Wednesday February 25, 2015

I know those of you in MN probably don't want to hear this, but we are having a wonderful time in the Bahamas.  The weather is the same every day, 78 and sunny with a breeze off the ocean.  No wonder the Bahamians are all so happy.

It is fun for me to meet the other people from Dan's company.  Dan works remotely while company headquarters are in Nashville, so it's a good chance for me to put some faces with the names.

Some of these people know our story, and some of them don't.  Dan's bosses know about our loss, and we've had a chance to talk about the work of our foundation with them.  That always feels good.

But, meeting new people will always be tricky.  "How many children do you have?"  That question will never be easy for us.  When people are sitting on a beach drinking rum punch is probably not the best time to discuss your dead kid.  That sounds harsh, but that's our truth.

So, we pick and choose our spots and accept that we aren't being untrue to Shannon when we don't talk about her.  Sometimes it's not the time or place to have that conversation with someone you've just met.

We are staying at a place we couldn't afford, thanks to Dan's company.  The One & Only Ocean Club leaves no amenity undone.  Chocolates and champagne each night.  A butler service 24 hours.  Beautiful private beach with waiter service.  In the right light, the ocean is an electric blue.  It's going to be hard to stay at a Hampton Inn again...

Yesterday, we got to play golf, and then take a boat ride around the Nassau harbor at sunset.  Today is a free day, so I plan to split my time between to pool and the beach.

Erin and Grandma Harkins are holding down the fort at home.  Sunny, Sylvie and Erin's schedule have kept Grandma busy.  We've been able to face time them each evening to talk about our days.

It's been a little easier to talk about the Bahamas with E, knowing that she will be here in a month.  Yes, the 13th birthday trip has been re-scheduled and Erin, Grandma and Papa will be cruising out of Miami to Nassau during spring break.  They are all excited to finally have their adventure.

So, we appreciate this winter getaway and we have one more day to enjoy it.  I will take time today to be grateful for what we have.  Back to MN tomorrow afternoon.  Yah, mon...

Thursday February 19, 2015

It's been a productive week around the O'Hara household:

One colonoscopy (Dan), one kitty spayed (Sylvie), 6 hours of golf and volleyball training (Erin), and one new job opportunity (Jen).

Dan and Sylvie are no worse for the wear.  All is well on both fronts.

Erin is exhausted as the long, cold days of February are dragging on.  She's excited about golf season and has been working hard on her swing and her strength.  This is a tough time of year for us golfers... spring feels so far away.

As for me, I am pumped about a new freelance writing opportunity that I have been pursuing.  I'm going to be working 10 hours a week for the Mayo Clinic News Network team.  Things were just finalized yesterday, so I don't have a lot of details, but it feels like a good opportunity to use my writing skills.

I will still be able to work for Reedbrook, teach a little tennis, help coach golf, and be Erin's taxi driver.  I feel very fortunate to find an opportunity that allows me the freedom to keep doing those things.  I want it all...

It's nice that the writing I've been doing the past four years - blogging, book, foundation website, Reedbrook consulting work - all add up to a real time resume.  Who could have predicted any of this when I was a stay at home mom raising two little girls.  Not me.

I guess that's the thing about life - you don't get to plan it all out, you have to learn how to adjust.  Life requires us to be nimble and accepting of change.  I've learned that over these past 4 years.

So, new opportunities are ahead.  But, I had to tell them that I needed a week off first.  What a good way to start a new job - ask for vacation right off the bat!  Dan and I leave Sunday for the Bahamas - a trip Dan earned by having a career year with EFS and qualifying for their President's Club.

So, we'll let the company treat us to a nice 4 day getaway.  A little warmth, a little golf, a big chance to recharge the batteries.

Sunday February 15, 2015

We officially wrapped up our Shannon O'Hara Foundation fundraising season last night.  One more event at Graham Arena with our scholarship presentations.

A big thanks to the Mayo Boys Hockey team who hosted this event for us again this year.  The Mayo Boys program did fundraising at each home game this year and made a $550 donation to the SOF last night.  Absolutely heartwarming.

With last night's merchandise sales, we added another $1575 to the coffers of the foundation.  It's been another wonderful fundraising year, and because of that, we chose to give out not two, but three scholarships this year.

