seasons left. Where is the time going? Second quarter of her sophomore year starts tomorrow. I need to remember to enjoy every minute of it, before it's over.

Dan and I enjoyed our trip to the state tournament as well. We visited with family and friends, and I barely escaped a mother-in-law disaster...

After the game on Thursday, Dan and I paid a visit to Ed and Tess. There were a few items Tess needed at the store, so we all jumped in the car to head to Target. Dan and Ed decided to stay in the car, and Tess and I ran into the store. I had Tess holding my arm as we walked down the main isle, but she let go of my arm to blow her nose. At that exact moment, a woman, 9 months pregnant with a cart full of stuff, ran into Tess and knocked her to the ground. Oh my lord...

A bit of chaos ensued as the first Target employee to get to us was a young woman who admitted, "I don't know what to do, it's my first day!" The store manager did come, and Tess, believe it or not, only needed some band aids for her forearm and hand that she scraped on the shelf as she went down. No broken bones. I told her, at age 89.75, if you can crash to the ground on a tile floor at Target and not break a hip, you're doing great!

Tess was sweet and once she was over the shock of it, she said to me, "I'm glad you brought me in the store and not Danny!" We all have our strengths... It's a funny story now, but it could have been so much worse...

Now that volleyball has ended, Erin's schedule will lighten up for the next couple of months. She's ready for a little down time, I think. A little more time for homework and friends, a couple of holiday breaks, and finally, drivers training! Yes, Erin gets to do the classroom portion of Driver's Ed at the end of the year.  

I know, don't get too far ahead of myself. Start with this week, which involves some Shannon O'Hara Foundation work. Three more hockey teams to visit and hand out scholarship applications, and getting our capital fundraising campaign ready to mail. The winter SOF work has begun. 

It's all worth it when we see the kids playing in Shannon's memory and we see our scholarship winners succeeding as students, and sometimes athletes, at the next level. The Rochester Youth Hockey Association went out of their way to honor Shannon this year. The new white RYHA jerseys incorporated the SOF logo in the design. That means that all traveling hockey players - boys and girls - will carry that memory of Shannon out on the ice with them this year.  We think that's pretty dang cool...

Give To The Max Day - Thursday November 12, 2015

I am feeling much gratitude as I wake this morning. It's been a week of Shannon connections, speaking to the high school hockey teams and handing out scholarship applications. So poignant for us this year as these seniors are Shannon's classmates.

We have received some great feedback from kids and parents about the new Rochester Youth Hockey jerseys. RYHA incorporated the SOF logo into their design this year. We hope that kids will wear them with pride and skate with joy, just like Shannon.

I am grateful for this blog, this opportunity to reach people and share our story. I've been thinking (again) about what the end game is. But, as I get further and further down this grief journey, I realize I will always have something to say. It doesn't end.

I received a card in the mail this week. Someone who has followed our journey, and continues to connect with these words that I write. That's such a gift - a gift from Shannon - to be able to connect with people. Maybe this isn't just a grief journal, but a life journal.

I am grateful I get to go watch Erin and her teammates at the state tournament today. Dan was suppose to arrive home last night, but his flight from Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago got delayed, then canceled. So, plan B involved renting a car, driving to Chicago, spending the night and then getting on the first flight to Minneapolis this morning. I will pick him up there are we will make it to the Excel Center in plenty of time for the game. Cross your fingers...

Today is Give To The Max Day in Minnesota. A one day fundraiser for non-profits and schools around the state. If you or your employer are giving today, we'd sure appreciate a donation to the Shannon O'Hara Foundation. We carry on her spirit and we couldn't do it without you.

To make a donation, visit our page at

Sunday November 8, 2015

Yesterday was the most fun I've had at a sporting event in a long time. Erin's Mayo Spartans won a section title yesterday and are off to the State Volleyball tournament this week. That doesn't even begin to tell the story...

Mayo was facing Lakeville South, the 3rd ranked team in the state. Mayo won the first game in pretty routine fashion and us fans in the stands were feeling pretty good. Game two was neck and neck, but Lakeville edged ahead and evened the match at one game apiece.

Game three was an ass kicking... by the wrong team. Mayo looked down and out and things didn't get better at the start of game four. Mayo found themselves down 21-17, just four points from elimination. But something really cool happened... they refused to lose. They played as a team and their senior leader, Shannon's friend Anna, led them with her positive attitude and belief. Mayo took game four 26-24 and game five was never in doubt as Mayo finished off Lakeville 15-10.

For Erin, being on the bench, being a part of this experience and watching her friend, Lexie, quarterback the team out there was pretty special. Lexie stepped into the setter role this year and it wasn't without growing pains. But, when it mattered most, she played great.

So yesterday Dan and I screamed and shouted and rooted as hard as we could for these girls who are like family to Erin. Through the whole thing, we were sending up silent prayers to our angel, hoping she could send some good mojo our way. As I've said before, volleyball will always be attached in our minds to Erin's life in the after. There's no doubt it's a part of her recovery from the loss of her sister.

After the game, there was excitement and hugs all around. And, for me and Dan, one poignant moment. While congratulating Anna, Dan said "Shannon would be so proud of you".  The tears flowed for all of us. Shannon was remembered in that moment by the people who loved her and walked with her on her journey. She is always with us.

So, one final week of volleyball. There will be a pep fest send off on Wednesday, the state banquet Wednesday night, and a first round game on Thursday morning at the Excel Center in St. Paul. Couldn't ask for a better way to end the season.

