Christmas Day 2018

Christmas Eve was a day filled with joy and laughter for us. We celebrated with both our families - the Harkins side for brunch and an afternoon filled with presents, laughter, some inappropriate YouTube videos and a card game where Papa threw $10 in the pot to make it interesting. Luckily, one of the broke college kids - Erin - pocketed the cash. Lots of good natured ribbing and laughter. Just the way we like it.

If you have kids who come home for the holidays, check out the SNL skit "back home baller". I highly recommend it.

Then it was off to the O'Hara side. Lots of eating and drinking... and singing... loudly. The O'Haras can produce impressive volume levels. Erin was right there with her cousins, spreading Christmas cheer. Dan pointed out that our group included 5 men and 12 women. Of the cousins closest to Erin on the O'Hara side, there are 5 girls and 1 guy.

This ratio led to a rousing rendition of "The 12 days of Feministmas".

A great day all around. But as with every day in our life, something was missing. Holidays only accentuate it.

As we drove home last night after celebrating with our families, a bright, almost full moon lit the way back to Rochester. We always think of Shannon when the moon is full as it was when she left us. Honestly, we always think of Shannon. Period. Full stop.

We talked about her on the way home. About our memories of holidays and that last Christmas when she was still here, but not.  7 years since her last Christmas. It's so long ago, now, and that scares me. I don't want to lose any of my memories of Shannon. I don't want her to get further away from me.

So, a piece of unsolicited advice from me to you. If you know someone who's lost someone, tell them what you remember about their dearly departed. Say their name. It's the best gift you could give them. There's nothing better than getting to hear stories about the ones you miss so dearly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Jen, Dan & Erin

Thanksgiving Weekend 2018

We are thankful that we were able to bring both our families together and host a Thanksgiving dinner for 21 people. Having Erin home from college was the cherry on top. Sharing food, stories, laughter and memories made for a great day. We thanked those who were with us and remembered those who weren't, including Shannon. And, my biggest fear didn't materialize - I'm happy to report that Gus (now 9 months old) did not trip anyone, knock anyone down or eat anyone's turkey. I guess training was worth every penny.

Erin has been enjoying her time at home, sleeping in her own bed, visiting friends who are home on break and driving her car! She's been getting plenty of love from the pets, too. It's been a great 6 day break at home. She will head back tomorrow for the final 2 weeks of classes and then finals.

Erin said it's so nice to come home and have good things to say about your college choice. I've overheard her telling people that she's definitely in the right place for her, that she likes her major and loves her friends. The transition has been as smooth as possible, which makes the empty nest a little easier on me and Dan.

It is strange to feel like Erin is visiting us, but she really doesn't live here anymore. It sure is nice to get to see her face everyday, even if it's short-lived.

So on we go, barreling towards the end of 2018. I guess I'm ready for Christmas music now...

Sunday Oct. 28, 2018

I'm thinking about life and death this morning. A high school classmate of mine passed away after a long battle with cancer. 50 is too young. So is 13. My classmate shared her journey via social media and reminded us all how important it is to live now while we can. Peace to her husband and kids as they start their life in the after.

On the flip side, my father-in-law turns 95 tomorrow. Eddie O carries on. Life is funny that way. We don't know how many years we get... it could be 13, 50 or even 96... This uncertainty is tough on a planner like me. (I call myself a planner. Dan and Erin think I might be an obsessor.)

So, there are many reminders to plan for the future, hope for the best, and live in the moment.

Life here on Willow Lane carries on. Dan and I have adjusted to the empty nest. It is quiet without Erin here, especially when Dan is on the road. I do have Gus - who is now an 80 pound puppy - to keep me company. We've been doing training to try and get him to control some of those impulses... like the impulse to run over anyone who comes through the door! He's learning and mellowing out and he'll be a good dog... someday...

Sunny and Sylvie tolerate Gus, they also put him in his place when necessary. Gus is usually sporting a scratch or two from the Sylvie and is missing a chunk of skin where Sunny nipped him. It's also deer season in our backyard, so we often have a chorus of barking dogs. Good times.

