Sunday Nov. 24, 2019

Team O'Hara is in vacation mode! Dan and I are in Rochester, Erin is in Philly, but tomorrow morning we will meet at O'Hare and catch a flight together to Palm Desert, CA for the Thanksgiving holiday.

This was our tradition during Erin's high school years, but we took a one year hiatus last year since it was Erin's freshman year, her first time living away, and we wanted to spend the time together at home. But, we're glad to be heading west again this year.

This trip is possible because of all the nights Dan spends in places like Flint, MI and Fargo, ND. All those Marriott rewards points add up... and we're going to spend them!

It has been 9 weeks since we took Erin to school. This is the longest we've gone without seeing each other in person. I am grateful for texting, face time and social media to stay connected, but nothing can replace getting to hug her in person. Tomorrow. We'll get a week with her now, send her back to school for 10 days to finish up fall quarter, and then get her home in Rochester for a 3 week winter break. This momma is ready for some Erin time. (Dad is too...)

I have kept myself busy this fall with the first two courses of grad school, working towards a master's degree. After some initial angst about WTF I was doing, I can say that it's been a good challenge. I am using my brain and critical thinking skills in ways that I haven't in a while. The coursework has been relevant to my job and I've been able to use real world examples in my writing. I feel like it's a worthwhile endeavor. I may be one of the oldest people in my program, but I ain't dead yet...

The holidays are here again. It happens every year. The good of family, friends, and celebration, and the pain of memories and loss. My Facebook flashback got me again this week:

This was such a great day. Shannon's Rebel hockey team won the title at the Hopkins hockey tournament. This group of girls had never won a tournament, but on that day, they did. Shannon played her heart out and was beaming from ear to ear, holding that trophy. 

We celebrated all the way home, including a stop at Dairy Queen where Shannon brought the trophy into the restaurant! We were all glowing. Shannon's teammates let her bring the giant trophy home. They all knew she was battling her brain tumor at that time, and symptoms had started to occur again. When we tucked Shannon in that night, we were reveling in the win. Shannon looked at Dan and I and said "It's too bad my first championship came near the end of my life". Gut punch. Two weeks later we went to St. Jude for a clinical trial. Seven weeks later, she was gone. 

So, these are the reminders that this time of year brings. I'm glad for the memories, even the painful ones. I need them so Shannon doesn't fade away. In some ways, I miss her more now, or miss the loss of who she would have been. Erin is an adult, doing adult things like living in an apartment, cooking for herself, and working towards a career. That makes me long to know where Shannon would have gone with her life. 

But, we have survived. We're carrying on, just as Shannon asked us to. Because of her, we all try to make a difference in this sometimes painful world. We're happy, even with the hole in our hearts that will never fully heal. We are who we are now because of who she was then.

"The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday October 20, 2019

The days, weeks, months continue to fly by. I guess that's a good thing. It must mean we are busy and engaged in what we are doing. Life is good.

Dan is very busy with work and a couple of other projects, Erin is having a great fall quarter, and I am working my way through my first two classes of my master's degree. We're all doing exactly what we should be doing, I believe.

Erin is loving apartment life. Her roommates are great and the location of her apartment is even more convenient that her dorm was last year. With no cafeteria food plan this year, she is in charge of her own meals and she's been sending me and Dan photos of her creations. The other night it was a chicken breast, green beans and over roasted potatoes. I have to say, when it comes to working in the kitchen, she's way ahead of me. And I don't mean me at age 18, I mean me now at age 50!

I'm sure that she will tire of making her own meals as the year progresses, but for now, she's empowered by her "adulting" as she calls it. Her classes are going well and she even got to touch her first dead body in anatomy lab the other day. Exciting times!

School for me is going well, too, although it's taken some work to get up to speed. I had a bit of a meltdown the first few weeks as I tried to get back to being a student. Doing research and writing papers with APA in text citations and an annotated bibliography?!?! WTF? It has been 30 years since I wrote an academic-type paper and I was a bit out of practice. Dan and Erin supported me... and laughed at me... which was supportive in its own way :)  I will say I've enjoyed thinking and stretching my brain in different ways as I work on the various assignments. It's good to get out of my comfort zone.