Wednesday November 4, 2015

I went to a funeral today. Not someone I knew personally, but the mother of a friend. For the rest of my life, my funeral attire will always include a hint of lime green. My own personal shout out to sweet Shannon.

Funerals make us reflect on who we are. It's a grounding experience to acknowledge a life that has ended. It's impossible not to think about Shannon in these moments, but as I age, I also think about what my own legacy will be. I hope I've got a lot of time left, but one never knows. The pastor today said exactly that. We all think we will have tomorrow, but tomorrow isn't promised.

The other take away today was surround yourself with people who care. Whether it's blood family or chosen family, build your support system to carry you through the hard things life throws your way. And there will be hard things. As I get older, that's another revelation to me — no one gets through this life unscathed.

The quiet reflection served me well today. It's amazing what sitting still for an hour can do to the mind. Oh, the places it can go...  it made me realize how busy life can be, and how I can forget to just... be...

It's easy to get caught up in running here and running there, but it doesn't hurt to step back and reflect. So, here's what I know today: what matters is love and kindness. Spread it when you can, soak it up when it's your turn.

This passage was shared at the service today, and it spoke to me:

Today I choose to live with gratitude
For the love that fills my heart,
The peace that rests within my spirit,
And the voice of hope that says... 
All things are possible.

Sunday November 1, 2015

A relaxing weekend with no agenda is doing us all some good. Now, when I say no agenda, that doesn't mean that Erin isn't busy. It's just she's doing things she wants to do, not things she has to do!

Those activities included a home section playoff win for her volleyball team and a post game trip to Culver's on Friday. Yesterday involved sleeping in, hanging out downtown at a cafe with friends and then on to a Halloween party. Today also involves sleeping in, then a birthday lunch for one friend and a visit to another. Not a single mention of schoolwork in there... hmm... at least she's got the social aspect covered!

I can't believe that today is November. Dan is out golfing on this warmer than normal day. I am sitting down to write because I'm avoiding the list of tasks I should be doing! Now that I'm working 30 hours a week, plus teaching tennis one afternoon each week I don't seem to get things done around the house. I guess that's what weekends are for.

It has been a good stretch for me - work is going very well and I feel lucky to be engaged each day with interesting things to write about. I couldn't imagine a better fit for my skills - some writing, some social media and web work, lots of organization. I can still work mainly from home, and I have the freedom to be there when Erin needs me... which is becoming less and less often as one of her friends seems to pass their drivers test each day!

Yes, most of Erin's classmates will be turning 16 over the course of this year. Erin will not be 15 until April. This is the first time that being really young for her grade has felt like a detriment. Erin does get to take the drivers training course in December, so that will get her closer... it is hard to not have the same freedom as many of your friends do. But, the lack of a driver's license doesn't seem to be cramping her social life!

This week there will be a focus on the volleyball playoffs. Mayo will host Owatonna in the section semifinals on Thursday. It is fun to watch Erin on the bench as a part of the tournament team. If Mayo can get through Owatonna, the section final is next Saturday and they could potentially face Lakeville South, which is ranked third in the state. Mayo would be the underdog for the first time in a long time.

But first things first. Have to win on Thursday night.

So, life rolls on. Erin and her schedule seem to be driving the train around here. Nothing wrong with that. Seeing her thrive means we are doing all right. It's her world and we are just along for the ride...

Wednesday October 28, 2015

It seems that mortality and the circle of life have been very present for us lately. Maybe it's the changing seasons... Fall, more so than any other season, is about death and loss and the hope that you can weather what's ahead and come out the other side. That's kind of life, too.

Maybe it's the start of hockey season. Girl's HS hockey practice started this week. Shannon's senior year. Would she be a captain? I like to think so.

Maybe the death of Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders got to us, too. Flip was too young - 60. Dan found himself thinking about Flip's family. How did they handle watching him fade away in those final days? Each time we hear of someone succumbing to cancer, we float back in our mind to our own journey.

I've been doing some reading lately that really brought food for thought.  I wanted to share this one with you. It comes from Still Standing Magazine, which is dedicated to surviving child loss and infertility. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Six Things I Wish People Knew About Grieving the Loss of a Child

One: Grief and Love are the same.
Please don’t think that because I am still grieving for my child even after all this time that there is something wrong me, or that I need to get over it. I grieve deeply for the loss of my child because I also love her deeply. Love never dies, therefore neither will grief.
Two: I will never get over it.
I may look like I finally got my life back together, I may have even gone on to have more children or embarked on a new career, but my child and the trauma of losing her is always one step behind. My tears may have dried, and I can probably utter my child’s name without breaking apart, but please know that I will never, ever get over the fact that she is gone.
Three: Silence is deafening.
I know it must be very difficult and confusing to know what to say to someone who has lost a child. I know how uncomfortable and unfathomable it must be to you, but please know that wrongly worded sentiments are easier to forgive than your silence. My world has forever been shattered, a simple “I’m sorry” will do.
Four: My child is irreplaceable.
It doesn’t matter when my loss may have occurred, whether it was an early miscarriage, or if I had the chance to spend a few moments with my child before she died. Babies are not interchangeable and any subsequent child born after is not replacement.
Five: I’ll always live in a parallel universe.
No matter how much time has gone by,  when an important holiday or occasion occurs, my mind is going to retreat into another universe where my child would have been present. I will calculate how old they would be and how they would look. This whole entire universe is something I hold on my own, so if you find me retreating inward during a significant day, please know that I am in that place that I share uniquely with my child and my imagination. It’s just how things are always going to be.
Six: I am forever changed.
The day my child died is the same day a big part of me died too. I won’t go back to being my usual innocent and carefree self again. It will take time for me to find myself, and return back home. But when I’ve figured out a way to put together all the broken pieces, I won’t look the same. Please understand that.