Sunny the wonder dog is reaching the end. Her back hips are giving her trouble and stairs have become a problem for her. She's 13 going on 14 and we're realistic. She's still with us today, so we'll live in that moment. Last Sunday, she walked all the way around the reservoir and loved every minute of it. She's not ready to go yet.

I suppose I should talk about Erin, too! It is so strange that she doesn't live here anymore. I didn't really think of it that way, but she is making a new "home" in Philadelphia. She is loving Drexel, has great roommates and is getting to explore Philadelphia a bit. Classes are hard, especially Chem and Bio, but she's making her way. She's already making plans for where to live next year with friends, so that's a good sign. She's stayed in touch with me and Dan via text and FaceTime, which makes the distance a little easier.

It's been 6 weeks since I've seen her, but luckily, I have a trip planned to Philly on Nov. 9th. It's family weekend, and Dan is taking one for the team and staying home with the pets. He's got a trip planned in Jan., so he'll get his turn to visit her. It will be so good to see her space and hear about her life. I can't wait.

Saturday Oct. 6, 2018

We spent our Saturday morning walking and running for brain tumor research at the Brains Together for a Cure annual event. Dan and I reminisced on the way there about the day 7 years ago when Shannon walked with us. But, before Shannon walked, she first had hockey tryouts, then came and did the walk, and then played a soccer game that afternoon where, the girl with the brain tumor, did a header. As soon as she did it, as those of us on the sidelines gasped, Shannon looked over and smiled. I'll never forget it. 3 months later she would be gone.

Today Dan and I did the balloon release to kick off the event. Grandma and Papa Harkins joined us, along with many other friends who are a part of Team Shannon. We connected with other parents who have lost their children and got to visit with Shannon's physicians who are a part of this fight to find a cure.

We continue to do what we can, including making a $5,000 donation from the Shannon O'Hara Foundation to Brains Together for a Cure. Every dollar helps and all funds go directly to brain tumor research at Mayo Clinic.

We missed having Erin with us this year, but she is settling in to college life at Drexel. Thankfully for this mama, she's been staying in touch via text and FaceTime. She's happy, so I'm happy. She has great roommates, likes being in the big city and loves the independence. Oh, and she says Biology and chemistry are hard.

Dan and I continue our lives of remembering one child and rooting for the other. It's not exactly how we want it to be, but it's how it is. It feels good and sad all at the same time. It always will.

Brains Together for a Cure Annual Walk/Run

Dan and I will be taking part in this annual brain tumor awareness event. Brains Together for a Cure has been a great supporter of the Shannon O'Hara Foundation, and we like to do the same.

I will be walking the 5K, and Dan will be doing the 5K run. Online registration for the 5K/10K run is available until Sept. 28 and for the walk until Oct. 3.

So, dig out your Shannon gear and join us to remember Shannon and support the research that's so desperately needed.

BTFC Walk 2011

September 12, 2018

We have just finished packing Erin for college. We leave for Philadelphia tomorrow, we'll shop on Friday for all the dorm essentials and move her in on Saturday. Dan and I fly home to our empty nest Sunday morning.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with all this? So far, so good... I am beyond excited for Erin and that outweighs my sadness about the change in our lives. She is ready for the next stage, so I have to be, too. But, I will miss the rhythm we've developed. I know the house will be too quiet and I will have too much time without her here.

But, this is how it's supposed to be, and we're grateful to get to take our kid to college. We were cheated out of that experience once. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I've seen many posts and pictures of families we've met who have lost children to the big C. It's a shitty club to be in, so we do our best to support each other.

In my job, I've been doing research about pediatric cancer this past week, focusing on the emotional effects - writing about how siblings can struggle and marriages often times break up. It's the lead topic of this weekend's Mayo Clinic Radio program.

So, on Saturday, while we are moving Erin in to her freshman dorm, the script that I wrote about how difficult childhood cancer is on families will be on the air. How's that for the kismet, karma, whatever you want to call it?

Dan and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary at the beginning of this week and by the time the week is over, we'll leave Erin happy, healthy and ready to start college. We know not every kid gets that chance, so we have reason to celebrate. I'm damn proud to say that's where we are, just shy of 7 years after cancer took Shannon.