I was listening to a favorite artist of ours, Eric Hutchinson, on my walk the other day. Dan and I got to see E Hutch perform in Minneapolis back in August and he's been back in my music rota of late. I had just completed a big assignment and my work was done for the week. I was watching Gus run in his happy puppy way (He's 18 months but still a puppy, trust me) and the song "Best Days" came on in my ear buds:

Give and take, we catch our breaks
We all learn to survive
Oh, but don't look now
I said don't look now
Cause here we are
Living the best days of our lives

It stopped me in my tracks to realize that I was thinking about whether or not I could call these our best days. Do I ever have the right to have a "best day" again? Can I ever say life is as good as its ever been, or was that door closed when Shannon left us?

It is a strange thing to wonder. We all want to say we're working towards our best lives and our best selves. Dan, Erin and I are doing the work to make life as good as it can be. But do we have to accept that it's never "the best" it could be? Can we accept that it's the best it can be considering what we've lost? I think so. I hope so.

And we're not alone. Loss is a part of the human condition and, as time passes, Erin, Dan and I meet more and more people who have their own struggles and their own grief from whatever loss they've experienced. I don't know if it makes grief any less lonely, but it makes me feel more connected to the world. I have my thing, but others have theirs, and we're all doing our best in our own ways. And right now, our best is pretty good.

So, these are the "best days", with a caveat. We're allowed to be happy. Even without Shannon.

Sept. 10, 2019 - 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago, Dan and I said "I do". I was 25, he was 31 and we had no idea what lay ahead. But marriage makes you take it one day at a time, and if you're lucky, you grow together and make a life. We count ourselves as some of the lucky ones.

Twenty-five years covers two houses, three dogs, one cat and three different minivans. The minivans were necessary for carting around the little girls we created. Oh, our girls. Our best accomplishment and our biggest sorrow.

Of course our marriage has been tested. Aren't they all? Dan's battle with alcoholism and his work to get sober made us both better. Shannon's illness and death gave us a choice - throw in the towel or get stronger together. We're still here...

And now, we enter a new phase. Erin heads back to school in 10 days and, at this point, she has no plans to live under our roof again. The empty nest feels like it's truly beginning. Willow Lane will be quieter without Erin, but it is as it should be.

Today we will enjoy the day at Lake Hubert. A place we've visited during each of our 25 years of marriage. A place where we get to remember the good times. A place where Erin said she feels the closest to Shannon.

It's been a big summer for me - turning 50 and now our silver anniversary. I hope there's a lot of life left to live. While we mark these milestones, hopefully, they are just a stepping stones to what's next. We've got places to go, people to see, and things we want to do.

So, Danny, here's to 25 and to 25 more... if I had it to do over, I'd do it all again...

Sunday Aug. 25, 2019

It's been a lovely stretch of weather here in Rochester. A reminder of why we live here... check in with me again in January. Bright, sunny days but cool, crisp mornings and evenings are a reminder that fall is fast approaching.

It's been a quick summer. Erin came home, went right to work and now is one week away from finishing her summer internship at Mayo Clinic as a nursing assistant. It's been a great first job in the healthcare realm. But, she's ready to be done. 11 weeks of full time work have been great for the bank account, but it hasn't left her much downtime.

We did get to take a break from our jobs to attend a family wedding in Lake Tahoe. Nephew Charlie got married at 8,000 feet. I loved everything about the weekend, except the chair ride up to the wedding. I have a teeny tiny fear of heights and I'm also not much of a thrill seeker, so that just about did me in. I enjoyed the gondola ride down much better! But, no complaints about the rest of the weekend.

None of us had been to this part of  the country. What a venue. We are used to lakes here in MN, but a lake surrounded by mountains is an amazing aesthetic. We enjoyed a day on a boat touring the lake, a pig roast and luau at the beach, and of course, the wedding ceremony which was so perfectly suited to Charlie and the newest family member, Ashley. Dan and all 8 his siblings were there along with 17 of the 18 O'Hara cousins. Erin was so happy to be with all the cousins and when she's happy, well, I'm happy.

So, one family vacation is behind us, and one more is ahead. We'll get a few days at Lake Hubert after Labor Day once Erin's summer job is done. All of her friends will be back at school, and she'll be willing to spend some time with us before we take her back to school mid-September.

The reality that Erin is moving back to Philadelphia soon is setting in. The reality that she won't be living at home again, maybe ever, is something I don't like to think about. I know it's the goal - raise your kids to fly. But, it's come to this so quickly, I feel. Erin and I talked about it the other day - it seems like she was just a kid and now she's going to be going to school, paying rent, and looking for a part time job to support her lifestyle with plans to live on her own from here on out.  Some serious adulting is ahead.