Tuesday October 20, 2015

More than a week has passed since I had time to write. I guess that's a good thing as life moves along and our jobs and activities keep us going forward.

We made the most of our fall break here in Rochester - volleyball, social events and some R & R filled up our weekend. We had friends over on Saturday night (yes, Dan and I do have friends) and it was fun to laugh... mostly at ourselves and our spouses.

I was reminded again that being around people who are comfortable when Shannon's name comes up is so important. It is our comfort zone, and we just have to be diligent about putting ourselves in the right situations. We are lucky to have so many good people in our lives.

Erin has been burning it at both ends, and it caught up with her yesterday. Home sick, missing school, volleyball and debate practice. She rallied today, and we'll see if she can make it through. This is the last week of the JV volleyball season, and then the focus turns to helping the varsity prepare for the section tournament.

I've been in the midst of organizing the concessions for the Mayo VB Invite that will happen this coming Saturday. Lots of moving parts and hopefully it all comes together and we make some money for the program.

Dan is off traveling again this week... nothing new there! Shake up in his industry is a constant, and his company was bought yesterday. All indications are that Dan's position will remain the same, but certainly some anxiety goes along with the change. Luckily, he's got a super supportive wife...

So, onward we go. We're trying to grind it out from now until Thanksgiving. It's good to have goals.

Monday October 12, 2015

I'm just back from my Monday morning workout. I had the crazy idea we should do our BLAST class not once, but twice a week. So, we go Friday afternoons and Monday mornings.

Pushing the sled with 45 lbs. on it up and down the hallways this morning just about did me in. Add to that, stairs, squats, walking planks... it's an approved form of torture...

I guess the goal is to be stronger, fitter, more able to enjoy life. I'm working on it...

We had a great weekend around here. Erin was keeping an insane schedule.

She came home from volleyball practice on Friday evening, and promptly fell asleep from 8-10pm. At 10, her debate partner showed up to prep for Saturday's debate. They stayed up until 1am, slept for 5 1/2 hours, and then were off to the debate competition from 8am-3pm. Home at 4, she slept until 6:30pm and then showered and went back to Mayo HS for the Student Government lock in Saturday night. They stayed up all night and upon returning home at 6am Sunday morning, she went right to bed until 1pm yesterday. She got up, showered, ate and went to her friends house to do homework until 9pm... the kid is hardly ever home...

I guess this is how it's suppose to be. She's doing her thing, checking in with us when she needs food, money or clean clothes.

Dan and I had a good weekend, too. After dropping Erin off at the lock in, we hit the town! OK, we went for a drink at one place, a late dinner at another and we were still home and in bed by 10:30...  but for people our age, that counts as a crazy night out!

Dan and I can both feel time moving quickly. Our jobs are busy, our kid is busy, it's hard to imagine that it will be different some day. But, we know it will. What will life look like when Erin is off at college? What will retirement look like for us?

Dan and I took advantage of 80 degree temps in October yesterday and played golf together. Is that something we can do in our golden years? I hope so. Like any good Minnesotan, we hope we can be snowbirds someday.

It's hard to imagine how life will play out. I guess that's the thing - you don't completely get to choose. Sure, you do the best you can each day to move in the direction you want to go. But, when life throws you off course, sometimes you need to make a new path.

My life will not be as I imagined. The loss of Shannon changed that forever. But, that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to get where I want to go...

Sunday October 4, 2015

Yesterday was a successful day all the way around. After dropping Erin off at her volleyball tournament, Dan and I were off to the 9th annual Brains Together For A Cure walk. Sadly, this is our 5th year attending the event - one with Shannon, four without...

But, there is strength in numbers and in sharing your story. My high school friend, who lost her dad. Another high school friend who lost her husband... and on and on...

We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout for Team Shannon. My brother Eric, Dan's brother Tim and wife Suzi, Shannon's friend, our friends, and Erin's best bud, Emily came even though Erin wasn't there. How cool is that? It's a day of community, gathering together to support those who are battling and to remember those we have lost.

Dan did a great job emceeing and we left there feeling that we had made some connections and helped the cause. Thanks to all who came out.

After a quick lunch, then it was off to catch the last three matches of the volleyball tournament. Erin's JV ran the table, winning the tourney be defeating a tough Century team in the championship. It's a fun group of girls and a fun group of parents. We are all lucky.

By all measures, yesterday was a good day. We honored Shannon, we cheered on Erin, we visited with family and friends. Tomorrow, Dan is off to visit his aging parents. Another week begins. That's life. The beat goes on...

Wednesday September 30, 2015

It is strange to want to remember and forget at the same time. I don't want Shannon to fade away, but I also sometimes resent that it is forever present. That may be a bad thing to say, but it's the truth.

I suppose there will always be a small piece of me that wishes this wasn't my life. To always have this thing that makes me "different", this anchor that can pull me down at unexpected moments. I always live with that. It won't go away and I don't want it to... but maybe sometimes I do...

This week has had good Shannon moments: I showed up to teach tennis on Monday, and a kid I've never seen before was wearing a Shannon bracelet. I didn't ask if he knew the story... he's there, living his life, playing a little tennis, but I wonder how much he knows. I had a call from an acquaintance who wants to make a donation to the SOF. I've been invited to a Rochester authors event in November. These are the good things in the after.