This picture was taken on Erin's first day of preschool:

She was scared and nervous. I was ready for her to go to school. Now the rolls are reversed. Life is funny that way. Dan and I would give Erin the world if we could. We'll get started this weekend.

"You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time, you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you." - Frederick Buechner

August 25, 2018

It's been a whole month since I last wrote in this space, so it must be time. The month of August has flown by and now the school year is upon us. I have to say it's very strange not to have someone in the Rochester Public School system this year. Shannon started in 2004 and Erin finished in 2018, so for 14 years I've had my schedule dictated by ISD #535. And now it's not...

I had to change some of my bookmarks on my computer - is out, is in.

Erin is enduring the long, painful process of saying goodbye to each of her friends who are heading off to college. She is among the very last to leave as she still has 20 days left in Rochester. I know she will be ready to go by the time Sept. 14th rolls around. While it's not goodbye forever as kids are more connected now via technology than ever before. But, it is goodbye to the way things were during high school. Who knows which friendships live on and which fade away as new ones take their place.

We have done all the shopping we can do. Her dorm room stuff is at Bed, Bath and Beyond in Philly waiting for us to pick it up. All that's left is to decide how much of her clothing she is taking and how many suitcases we will need to get it there.

In fact, we are so prepared that I'm leaving on vacation this week! I'm off to watch the US Open tennis tournament with 3 of my girlfriends. A VRBO in Queens, 3 or 4 days of watching the pros at Flushing Meadows, we'll take in a Broadway show and do a little NYC sightseeing. It's going to be a great getaway.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with the transition. So far so good... but Erin is still here right in front of me every day. I don't know how I'll feel once she's living somewhere else.  As Dan says, plan the action, not the outcome. I'm just going to have to feel what I feel when the time comes.

I know I'm lucky to have the friends I do. I've got my mom squad who are all in the same boat, sending out girls off to school. I've got my tennis friends and my volleyball friends. I plan to play both this fall to help keep my busy. I did a strength training class for the last 12 weeks, and I plan to continue that, too. Oh, and I have a full time job that I enjoy. So, I will stay busy, but I know there will be a void when I don't get to see Erin every day.

One day at a time, Jen. One day at a time...

Wednesday July 25, 2018

The posts on this blog are more infrequent now, and I can't really explain why. Life, I guess...

When I started this blog, I didn't have a full time job. We wrote the very first post on this site from up on Mayo Clinic floor 16 - the pediatric unit. We spent a lot of time up there on 16. Today, I had a regularly scheduled work meeting moved to a new location. A conference room on Mayo 16. I took a moment to sit and look out the windows where we would sit and look out while we waited for Shannon to have a blood draw or an appointment. I was remembering the day that we taped a piece of paper to the window, then hustled down the elevator and outside onto the Peace Plaza to see if we could spot it. I remember how excited Shannon and Erin were that they could see it. IN the midst of cancer treatment, we laughed.

Now, 7 years later, my job - a job I wouldn't have if I hadn't started writing this blog - took me back to Mayo 16. The universe sometimes circles back to places we've been before...

We are creeping up on what would be Shannon's 20th birthday. Perhaps that's why it hit me today. I still miss her every single day.

We're also spending time getting Erin ready for college. Because Drexel is on quarters, we don't take her to school until mid September. But the preparations have begun. She's texting with her suite mates about who is bringing what, and there's a shopping trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond and Ikea in our near future.

It's so exciting and scary. (And that's just me!) Is it normal to be jealous of your kid getting to go to college? I wanna move to a new city and have new adventures! I'm mostly kidding, but there is something exciting about the unknown.

And while we still have 6 weeks with Erin at home, I'm feeling the pangs of sadness that she's leaving.  I'm going to miss her something fierce. She's the person I see every day. Dan will continue to travel to help pay those tuition bills. I will continue to work and life will go on. But it will be lonely without Miss E.