But, Erin is excited to get back to school, back with her friends and back to learning more about her chosen field. Anatomy and Microbiology are on the docket this fall, along with stats and a careers in health sciences class. She will take more classes specific to her major this year, which is exciting.

But, she's got a few weeks of summer left, so we won't wish that away. 

Speaking of school... I start my grad school courses tomorrow. Holy shit, what was I thinking? I haven't been a student since May 1991 when I graduated from St. Thomas. But, here I am, 28 years later, ready to give it go. I've got two classes to take this semester to get things started. It's all online, at my own pace, with assignments due each week. If all goes according to plan, I'll have a master's degree in strategic communication by the end of 2021. 

I'm excited, and, a little nervous. Let's hope you can teach an old dog new tricks...

Shannon's 21st Birthday

Shannon would be 21 years old today. She only saw 13. As I get older, 13 seems younger. As I see Erin at 18, I can't help but think about how much older and wiser she now is than Shannon ever got to be. At the time she got sick, Shannon seemed grown up and mature and able to guide us on her cancer journey. She taught us a lot about spirit and grace in her 13 years. But I know now that she only seemed old, because she was my oldest. She was still just a kid.

2019 is a year of milestones: Erin turned 18, I turned 50, Shannon would be 21 and Dan and I are will soon celebrate 25 years of marriage. We have made many memories in the past 8 years that don't include Shannon. Things we have done and seen and experienced in our after... Someday, those memories will outnumber the thirteen years we had with her. You have to keep on living, but I still long to hold tight to the memories of our before and not allow them to fade as time goes on.

I feel for Erin on this journey. What 18 year old wants to go back and remember when they were 10? And yet, year after year, we look back at the photos and talk about the journey. Erin's happy childhood memories will always be mixed up with the emotions of finding out your sister is sick, and taking a back seat while we navigated what Shannon wanted and needed.

As a mother, all you want to do is protect your kids and celebrate them as they grow. I lost one and the other got cheated out of some of her childhood. But, I know I did the best I could at the time. I am so grateful for the relationship I have with Erin. She has navigated her journey from childhood to adulthood with grace and spirit, too. She was just 10 when all hell broke loose. She will deal with those consequences forever. I couldn't protect her from that, and I can't help her decide how it becomes a part of her. But Erin is open and honest with me and Dan and we talk about Shannon when we want to or need to. There's no right way, so we're making it up as we go along...

And so, life goes on. More memories to make, while keeping tight hold on the memories we have. It's important to remember not just that Shannon died, but that she lived. All too brief, but she was here. She is a part of us, a part of our shared memory for me, Dan and Erin. Happy birthday, Shanner...

"Grief I've learned is just love. It's all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go." ~Anonymous

June 29, 2019

Today I turn 50. It's such a milestone birthday, one where women are often fighting our own bodies in so many ways. Menopause is a bitch... just sayin...

So much has happened in my life since I turned 40. The great big, unthinkable sorrow of losing Shannon. The constant worry in the aftermath about whether we'd ever be happy again. (We are.) Finding the equilibrium of a new normal. My own teeny tiny cancer trip with DCIS breast cancer, lumpectomy and radiation.

I have to admit, this wasn't my healthiest decade! This body has given up some breast tissue, three teeth, two ovaries and a uterus, but it still works. I can play tennis, golf and volleyball. I lift weights with other "powerful women". And I laugh. I laugh with each and every group of my friends. My tennis people, my mom squad, the volleyball ladies, my work friends. We all laugh. Sure, we cry when necessary. And we talk a lot. But mostly, we laugh.

I feel so lucky to be surround by women who hope for the best for each other. Life is hard enough. Let's not beat each other down, but lift each other up. That's what the women in my life do for each other, and for that, I am grateful.

My life is full of amazing people. Beautiful souls, powerhouses of determination, love and compassion who show me that 50 (and 60 and 70) can be fabulous. I hope that the 30 and 40 somethings in my life can look to me for that same kind of example.

And so, the big birthday is here. I will celebrate tonight with family and friends. Men and women from each part of my world. How lucky am I to have work friends and tennis friends and mom friends? Each year is a gift. Sure, I'm not as fast or fit as I once was. My skin shows the lines and marks of time. My bones ache more than they used to and hot flashes are no fun. But more good stuff is ahead. So let's get to it.