But there are those gut wrenching moments, too. Erin had to do an exercise at school this week where a foreign language teacher asked her to stand up and introduce her siblings. "I have no brothers. I have no sisters. I am an only child." What the hell else was Erin suppose to do? She doesn't go around announcing that her sister died. She meets new people all the time that don't know her story. Dan and I tend to project and want her to tell people, but she's got to navigate it in her own way. While Dan and I are pretty quick to share our story, Erin plays it closer to the vest. She just wants to be her own person.

The grief journey is unrelenting sometimes. When I was in Atlanta, I met a mother who lost her son 10 years ago. She was still brought to tears remembering him. That in itself was a reality check. I'm not even 4 years in to this lifetime of the after... it's a long road, and some days I'm more graceful than others.

But, we are not alone. People suffer losses in this life. Saturday we will walk and talk with others who have lost loved ones to brain tumors. Lots of different journeys, lots of desire to remember and honor and help fund research in their memory.

If you are so inclined, you can register the day of the event.

Brains Together For a Cure Annual Walk

Sunday September 27, 2015

Sunday morning with a strong cup of coffee and I'm ready to share my thoughts... it was homecoming weekend here at Mayo HS. So many thoughts and feelings and images to share...

Friday I chose to attend the homecoming pepfest where the king and queen would be crowned. I have to hand it to the MHS student body - the school spirit is amazing. From the band to the orchestra to the danceline to the drumline...

And yet, with all that excitement and positive energy, I found myself in tears. Those seniors enjoying one last homecoming hurrah... I couldn't help myself... The student government had discretely incorporated the winged #9 logo into the backdrop for coronation. They remember...

Post coronation, it was time for the parade. Dan and I sat in our usual spot with our dear friends around to support and comfort us. The tears continued to flow as the Shannon logo showed up again on the hockey float and the golf carts carrying the homecoming royalty. But the football team took the cake...

All the while as I struggled with my emotions, Erin was enjoying the festivities. As it should be. Face paint, tie-dye, school spirit. This is her time, too, and I never want to take away from that.

By the time the football game rolled around, I was able to relax and enjoy a beautiful night in the company of good friends. Dan and I found ourselves surrounded by those who remember Shannon and help us to cope. We are grateful for that. As the almost full moon rose over the game, I felt more at peace.

Yesterday was all about homecoming dance preparation. Erin and the rest of the student government spent the morning setting up the gym for the dance. Then, there was time for a few quick errands - finding just the right shade of red lipstick to go with the shoes, and then picking up the boutonniere.

Prep for the dance included one friend coming by to do Erin's hair, and another coming by for nails and make up. Thank goodness for girlfriends as Erin's mom is ill equipped to help with such things! I know I'm biased, but Erin looked beautiful.

Pictures, dinner, dance, and an after dance bonfire completed the festivities for Erin. She was happy and that makes me happy. She is growing up, handling her sister's memory and yet forging her own way. I'm so grateful for that. It is a strange existence for Erin, especially as Shannon's class is front and center now as seniors. 

The night didn't finish without one more Shannon memory. Four years ago, Shannon was in the beginning of her 8th grade year and we were just weeks away from her tumor starting to grow again. But for that brief time, things were good. Shannon and her friends were psyched for homecoming. Shannon had her one turn at enjoying the face painting, bead wearing, school spirit. Her friends that supported her through her cancer journey were there enjoying it, too. It was a good day. Four years ago, Shannon was on top. It's one of my favorite pictures...

My, how those girls have grown. Young ladies now, and we are grateful to still have them in our lives. While it's sometimes painful, we feel connected to Shannon when we are with them. And they remember. Dan and I got a text last night saying, "We are missing the top of our pyramid." She was with them in spirit...

Monday September 21, 2015

I have been enjoying a weekend away, visiting my friend, Cynthia, in Atlanta. I am here because tonight she is receiving an endowed chair so she can continue her work in developmental therapeutics at Emory.

Four years ago, I didn't know anything about developmental therapeutics or cancer research, really. Four years ago, I didn't know Cynthia, either. Shannon has been a part of me learning more about the world, making new friends, and understanding medicine and research in a more concrete way. It's an honor to be here to celebrate Cynthia's work in pediatric cancer research.

Emory was the site of the national tennis tournament my senior year in college. That means that I played on these tennis courts almost 25 years ago... Yikes!

It was fun to walk around the campus this morning and see all the students on their way to and from class. I sat in the Starbucks on campus and watched them highlighting textbooks, doing research on their laptops and talking about life.

That tennis tournament at Emory back in 1991? It was the spring of my senior year and I had a twenty page journalism ethics paper to write. No laptops back then, so I hauled my word processor  (this was a step up from the typewriter) and all my source material on the plane with me!  Ahh, the good ol' days...

It's fun to remember back to college. It's fun to think about Erin being there some day. It's hard to realize Shannon should be touring these campuses right now and thinking about her future.

It's homecoming week at Mayo HS. The seniors want to honor Shannon.  Look for those Shannon logos along the parade route...

Life is a journey. Some days are better than others. Today is a good day.

Wednesday September 16, 2015

There are reminders everywhere - reminders of Shannon, reminders of the before, reminders to live in the moment and enjoy the ride...

While watching Erin play volleyball last night, we talked with others about the upcoming homecoming at Mayo HS. Some of Shannon's friends are on the homecoming court. Maybe one of them will be king or queen. It is a balancing act for Dan and I to be happy for them and not to personalize it for ourselves. We have chosen to stay close to Shannon's friends and even when things are painful, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Twice in the past two weeks, Dan has had conversations with people who read Determined to Matter and found something for themselves in it. That still feels good to us. We are doing what Shannon wanted, trying to make a small difference in this world...