But, it's as it should be. I want nothing more for Erin to go away and be successful and not need me, at least not too much. This is the goal when you have kids. Raise them to be good people. Direct them to set goals and work to achieve them. Not every kid gets that chance. It makes me sad that Shannon never got to chase her dreams. But Erin will. And that makes me happy, so this momma is going to be all right.

July 4, 2018

I used to think of the 4th of July as the middle of summer, but this year, it feels like we're just getting started.

June flew by, filled with all the festivities surrounding the end of high school. I think Erin lost track of  how many graduation open houses she attended. Now, she and her friend are referring to themselves as college students. They're not wrong.

Erin also spent the first three weeks of her summer working two jobs and saving money. She is motivated to help pay for college and minimize the loans she will need to take. She's definitely got some skin in the game, and she's invested. We couldn't be prouder.

We managed to end June with a trip to the cabin for a long weekend. Dan met us there last Thursday after his week of travel in North Dakota. Erin and I left after her work shift at 7pm. Our first trip with two dogs in the car. Uff da! We made it all the way to St. Paul before Gus puked in my car. Erin and I were singing along to the radio and Gus started barking. We thought he just didn't like the noise, but maybe he was trying to tell us something. Thankfully, that was the only episode of car sickness and we made it to the lake just before 11pm.

Time at the lake is rejuvenating for all of us. The sun, sand and water are the perfect combination. The only disappointment is that Gus did not take to the water. Perhaps he is less lab than we thought! He can swim, but he doesn't want to. We forced him to try and he is not very efficient. Lots of splashing as he tried to doggie paddle to shore.

Sunny made it to the cabin again for a 14th summer. Her heart is willing, but her hips don't work so well anymore. She now moves like an old dog. But, she still gets in the water to protect us and shepherd us to safety. We hope she's around for a little longer.

Our friends joined us and a great time was had by all. There was boating, tubing and fishing when the weather cooperated... and shopping, reading and napping when it didn't. A perfect combination.

Now we are home and enjoying the holiday before we all head back to work tomorrow. Erin still has two full months of summer as she doesn't move in at Drexel until Sept. 15.  We are all going to enjoy the time we have together.

Happy July 4th to you all!

Wednesday June 13, 2018

Today officially brought Erin's high school career to a close. She finished competing in the state golf tournament this afternoon, and her time as a Mayo Spartan is now over. What a ride it's been.

The last six days have included Erin's open house, graduation, an all night senior party and 36 holes of golf at the state tournament. All exactly as she wanted it.

Her open house brought a steady stream of people from the past and present. Erin's teachers, family and a whole bunch of friends joined us for our backyard barbecue. A testament to Erin's ability to connect with others. That's a skill that will carry her far in this world.

The graduation ceremony was a celebration of a great group of young people we've have the pleasure of getting to know. Erin's class was full of compassionate kids. They cared for each other. The jocks, the nerds, the artists... they were all in it together and supported each other. I have hope for our future when I look at these young people.

The all night senior party is a tradition, put on by the senior parents. I was in charge of the casino, and it was a blast. I even convinced Dan to stay up until midnight to deal some poker. He was in his element, smack talking with Erin's friends.

Then, the cherry on the top was a trip to the state golf tournament. All the hours Erin put in practicing, taking lessons and playing tournaments in the summer paid off with a 5th place finish in the section tournament, earning her a trip to the state tournament. Dan and I were grateful for two more days watching her play the game we all love. Mayo Girls Golf will always hold a special place in our heart. Shannon started our connection with MGG and coach Myhro, and Erin finished it in the best way possible.

And so it ends. Erin is now a college student. Change is ahead for all of us. But we're going to cherish these memories forever. Erin was in sixth grade when Shannon passed away. Dan and I were scared about what her future would hold after our tragedy. How would she navigate our new normal? You done good, kid... you done good.

Wednesday May 30, 2018

In two weeks, it will all be over: high school, grad party, graduation, all night senior party, HS golf. I am stressing out because there is much to do in the next two weeks, but I'm also trying to enjoy the "lasts" along the way.