Congratulations to Tori Thompson (JM/Lourdes), Jake Dravis (JM) and Mitchell Brandhagen (Lourdes) for being chosen as recipients of the 2015 Shannon O'Hara Memorial Scholarships.

This is the best part of running the foundation.  Knowing that we can help kids and their families out as these student athletes move on to the next phase of their lives and pursue higher education.

This was our third year of giving out the awards.  It matters to these kids, and they are honored to be recognized with this scholarship.  It sticks with them.

We received a hand written note this week from one of last year's winners wishing us well on scholarship night.  Parents from two of our winners last year were in attendance last night, and Brian Murray, our first recipient back in 2013, stopped by to say hello and fill me in on how school is going and that life is good in college.

So, all those days of schlepping boxes of merchandise in and out of Graham Arena seems worth it today.  We are grateful for all the help and support of those in this community who make these scholarships possible.  I can't think of a better way to pay it forward.

Thursday February 12, 2015

I feel like this blog has become kind of boring... more a vessel to share information, and less of a place where I share myself. I don't know why exactly, or what it means for the future of this space, but I hope I can get back to sharing emotions and not just listing off what's happening next.

Maybe it's that we've had so many events, and there isn't time for both. I mean, I have become this business person, promoting the foundation, drumming up interest in our myriad of events.

Yes, I want to be doing that, but it's not all I am... maybe it's been a good place to hide so I don't have to think too hard about what I am really feeling. It's easier to just jump from event to event and keep on truckin'...

I am recognizing that the work we do with the foundation takes an emotional toll on me. I want it all to be perfect, and to represent Shannon in the best way possible. That's a lot of pressure - self induced - and things don't always go as planned, and then I take it personally.

I guess this winter has been a good reminder that I need to reserve some space for myself, emotionally... it can't be all about Shannon, or Erin or Dan for that matter. I know as a wife and a mother, I am not the only one who feels this from time to time...

It has been helpful this week to get back to exercising and playing tennis with my girlfriends.  Last week I got the clearance from my surgeon to go back to regular activity.  So, I am diving right in, playing tennis three times this week!

But, I still have this thing nagging at me - don't quite know what it is.  Sometimes my brain gets in the way.  I want to understand what I am feeling, instead of just feeling it.  It's hard to articulate...

But here's my dime store analysis: all the positive feedback we've received has been amazing. Our events this year were bigger successes than the year before, and it culminates with giving out scholarships this weekend.  But having such positivity feels strange. All of this stuff - all of my efforts this winter - stem from the fact that Shannon died. I can't - and don't want to - ever move past that fact.

A friend passed along a NY Times column a while back about grief called Getting Grief Right.  It touched a chord with me, the idea that we want people to see that we are "doing really well" and that we "seem to be moving on". And yet, all the pressure to make our grief lessen over time isn't always the reality. What if it's harder in year three than it was in year two? What does that mean?

Now, I can only speak for me, but that's been true. I am feeling tapped out. There are also some extenuating circumstances in my case. Much emotional and physical pain over the past few months with my dad's health and my own surgery.

And, I am now in surgically induced menopause... any woman who has been there can tell you that's no picnic on the emotional front. Their spouses might have a thing or two to say about that as well!

So, I guess I need a break from "doing" and allow myself time and space for the "feeling".

But first, one more event on Saturday...

Monday February 9, 2015

One more week... one more week of focusing on Shannon events, and then we are ready for a break. I'm feeling a little tapped out today, but have to push on to get things ready for next Saturday night when we will award this year's Shannon O'Hara Foundation scholarships.

Our Board of Directors met last night to discuss all our scholarship applicants. This is the hardest, yet most rewarding thing we do.

The softie in me wishes we could give each kid a scholarship. That's not possible, of course, so we have to choose. We take into account everything we can - personal essay, letters of recommendation, input we receive from coaches - and we narrow it down. Our nine board members offer different perspectives, and it makes for a lively discussion.

It's exciting, and, to be honest, a little scary. You want to pick the right kid to represent the foundation.

We are already talking about how this will get harder over the next few years as Shannon's former teammates become our applicants. Uff da...

But, I can't think about that yet. This year's choices have been made, and we will be announcing them before the Century vs. Mayo Boys Hockey game on Saturday night. Game time is 7:30, so be there by 7:15 to catch the presentation.