Another young girl in our community passed away from DIPG last week. Rest in peace, Sofia. My heart aches for that family as they navigate the memorial and begin to live in the after.

We know that research is needed to improve treatments for this terrible disease. To that end, we will again be taking part in the Brains Together For A Cure Annual Walk this year. This local organization funds brain tumor research right here at Mayo Clinic.

Dan will be emceeing this years event on Saturday October 3rd. We'd love to have a strong Shannon the Cannon contingent again this year. If you can join us, please do. Here's the registration info:

Brains Together For A Cure Annual Walk

Shannon joined us for this walk back in 2011. She was embarrassed by all the lime green "Shannon the Cannon" shirts, but she had a sense of humor about it. We joked that we should have made one for her that said "I am Shannon the Cannon"!

We have grown so much from that day. The kids in that photo have literally grown! As for us, we've grown in other ways. More perspective, more gratitude, more empathy for the human condition.

Hope to see you all October 3rd...

Thursday September 10, 2015

Today is our 21st wedding anniversary. Time has added pounds and wrinkles for both of us,  but I still celebrate being together with my guy.

With life being busy, it almost slipped our minds. First week of school, work obligations, etc. make the days fly by. Dan sent me a text from his hotel last night saying "I almost forgot - tomorrow's our anniversary. Do you want to go on a date... to a volleyball game?" Of course I do.

Life gets in the way sometimes and we forget what really matters. Having someone to love and to be loved by that someone makes life richer. Lord knows, Dan and I have been through some tough stuff together... and we are still together. We're both better people because of it. I'm proud of that.

I like this piece titled Marriage Box. Sums it up pretty well...

Saturday September 5, 2015

It's been another busy week around here. The volleyball season kicked off and Erin got her first taste of JV level volleyball. And not against just any opponent, but the Class A defending state champs from Stewartville.

It's not hard to pick out the O'Hara in this team lineup! But, size isn't everything...

Erin and her team played well, and although they lost in a tight 3rd game, Erin's reaction afterwards was priceless: "That was so f*@!$ fun!"

Erin also said her team has "really good karma" so it should be a fun season.  It's still crazy to think that Shannon never knew Erin as a volleyball player. I guess volleyball is part of the "after" for us, the beginning of our new normal back when Erin was 11 years old and learning to be her own person after Shannon left us. So, volleyball feels like part of the healing process in a way. Maybe that's part of why Erin likes it. I know that's true for me...

So Labor Day Weekend is here. Dan's off to his Fantasy Football League draft. Please say a silent prayer that he drafts a good team this year. It makes Sundays around here so much better... for me and Erin :)

Us girls are off to the MOA for a little last minute school shopping. Black boots are on Erin's list and I'm in need of another "work" outfit. Erin has a good eye for fashion, so she will help me out.

Oh, Erin has one other duty this weekend. That book that was assigned back on the last day of school to be read this summer? Um, yeah... I predict Erin will be reading it Monday night...

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone!

Monday August 31, 2015

It feels like our summer is officially over... I know school is still a week away, but our summer calendar is finished...

We started our summer at Lake Hubert the day Erin finished school last June, and we finished it back at Lake Hubert this past weekend with an O'Hara wedding. In between, we traveled and golfed and worked and played. Summer 2015 was a good one.

The wedding was beautiful. An outdoor chapel and a personal ceremony made for a touching ceremony. On cue, the loon calls echoed in the background.

Dan and his 8 siblings were all there, and Erin got to hang with the cousins, even staying at the camp the night of the wedding. She is capable of staying up until 3am and we are not, so this was a win-win.

Family can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. This occasion brought out the best.

Weddings can be difficult now for us. Impossible not to think of Shannon missing out. And wondering what it will be like for Erin someday. But, being surrounded by family who walk our journey with us is comforting.

So congrats, Kallie and Ted. May you navigate the ups and downs of married life with the same grace and joy we saw this past weekend.

Thursday August 27, 2015

We are glad yesterday is over... Papa Harkins had successful surgery yesterday to clear the blockage in his carotid artery. And it's a good thing he did - once they got in there, the surgeon found that the artery was 80% blocked. Another stroke was looming...

I'm glad that he chose to have it done and chose to do it here at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. My mom has been able to stay with us and Papa will come back here to recoup until he's ready to return to the cabin.

You know you are going to get a specialist when you choose Mayo Clinic, and we had great confidence in his surgeon. That gave us piece of mind, but anytime you have a neurosurgeon, it's not nothing... So, my brother Eric and I kept mom company all morning yesterday as we watched Papa's status update on the patient information board: pre-op, in the OR, procedure started, etc... When grandma got the call that he was in recovery and things went well, she was finally able to relax.

Erin wanted me to come get her and bring her to the hospital once Papa was through surgery. At the tender age of 14, she knows that's what you do: when people are in need, you show up. She's had so many good examples of how people have supported us when we needed it. It's something I didn't really learn until Shannon was sick, so Erin's way ahead of the curve.

Today, Erin is off to a volleyball scrimmage in the cities. Dan will return home from Michigan and hopefully Papa gets discharged and can come here to recover.

Tomorrow, we are off to Lake Hubert. It's another O'Hara wedding this weekend as Erin's cousin Kallie gets married. Weather looks great and we're excited to celebrate with them.

Life is a jumbled mess of stages... aging parents, young love, teenage angst, accepting middle age... this life ain't for sissies, I can tell you that!