We've been doing the grad party scene the last couple of weekends and I'm stealing ideas left and right! I know it doesn't matter what color the tablecloths are or what the centerpieces look like. I'm doing my best to organize some pictures and memorabilia to honor Erin and show where she's been and where she's going. I know it's the people that will make the party. I'm also stressing out about the weather. I know it's irrational, and completely out of my control. But, I seem to think it's my job to worry, so that's what I am doing.

It is a strange time for me and my mom squad friends. We're reaching an end, but it's a beginning, too. A beginning of our kids independence. A signal that it's time to let go, at least a little. It's time for them to "figure it out" without as much help from mom (and dad).

Like every new stage that Erin reaches, it carries extra weight for us. While that's not fair to Erin, it's just how it is. The last time we celebrated a graduation, it was watching Shannon's classmates graduate, looking at her empty chair in the arena. Erin's graduation is a reminder that Shannon didn't get to graduate. I'm carrying her in my mind and my heart as we navigate these days with Erin.

We remember Shannon. We celebrate Erin. We do both at the same time.

Wednesday May 9, 2018

Time speeds on as our usual busy spring feels extra important this year. It's our last go round with high school activities and Dan and I are doing our best to enjoy every last event. That meant watching Erin golf in the sun on Monday and in the rain yesterday. We love it either way.

Erin is tolerating our presence at her meets. With the late start to the season, they have been playing three meets a week. Golf season is helping us all get our steps in every day. We're so lucky that Erin likes having us around. Last night, after her golf meet, we grabbed a pizza and the three of us laughed and laughed and laughed. I don't even remember about what, but I know we loved being together.

The local paper did a lovely article on Erin, who has been a 5 year varsity golfer. But, it was less about her golf game and more about the kind of kid she is and how she's navigated life after the loss of Shannon. We couldn't be prouder of her.

It's this strange space where everything you are doing is leading you to the next stage of life, all while you're trying to enjoy the events that get you there. You know what comes next, but you're not quite there.

Because spring wasn't crazy enough for us, we decided to adopt a puppy from the local shelter. Meet Gus!

Sunny the wonder dog is doing her best to train him in, and he's getting the hang of it. Sylvie the cat is much less interested in being friends. Gus is a sweet boy, but he's all puppy right now. It's been a long time since I had to potty train anyone!

A month from today is graduation. It's both an end and a beginning. It's got me feeling excited and nostalgic all at once. One day at a time, Jen... one day at a time...

Tuesday April 24, 2018

For those of us in Minnesota, it's been a long stretch of bad weather, but it is finally showing signs of spring. The high school golf season started a month ago... today will be our first day outside.

Erin has 11 meets over the next 4 weeks to get all the matches in before tournament season. It's a sprint to the finish of high school. 18 days until prom, 46 days until graduation... you get the idea...

I write so often here about dates on the calendar - birthdays, anniversaries - good and bad. We've passed a couple recently: Erin turned 17 on April 10th, and Shannon's diagnosis date passed on April 15th. 7 years since we learned that we would lose her.

Dan and I spoke at a St. Jude Fundraiser this past weekend. It still feels good to share our story and to talk about Shannon.

But today is an anniversary that needs to be celebrated. Dan has been sober for 10 years.

It's not something we talk about that often - maybe not often enough. He lives it every day, and Erin and I do our best to support him. Addiction is a horrible disease, but my point in sharing today is to let you know, it can get better.

10 years ago we were scared about what our lives would like. We worried about our social life. Would we lose all our friends? The answer is no. Yes, some relationships went away and some changed, but the holes were filled by new opportunities and new people.

How would Dan stay busy? That same year, Shannon had taken up hockey and Dan began to coach. A new outlet and a new way to bond with his daughter. We took to coaching Erin's soccer team, too. Something to do every season. Dan and I talk often about how grateful we are now that he had that time with Shannon. We didn't know our time with her would be so short, so how lucky that Dan spent as much time with her as he did.

When Shannon got sick, I worried terribly about Dan's sobriety. Could he stay sober through our awful journey? While I was worrying about him, he was teaching me - one day at a time. That's all we're given. That's how you stay sober... and that's how you live after losing a daughter.