May 19, 2019

It's a rainy Sunday morning here in Rochester. This spring seems to be coming slowly... I feel like we've yet to have a real stretch of nice, spring weather. But, maybe it's always like this and I'm just getting cranky in my old age!

Last weekend was Mother's Day and I had the added bonus of Erin coming home for the weekend. While I'd like to believe it was all for me, it was actually necessary to get ready for her summer job. She will be working at a nursing assistant at Charter House, the assisted living center that's a part of Mayo Clinic. They have a summer internship that allows students who are studying a medical field to get full time employment - 10 weeks, 40 hours per week. Most physician assistant grad programs require 500 hours of patient contact as a part of their application process, so this is a great way to get close to that goal.

So, the trip home last weekend was to get all the paperwork done - W-4, direct deposit, background check, physical, drug test (she passed :), etc. And it just so happened to be Mother's Day. Perfect.

Erin fit a lot into her three days at home - friends, family, golf - and then we sent her back to finish her last month of school. Drexel is on the quarter system, meaning three quarters of school this year. Erin didn't start until late September, so she doesn't finish until June 14th.

I'll be heading out to Philly one more time this year to help with the move out process. I don't even want to think about what the refrigerator looks like after 6 girls living there for 9 months... We will store much of her stuff out in Philly - no need to bring home winter clothes and school supplies. 

At Drexel, sophomores go to school year round - 4 quarters - so I keep reminding myself I want to really enjoy this summer and having Erin live with us one more time. After this, who knows.

But that's the way it's supposed to be. Kids grow up. They move out and start making their own life somewhere. We can't know what the future holds, so I know I shouldn't waste my time worrying about what's ahead.

The other big news for me is that my job in Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic has become a permanent position. After working as a contractor, I was hired as a limited tenure employee on a three year project back in 2016. That project finished, successfully, and now my position has been operationalized  - corporate speak for a full time gig with no strings attached. 

This is great news, and a big relief as I love my job and I love working for Mayo. And, this permanent status has me considering a new goal - grad school. Maybe it's a mid-life crisis as I approach my 50th birthday next month, but I'm looking into doing an online master's program in communications over the next couple of years. I've always thought about getting an advanced degree, but I guess life got in the way.

I graduated from college a long time ago... 28 years to be exact! I went right to work as a teacher, fell in love, got married and became a mom. When my job teaching television production at the high school level didn’t pay enough to make child care work, Dan and I decided I'd stay home with Shannon and Erin.

All was going according to plan until Shannon was diagnosed. But, in some strange turn of the universe, Shannon has led us each to where we are today. I got my first gig at Mayo as a freelancer thanks to the writing I did here on this blog and in our book. I now get to tell stories of hope and healing and medical breakthroughs thanks to Shannon.

And Erin is off in Philly studying medicine because of Shannon, too. Erin learned to be brave when her life was turned upside down at age 10. She is dreaming a big dream because she knows that life is short and precious and needs to be lived right here, right now.

And Dan is rooting for us both every step of the way. 

So, on we go. Spring is here, summer is coming and the three of us will get to be together again, even if only for a few months. I'm going to enjoy every minute.

April 14, 2019

It is strange to be a visitor in your child's life. You spend 17 or 18 years raising them under your roof, and then they go and start a new life, sometimes in a new city, without you.

We have returned from our Philly spring break... and it was fabulous. The weather was nice and we stayed right in center city and walked miles and miles every day, exploring the neighborhoods. Our rental apartment was in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia. Ironically, Dan and I stayed at the Rittenhouse hotel on the first couple of night of our honeymoon. That was 25 years ago, this September! That's some kismet, I guess.

We shopped and ate and spent time seeing Erin in her school environment. We visited campus and hung out in between her classes. We did the obligatory Target run - what college kid doesn't need their mom and dad to pick up a few things at Target?

And, we got to celebrate Erin turning 18. She's finally an adult :) We took Erin and her 4 best Philly friends out for pasta and laughs. There was plenty of both. They seem like a great group of girls and Erin feels like she's found her tribe. Dan told them all how grateful we are that Erin has people who care for her so close by when we are so far away.

It is strange to not know Erin's friends like I always have. I found myself wanting to soak up as much information as I could from each of them. It's such a momma instinct.

I guess it's just another little step in the process of letting go. I don't get to know everything anymore. I know, I know... I probably didn't know everything in high school, either. But, I could at least fool myself into believing I did!