It's true though, if you can stay in the moment and live each day, you can appreciate the journey.

"Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well." - Jack London

Friday August 21, 2015

I think I aged 10 years this week... volleyball tryouts just about did me in! Erin was a ball of stress all week, and that meant I was in the line of fire. I couldn't say or do anything right. It was like I forgot how to be a mom...

In the end, it's all good. Erin made the JV team this year, just what she was hoping for. She's had to make the transition to a new position - playing in the back row. At this level, you can't really be a setter who plays in the front row if you are 5'1"!

She will be with her group of friends, and it's setting up to be a fun season. Phew. I told her last night that now that tryouts are over, she can be nice to me again. She said "One week out of the year, I act like a normal teenager and you're all over me!" We had a good chuckle about it.

Erin also had schedule pick up this week. Sophomore year is just a couple of weeks away now. How did that happen? Erin was hanging out with a friend the other day, and there were some senior kids there, too. Really nice kids. On the way home, Erin said "I think those are the kind of kids that Shannon would be hanging around with." Erin thinks her sister would have navigated high school and still been a nice kid. I like that.

It will be a year like that for Erin. Watching that senior class and trying to imagine what life would be like if Shannon were here.

When she got home from tryouts last night, Dan was talking to her and said "You're sister would be proud of you." Erin thought about it and said "Would I even be playing volleyball if Shannon hadn't gotten sick?"

See, Erin started volleyball in the spring of 2012, just after Shannon passed away. Her friends talked her into trying it, wanting to help Erin along in her recovery. Those friends are still a part of Erin's life. That's a blessing.

So, volleyball season is underway. 10th grade is just around the corner. We carry on...

Saturday August 15, 2015

This weekend marks the end of summer in a way... volleyball season begins on Monday and school schedule pick up is Wednesday, so plans are under way for the fall season.

Erin continues to make the most of her summer, though, and she's not giving up on it yet. She continues to socialize with her friends. Erin has several friends with driver's licenses and she knows if she can get a ride home, we rarely say no to a social opportunity! It's strange how quickly this new stage has happened...

Erin and I had a busy week doing a bedroom update for her. We painted the walls (grey) and got rid of the "little girls" dresser in favor of a modern closet system. If we can track down the perfect nightstand this weekend, the job will be complete.

E and I discusses how many iterations that room has had. It was Shannon's room when Erin was born. Once Erin moved to a big girl bed, she and Shannon wanted to share the room. We painted it lavender and yellow and eventually we put bunk beds in there. Once Shannon got too old to share with Erin, she moved out and Erin wanted her room baby blue with pink and white polka dot accents. After that, we moved to purple and white with a whiteboard wall. I'm pretty sure that room was a bit bigger before all those layers of paint!

Erin assures me that this is the last update before she goes to college. Yikes...

DanO returned home Thursday in time to have a birthday dinner with friends. 52 looks good on him, in my opinion. His job is crazy busy and he's still traveling every week, but fortunately, he likes what he does.

I, too, am busy with work. I haven't "worked" 30 hours a week in a long time. But, luckily, I also like what I'm doing. It's interesting and engaging work. I'm learning new things every week. I'm getting better at it as I go. These are all really positive things. I'm lucky.

 I'll be glad when we get through this week of volleyball tryouts. Some anxiety for Erin, which means anxiety for me! Gotta have faith that it will all work out as it should.

All in all, life is good...

Sunday August 9, 2015

I'm up this morning, digging through the pile of paperwork on my desk. One of the items on my to do list, is to prepare checks for our three scholarship winners. Yes, it's time to think about back to school and for our scholarship recipients, that means off to college. This is one of the best parts about running the foundation - getting to see the hard work and generosity of others turn into something tangible. It's a great way to carry on Shannon's spirit.

Shannon's friends are not quite ready for college, but they are going to start their senior year in just a month's time. This year is going to be a series of nicks on my heart. Watching each of Shannon's friends transition to the next stage is going to be hard. I see their senior picture and I think of a memory of them with Shannon back in elementary school. 

Just the other night, we saw a classmate of Shannon's out to dinner with his friends. When I see this kid, I always think back to fourth grade when Shannon told me "He dips everything he eats in ranch dressing." I found myself wondering if he still does... I suppose not. He has grown up a bit since then.

I find myself wanting to hold tightly to each of these memories. I don't ever want to forget any little detail of the time we had with Shannon.

I can't help but imagine what Shannon's senior pictures would look like... would she still like the color lime green?

I find myself trying to imagine what our family dynamic would be like now. Would Shannon be willing to drive her little sister around? I think so. Would they be friends in the best possible way? I hope so. Would they fight? Oh, I imagine so...

Erin is prepping for 10th grade. More territory that Shannon never covered. Erin is having to forge her own way. Would high school have been easier for E if she had been able to follow Shannon? Or, would it have been harder to be the second O'Hara girl coming through? Following Shannon's big personality and big energy might have been a challenge...

These are questions that allow for speculation, but no real answers. Just part of the giant game of "what if" that we will play for the rest of our lives.

So, school is still a month away, but I find myself prepping my armor to prevent those nicks on my heart. There's no way around it. Just gotta go through. And we will. Doesn't mean it will be easy, but we will accept this journey and as we watch the Class of 2016, we'll hope to see a little bit of Shannon in those who knew her.

I know I've written about this before, but I guess I'm a little bit shocked about how much it's affecting me. I knew it was coming and I though I was ready, but grief will not be planned and anticipated. You've got to just feel what you feel in each moment and accept it.