A battle with addiction is never over. It's hard for those of us who don't have the disease to understand. I'm still flabbergasted when Dan says "I thought about having a drink today." 10 years in, it never goes away. He'll always be a recovering alcoholic. No past tense.

But, he lives it and he'd tell you he's grateful for the life he has now. It gets better. To anyone out there who's struggling or watching a love one struggle, get help. A happy life in the after is possible. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

So, a shout out to my guy, Dan. I love you and I'm so very grateful for your strength and courage. You are 10 years sober, doing it one day at a time...

Monday April 2, 2018

I am writing from an airplane high above Tennessee, on our way to Georgia. We are off on spring break 2018, heading to The Masters golf tournament. It’s a bucket list item for us. Thanks to a customer of Dan’s, we have this opportunity.

This would have been something you do as a foursome. In fact, in order to book this trip, we needed to have 4 of us to make the Masters badges and off-day tee times work. We had a foursome once, but life – and death – are unpredictable. And, as we’ve learned in the past 7 years, sometimes you have to recalibrate, adjust and carry on.

So, it’s the three amigos and our good friend Ellen. She rivals Dan as the biggest golf freak I know. Ellen will love every minute of this and she is the perfect fit for our foursome. We have tickets to the Masters on Thursday and Saturday and we get to play golf ourselves on Wednesday and Friday.

High school golf season started two weeks ago and no courses in Rochester have been able to open yet due to the late arrival of spring weather. Now, remember when I said life is unpredictable? We were supposed to leave on Tuesday afternoon, not Monday. But, mother nature is smacking us in the face again.

Sunday night, they began forecasting another winter storm - scheduled to hit Tuesday and last until Wed. morning. They are predicting 10 inches of snow in Rochester.
So, when we woke up this morning, Ellen called to discuss alternate travel plans. See, our flight was supposed to be RST to ATL Tuesday afternoon at 4pm. And, there’s only one flight a day to ATL.

We tried to call Delta and it was a two hour wait to get an agent. Dan called his sister Katie,who works for Delta, and she looked and could see that there were seats on today’s RST-ATL flight at 4pm. So, Ellen came and picked up me and Dan and the three of us went to the airport in Rochester to see if we could change tickets. We all had to go because we were on three different reservations!

This nice man named Peter was working the ticket counter. We told him – it’s really simple, we want to move from tomorrow’s flight to today’s flight. No connections, no need to change anything else. There were 10 empty seats so it was no problem. And, he didn’t even charge us a ticket change fee.

So, by 8:15am we knew that we were leaving today. It was time for mad scramble mode. Erin was supposed to work a shift this afternoon, so the first thing was to wake Erin up and have her find a sub (she did). Then, I had to crank out some laundry since all my clothes were dirty from AZ... oh, did I fail to mention I just returned home from visiting a friend about 18 hours ago? 4 loads of laundry. Done.

Then, we needed a place to stay tonight since we don’t get into our house in Aiken, SC until tomorrow. Dan got on with Marriott and got us two rooms tonight at the Atlanta airport. Then, I had to call the neighbors and see if they could take care of our pets starting tonight instead of tomorrow… check.

Erin ran to Target for a few things and we picked up lunch. Dan and I worked and then when the laundry was done, we all packed our bags. We are not traveling light – three suitcases and three sets of golf clubs. We got it all packed, Ellen came over at 2:15, and we were in the air by 4pm. Holy shit.

It will be great to get to play golf and watch the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. So, we are off on an amazing adventure. The days and trips with Erin are numbered. We’re cherishing every minute of it.

Wednesday March 7, 2018

Living and dying have been on my mind lately. That's the constant dichotomy of human existence. You're either living or dying, and you better do the first one before the second one happens.

Dan has two people who have been a part of his life who are in the dying stage. One I know well, the other was a friend of Dan's before I entered the picture. Two women who have fought like hell against cancer, but it's a battle they won't win. I'm sending peace and love to their families. Feel free to join me.

That's the trick of this thing called life - we don't know how long it is. Dan and I have living parents who are in the 70s and 90s. We have friends dying in their 50s. We lost a daughter at 13. How are you suppose to prepare for all the possibilities? You can't, I know. That's hard on a planner (obsesser) like me...