One last chance to buy SOF merchandise this winter... one last chance to honor Shannon.

Shannon's Story on Fox47

It is an eventful week for us and thoughts of Shannon are front and center.  (Poor Erin - it is a long shadow in which she lives.  I'm thankful for her attitude and grace. )

Last night, our local Fox affiliate ran a story on the research being done on Shannon's cells here at Mayo Clinic.  It's a long road from cells in a lab to a cure or even an effective treatment.  But, Dr. Richard Vile and his team of researchers are making progress.

Through our journey, we've come to understand that research is so essential.  Science will advance the medicine and hopefully improve the outcomes.  Research can be slow and arduous, but someday, we hope the mortality rate for kids with DIPG will improve.

If Shannon can play a part in that, well, what more could we hope for.  It's what she wanted, after all...

Years after her death, the legacy of Shannon O'Hara lives on

Seven Continents...

 Shannon shirts have done it - they have made it around the world!  Our seventh and final continent - Antarctica.  Amazing.

I made mention a while back that we were missing one continent in our Shannon Shirts Around the World game.  When my friend, Sue, heard that her colleague, Lynn, was headed to Antarctica, well, a couple of t-shirts were sent along for the trip.

One of Shannon's gifts has been these connections we've made.  That my friend would hear about her friend going to Antarctica and think to reach out and have a little piece of Shannon and her legacy get to this far flung location... so very cool.

We always love seeing someone in a Shannon shirt.  Sometimes we know the person, sometimes we don't.  Whether it's Graham Arena or Antarctica, a little piece of her carries on...

Shannon Shirts Around the World 

Monday February 2, 2015

If one of our hopes is that Shannon is remembered, then this weekend should have filled our cups.

The final weekend of the Shannon Cup brought 20 teams to Rochester, girls ranging in age from 8 to 13.  We spoke with many of the teams, and really connected with the Rochester girls.  They are carrying Shannon's legacy forward.  They wanted to hear stories about Shannon and they wanted us to watch them play.

They taped their sticks and helmets and painted their faces in lime green.  They wrote Shannon's name on their sticks.  They skated their hearts out.

Nothing is cuter to us than seeing a bunch of girls running around the rink in their new Shannon O'Hara Foundation sweatshirts.  Thank you to all the parents who shelled out money for your kids to get some new Shannon swag!  It was a hugely successful weekend as we raised over $6000.  That money will fund the scholarships we will give out in two weeks.  Amazing and humbling...

During the 10A championship game yesterday, Dan and I were cheering like it was our own child out there on the ice.  While the Rochester team lost in overtime, it was a great day.  Seeing those kids work together and give full effort was wonderful.  Connecting with those parents made us feel good about our message and our desire to make a difference in Shannon's memory.

I heard one mother tell her daughter - "maybe someday you'll be applying for the Shannon scholarship."  How cool is that?

It's also a relief.  I lay awake at night worrying about how to sustain this long term.  What will constitute a success for the SOF?  Can it survive my lifetime?  I am pouring my heart and soul and time into making this work and Dan, Erin and I show up and share our story whenever possible.

The Shannon Cup has become a wonderful vehicle for us to expand our reach as each year, new girls are introduced to Shannon's story.  I guess that gives me hope that we can continue to carry the work of the foundation.

Today, we are exhausted from being on all weekend, connecting with people and watching a dozen hockey games... uff da...

Our Shannon stuff carries on as we are busy reading this year's scholarship applications.  Less than two weeks now until we award this year's recipients.

Hockey and the work we do with these kids and the scholarship process is a huge part of Shannon's legacy.  The other piece - the brain tumor research - is also on our minds this week.

I did an interview last week along with Dr. Richard Vile, and our local Fox affiliate will be running a story Wednesday.  Research they are doing on Shannon's cells right here at Mayo Clinic is showing promise and heading into the next phase.  What if someday treatment is different for DIPG kids because of what they learned from Shannon's cells?  I can't even fathom that, but I guess it's ok to dream.

So, I hope you can catch Shannon's Story, Wednesday night on the 9pm Fox47 Newscast.  If nothing else, you'll get to see her big brown eyes and sweet smile again, if only for a moment...