And, the impending school year is not all sadness. We get the joy of watching Erin grow up and forge her own way. That's what a parent wants. I'm very conscious to not spend so much time thinking of Shannon that I miss what's right here in front of me. How did Erin get to be a 10th grader already? 

So, we'll enjoy this last month of summer with Miss E. I do my best not to spend too much time worrying about how I'm going to feel about things. Just get up each day and live it.

"Sorrow comes in great waves... but it rolls over us and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain." - Henry James

Monday August 3, 2015

Erin and I are feeling a little like Dan this week, going from town to town, staying in different places before we return home.

Last night and tonight, we are in Ramsey, MN so that Erin and her teammates can play in the Minnesota Golf Association Jr. State Team Tournament. I've been organizing this team this summer and this state event is something they've been waiting for. They had a practice round yesterday, and I walked along and offered my two cents about where to hit it and things to avoid. I'm sure Erin loves having me around as the "coach"!  The first round of the tournament is today and then they will play again tomorrow. Should be fun.

Our trip started last Thursday when we left for a bridal shower in Minneapolis. Erin's cousin Kallie is getting married this month and all the O'Hara women gathered to throw her a shower. Great food, great fun for all of us.

We stayed in the cities Thursday night and Dan joined us so we could head out first thing Friday morning. We spent the weekend with my family on Madeline Island. It's a bit of an effort to get there, but well worth it...

Grandma and Papa Harkins rented a cabin for the weekend and my brother and his family were there as well. We joke that any time we all get together, we have horrible weather. I kid you not, as we were caravanning to the cabin in our separate vehicles, it began to sprinkle... then rain... then pour! Luckily, it was short lived and within two hours, the sun was shining and we were off to the beach.

Madeline Island is a special place in my family. My mom was born in Ashland, WI and she and her 8 younger brothers spent their summers going to the island. My brother and I visited there many times as kids.

We hit the beach three times, made a trip into town for pizza, ice cream... and wifi! Yes, the cabin was in a location with no cell service, no TV, no connection to the outside world. We all struggled to not be able to text or check twitter. It was a good reality check on how much we use our technology.

Funny story - as we were sitting around the cabin on Friday night, reading actual books and doing a puzzle, my brother Eric heard a phone buzz. All of a sudden, he said "I got a text - I've got one bar if I stand right here in the corner of the bedroom!" Well, it didn't take us long to all grab our phones and huddle in the corner, searching for a signal. My dad told us we were pathetic. He was right...

The signal didn't last long, and for the rest of the weekend we were disconnected. We cooked and played games around the cabin.

On of the traditions in my family is to jump off the rock at Big Bay State Park. I, of course, won't do it. I am averse to risk and not a thrill seeker. Erin was all in...

After climbing over the railing and assessing the situation, Dan was the first one to go. Jumping from 30 feet above the water where the lake is so clear you can see the boulders 20 feet below the surface. When it was Erin's turn - she just went for it.

It was so exhilarating, she did it three times. So did cousin Jack, Uncle Eric and Dan. While I had no interest in joining them, it was fun to watch!

Yes, our dynamic has changed a bit without Shannon, but her name came up often this weekend, and that was really nice. We had beautiful weather and hung out together on the beach every chance we got.  It was hot enough than even I got into Lake Superior to cool off.

We spent our last night together, hiking a trail down to the west-facing side of the island so we could watch the sun set. DanO had found this gem of a spot on his morning run. 

We were sitting together on the peer, taking photos of our families as the sun went down. And then it happened.

Just before sunset, a bald eagle swooped down, right over our heads. First and last one we saw all weekend. All nine of us got a look. Just one pass, and she was gone. So glad Shannon stopped by to say hello...

Wednesday July 29, 2015

Shannon would have turned 17 today. Our fourth summer without her rolls on...

I often think of how unfair it is in the context of being her mother. I didn't get a chance to see her grow up and I feel cheated.

But sometimes I'm reminded to think of it in the context of what others lost.

My parents, who not only had to watch their granddaughter die, but now live with watching their own daughter go on living with that loss. That's a double whammy.

Dan and his whole family. The O'Hara cousins are getting to spend a lot of time together this summer with two family weddings.  I know they miss Shannon, and their chain of cousins has a missing piece.

And Erin. She really got cheated. She is lonely sometimes without her sister. Summer brings lots of opportunities to realize what she's missing.

Those family weddings - seeing siblings stand up for one another - has an edge to it for Erin. She won't get that chance.

Summer also finds Erin hanging out with friends - and their siblings. Seeing two teenage sisters together - the older one driving the younger one around - well, that can be a painful reminder of what she's lost.

Kids this age start to think about their future. Erin will be here after Dan and I are gone. She will be the one to carry on our story. That's a big burden.

Most of the time, Erin doesn't show her pain and she carries on with confidence and a smile most days.

But every once in a while, she lets it go. Last night there were tears, missing her sister. We sat together and just allowed ourselves to miss her. Nothing wrong with that.

Happy birthday, Shannon.

Saturday July 25, 2015

I am busy this morning tying up loose ends from Monday's golf tournament. I've uploaded the photos to the foundation website, so check them out. Lots of smiling faces and fun foursomes there! Here's the link:

It's strange to me the things that elicit emotion. Monday, we had 140 people together honoring Shannon, and I didn't shed a tear. Yesterday, I took a photo of Shannon down off the wall and it got to me.  I think I will continue to learn about grief for the rest of my life...

I wanted to hang some photos from our trip to Ireland. We decided on a wall in our basement. A wall where pictures of Shannon and Erin from the summer of 2011 have been hanging for the last 4 years. Erin was ready to take down the pics that showed her a a little 10 year old, smiling while watching Shannon battle.