It's a balancing act of living and enjoying the here and now, while hoping and planning for more time ahead.

What's ahead for us is exciting. Erin is rolling through second semester of her senior year. Golf season starts in two weeks (damn the 6 inches of snow we got yesterday) and then it will be a sprint to graduation on June 9th.

And what's ahead after that? Erin has made her decision for next year - she will be attending Drexel University in Philadelphia. She's been accepted to their Health Sciences/Accelerated Physician Assistant program.

So, Erin will be living in a new city next year with new roommates and new experiences. She's excited and we're excited for her. She and I are headed out there next weekend for another look, a meeting with the PA program director and a health sciences student, taking a second look at the dorm options and meeting with financial aid. I haven't won the lottery yet, so I guess we should look at other financing options :)

I think about Erin going and meeting new people, and I think about how we've viewed things through a certain lens in the past 7 years. Erin will get to choose when she shares her life story. People will get to know her as Erin. She won't be Shannon's sister until she wants to be.

So, living and dying is on my mind. It's all connected. Reminders from the universe are everywhere. Live while you can.

"I shall pass through this life but once. Any good therefore that I can do, let me do it now for I shall never pass this way again." - Etienne de Grellet

2018 Shannon O'Hara Foundation Scholarship Winners

This weekend brought our scholarship season to a close. As I said during the presentations, raising money is hard, giving it away is definitely more fun.

When we started the foundation back in 2012, we set a goal to raise $100,000 in the hopes that we could live off the interest to give away a couple of $2,000 scholarships each year.

Six years later, the fund sits at $170,000. We are so humbled by people's generosity. I can't put into words how much it means to us that our community, family and friends help us carry on Shannon's spirit in this way.

Our board of directors chose to share the good fortune this year by awarding a record six scholarships, bringing our total in scholarships awarded to $40,000.

Congratulations to the 2018 SOF Scholarship winners:  Maddi Lutz (Mayo), Clare Brunn (Lourdes), Natalie Fink (Century), Jason Coyle (JM), Max Jones (JM) and Zach Walston (Lourdes)

Jason Coyle, Max Jones, Maddi Lutz, Clare Brunn, Natalie Fink

Zach Walston

SOF Scholarship Night - Feb. 8, 2018

Tonight is what it's all about. Honoring Shannon's spirit by giving back, making a difference. Raising money is not easy, although people like those of you reading this blog have made it possible. Being able to give it away is so much more fun.

The Shannon O'Hara Foundation started in 2012 with a goal of raising $100,000 so we could give out a couple of scholarships a year. As I write today, we are over $170K.

Tonight, thanks to your generosity, we'll give out our biggest class of scholarship winners ever. A night like tonight fills our cup for another year of fundraising.

Our presentation will take place at the end of the 1st period between the JM and Mayo boys hockey game. Game starts at 7:15 at Graham Arena. Hope you can join us and enjoy the celebration of all you have helped build.

Here's a look back at our previous scholarship winners:






Sunday Jan. 28, 2018

As I sit hear watching the Grammys with Erin, I am reminded much I love music. I can listen to just about anything and I am touched by people sharing their experience through art.

I don't have a lick of musical talent - my last great performance was squeaking my way through Edelweiss on the saxophone in 5th grade - but I do relate to sharing your experience. We got to do that again this weekend at the Shannon Cup.

20 girls hockey teams including 4 from Rochester took part in this weekend's events. We did the usual schmoozing and chatting with people as we sold our Shannon gear. The feedback and support was better than ever.

I took the time earlier in the week to go and speak with the Rochester teams at their practice. To talk a little bit about Shannon and why she's remembered fondly by her friends. Why it mattered to her that her life mean something, even after she was gone.

The Rochester girls are all in, putting lime green tape on their hockey sticks, pads, helmets - anywhere they could! But this year, the parents were all in, too.

One parent paid $2000 for a $5 coffee mug. Seriously. One team donated $1650 in addition to all the gear those kids and parents bought.

