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!