So, those pictures will find a new home somewhere else, or maybe just in my mind. Time does march on. We've been new places and seen new things in the past three years. Erin wants to see that forward progress hanging outside her door. So we made the change.

I am coming to realize that this year will be a really tough one. Shannon's classmates are seniors. Some of them are already posting their senior pictures on social media. I've sat in on several conversations about college visits and the next stage of life. It's just going to be really hard, as milestones tend to be.

I'm sad I didn't get to see Shannon as a senior in high school. I'm sad we didn't get to experience the madness of choosing a college with her. I guess I'm allowed to feel that way. Most of the time I'm able to carry on and move ahead and know that we did all we could while she was here. But, we got short changed, and sometimes that's still painful. I think it always will be...

The pictures of Ireland that now hang on the wall look beautiful. It doesn't mean we've forgotten what used to hang there. It means we are living because of what we learned during that summer of 2011.

It's Shannon's birthday week. What a smart, sassy 17-year-old she could have been...

MGG Swings for Shannon raises $14,000!

MGG Swings for Shannon was a great success. We had beautiful weather and great support for out event. 140 golfers this year helped us raise almost $14,000.

I enjoy going around the course and seeing each group. Almost everyone has a connection to me or Dan or Mayo Girls Golf. Some of these people knew Shannon. Many of these people were a part of Shannon's journey. Seeing Shannon's 7th and 8th grade teachers playing golf in the Shannon shirts is pretty special. They have been changed by their experience with that girl...

While the event is a lot of work, we don't do it alone. So, thank you to all the volunteers - friends who continue to support us and help us with organizing our events.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored a tee sign or donated a raffle prize.

Thank you to Coach Steve Myhro, Coach Cathy Ruedinger and the Mayo Girls Golf team. Your manpower makes things run smoothly.

And finally, thank you to each and every one of you who played in the event. Hopefully 5 hours on a golf course in the sun made you feel good. Hopefully you felt Shannon shining down on you.

We will do it all again next year, so mark your calendars for July 18, 2016!

Monday July 20, 2015

The MGG Swings for Shannon golf tournament is today. Weather for this afternoon looks good. I know Shannon will shine down on us.

This will be our biggest event yet and I'm excited to see all the family and friends who are coming out to support our foundation and remember Shannon. The Mayo Girls Golf Team will be there to help us out, too, which really gives the event a special feel.

We've been planning for months and it's finally here. It's going to be a great day...

Tuesday July 14, 2015

This past weekend, Barbara Park died. She succumbed to ovarian cancer at age 66.

If you raised kids in the 1990's, this name will ring a bell. Park was the author of the "Junie B. Jones" books, written about a smart-mouthed girl with opinions about everyone.

Titles like "Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus" and "Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim's Birthday" certainly grabbed kid's attention. Kids loved these books. Shannon loved these books. IT was the first time they got to read something a little controversial. Kids weren't allowed to say mean things out loud, but Junie B. sure could think them!

I remember Shannon reading and laughing about the sassy girl who was narrating the stories. Shannon and Erin loved when Dan and I would take a turn reading the books out loud so we could all laugh together. That's a sweet memory for me.

Now kids Shannon's age are making college visits. Through golf, volleyball, hockey and our foundation, we still have contact with so many of Shannon's classmates. This is their senior year. Those kids who grew up reading Junie B. Jones are prepping for the next stage of life.

The heartache of what we are missing will never go away. Something as simple as a children's book author passing away can trigger a memory and make me remember our loss. Dan, Erin and I share Shannon memories all the time, but sometimes the memories we didn't get to make creep in and grab me.

Life is good, and yet, there will always be a piece missing. Dan, Erin and I constantly have to reconcile that in our own minds. We can be happy - we are happy - but something will always be missing.

This year will be tough. Watching Shannon's peers choose their colleges and graduate from high school will not be easy. We will miss her and we will miss the idea of who she might be now. One can only imagine what that Junie B. Jones loving girl might have turned out to be...

Thursday July 9, 2015

I picked up a new order of Shannon shirts this week in preparation for the golf tournament. I think this may be our tenth different shirt. That's good and bad all at the same time...

It's bad of course, because it means she's been gone long enough for us to produce ten different shirts for ten different events. Hockey tournaments, golf tournaments, Brains Together For a Cure walks, etc. We're working on our fourth year of fundraising. How is that possible? I can't think too hard about that because it hurts deep down in my marrow.

But, when I showed up to play tennis on Tuesday and my three friends were wearing three different versions of Shannon gear, well, that's just pretty damn cool. When I see the shirts, it doesn't make me think of what I've lost, but what I've gained: deep friendships and unwavering support from family and friends If someone is willing to wear a shirt in honor/memory of my daughter, that warms my heart and makes me want to keep going...

We sell t-shirts to fund our scholarships and make small donations to support brain tumor research. We'd have to sell millions of shirts to raise the kind of funds needed to really support the research, and that's probably not in the cards for us. But, we will keep doing what we can on a small level to honor our girl.

Shannon's desire to donate her cells is making a difference, though, and that offers us hope to see a change in the way brain stem gliomas are treated. Dr. Richard Vile and his research team have been inspired by Shannon's story and they are working with her actual cells in there immunotherapy research. An article was published this week online by Mayo Clinic that covers Shannon's story and the legacy she is leaving behind through Dr. Vile's research.

You can read the article here:    Mayo Clinic In The Loop

Go Shannon, go...