Parents from Des Moines to Mahtomedi, and Red Wing to St. Cloud supported the cause, too. Tournament t-shirts and sweatshirts play well no matter where you go to school. Parents stop to read the poster explaining Shannon's story and then they head right to the table to make a donation or buy a shirt.

People are good. So good.

We raised $7,000 this weekend for the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.

So, this is one of the best weekends for us to remember Shannon. We remember the loss, always, but this is a reminder to remember what she gave us. A purpose, a cause, a way to connect with people on a deeper level. A way for life to have meaning and to inspire a new group of young girls to be kind.

The kids working the table were some of Shannon's former teammates who are now finishing up their high school careers. Another one of Shannon's teammates, her first ever line mate, Brooke, was out there reffing games in the Shannon Cup. How cool is that?

This past week offered other chances to realize how lucky we are to have these connections with something bigger than ourselves. Erin did not attend the Shannon Cup. She was on a weekend getaway, spending about 42 hours in California with her second mom, Kula and chosen big sister, Ariana. These relationship are what they are because of our journey with Shannon. Don't get me wrong, they love Erin for Erin, but we are where we are because of where we've been.

Dan had a Shannon connection last week, too. He was in Fort Lauderdale for business. While sitting on his deck, looking at the ocean, he saw a Coast Guard ship go by. Shannon's friend Paige, one of our scholarship winners, joined the Coast Guard last year after graduating. Seeing the boat made Dan think of Paige and he sent a note to her parents saying "Saw this today and it made me think of your girl."

Several hours later, while at a company dinner, Dan got a text from Paige. "Are you in Fort Lauderdale? I am too. That was my ship you saw." Paige's boat had been in Virginia for a couple of weeks and just moved to Florida... on the day that Dan was standing and looking out at the ocean at the exact time to see the boat go by...

Thirty minutes after their text exchange, Dan and Paige were eating ice cream together and Paige got to show Dan around the boat. Karma? Kismet? Shannon? I don't need an explanation, I'm just glad it happened.

So, next up is scholarship night on Feb. 8th. Time to read through the applications and meet with the foundation board to make a decision. It will be tough again this year - I think I say that every year - but these are the last class of Shannon's Rebel teammates.

So, while I'm exhausted from three days at the rink, my cup is full. And, I've got Shannon to thank for it all.

Sunday Jan. 7, 2018

I was happy to awake this morning and see that the calendar had turned to January 7th. Yesterday marked the 6th anniversary of Shannon's passing. 6 years is too long without her, and we know that feeling will only grow.

Of all the anniversaries, I think Jan. 6 might be the worst. There is such finality to it. Although it's the day Shannon's suffering ended, I don't feel any peace at all about January 6th.

Yesterday, we each found our ways of coping with our emotions. Erin spent the night of the 5th at a slumber party with some of her besties. That way, she could wake up surrounded by people who love and care for her.

I chose to drag my butt to the athletic club and play tennis with my girlfriends. People who knew what day it was, and were there to lift me up. Girlfriends still make my world a better place, even 6 years down the road.

Before I returned from tennis, Erin returned home from her sleepover and she and Dan spent some time reading passages from Determined to Matter. Remembering what it was like in the days after Shannon passed. How Erin had to go back to school, go back to basketball practice and start living the rest of her life. How did she do that at 10 years old not completely fall apart?

Dan, Erin and I had wonderful messages and texts from family and friends who remember. People who get it. I had one friend remind me what a gift Shannon was. What a nice way to think about her life.

January 6th just brings the pain of knowing the rest of our lives are not what we envisioned. It doesn't mean we don't feel happiness and enjoy our days. We do. But it's different than we'd like it to be. We just have to take it day by day and do the best we can. That's true for all of us, though, isn't it?

January is a busy month for the foundation as we are receiving scholarship applications and gearing up for the Shannon Cup youth tournaments as well. This is the good we can do in Shannon's memory.  Her cells are still being used for research at Mayo Clinic. That's the good Shannon chose to do. This is what she wanted. To make a difference.

And so, 2018 has begun. The calendar has turned. Living the rest of our lives... that's what we're doing...