When Erin was leaving our apartment one night to head back to her dorm, I instinctively said "text me when you're home safe". I mean, when I'm not in Philly, I don't expect her to keep me posted on her comings and goings. But, because I was there, I had to do my mom thing... at least she appeased me with only a small amount of eye rolling.

Truth is, she doesn't need to check in with me. She's her own person with her own life in her own city. And she's happy. School is challenging, but she loves what she's studying. She feels she's in the right place for her. What more could a momma want?

Erin will be home in two months. Because of Drexel's quarter system, she don't finish until mid-June. Then, we'll get her back under our roof for three months. After that, who knows...

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. I find myself wondering what life will be like in the future. For her. For me and Dan. I need to just remember to enjoy the times I get with Erin. Don't rush it or wish it away.

Tomorrow is diagnosis day. Eight years have now passed since the day the music changed for our family. I guess there's no better reminder that nothing is guaranteed, so enjoy what's here and now. Erin, Dan and I are happy and healthy. Life does go on. And life is good.

But, maybe I hold on to Erin just a little too tight because she's going where Shannon never got to go. Every year that goes by, makes that gap between Erin and Shannon grow.

I regret that I didn't get more practice being a mom of adult children. I only get this one shot, so I hope I don't screw it up. Erin, and Shannon, deserve my best.

St. Patrick's Day 2019

Happy St. Patrick's Day from the O'Haras! It's not such a big deal around here anymore, for a couple of reasons. 1 - I don't have any cute kids around anymore that want to dress up in green celebrate being Irish. And, 2 - It's a drinking holiday and I'm the only one around here who drinks.

Shannon did love a good reason to wear something goofy and she was proud of her very Irish name. She was always all in for St. Patrick's Day.

Erin was so little when Shannon got sick. Now that Erin is growing up, I sometimes forget that. I think of Erin as she is now and forget how little she was then. We still deal with the loss of Shannon every day, so it's easy to only think present tense.

When I meet a 10-year-old and see how young they are, it reminds me that Erin had to comprehend so much when she was so little. I wonder all the ways that affected her... I wonder how it will continue to affect her for the rest of her life.

Something reminded us of Shannon the other day, and Dan texted Erin about it. Erin texted back "I've been thinking about Shaner a lot lately". 

Erin is making new friends and developing close relationships quickly, the way you do in college when you live and play in close quarters. She is in charge of her life narrative now, in a way that she couldn't be when she lived here with us in a town where it seemed everyone knew about her dead sister. So, she chooses where and when to share that piece of her, that part of her story. 

And she does choose to share it. Erin asked me to bring a copy of Determined to Matter when we come to visit as she wants to give it to one of her friends. 

We've had a couple of chances to share the book recently. I gave it to a new acquaintance who was interested. Dan gave it to a friend facing a difficult diagnosis. Both responded with heartfelt thanks for sharing our story. 

It all feels so long ago sometimes. Shannon's friends are turning 21 and finishing their junior year of college. We will be watching them graduate, get married, have children, etc. for many years to come.

Erin is in the grind of winter quarter finals this week. Next week she and her new pals are headed for some fun in the sun, staying with Aunt Mary in Florida. A cheap spring break option for the college kids, thanks to having relatives in warm climates. Once she's back at school, then it's our turn to see her.

I'm really looking forward to our trip to see Erin. This has been a long stretch for this mama.  We'll get to celebrate her birthday and treat her and her new found friends to a birthday dinner. Erin will be 18... she's finally going to be an adult!

I wish Shannon was around to see Erin grow up. I know she'd be so proud of her little sister. And I'm sure the reverse would be true, too.

February 17, 2019

We've had a stretch of weather here in Minnesota that makes us wonder why we choose to live here. Mother Nature has alternated between snow events and below freezing temperatures. I know we've got great health care and good schools, but man, couldn't we find that in a more temperate climate? I guess I hold on to the immortal words of Kelly Clarkson, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger...

February does mean longer days and when the sun chooses to come out, it's got some heat to it. February also bring to a close another year of Shannon O'Hara Foundation events. We enjoyed a successful Shannon Cup weekend with the youth hockey teams and then awarded this year's Shannon Memorial scholarships as well. We've now given $45,000 to 22 kids to use for higher education. I have to remind myself that that's why we do what we do. I can get a little grumpy when we're hauling boxes of t-shirts into Graham Arena in sub zero temps, but it's a means to and end. And the end is rewarding. Our supporters have helped us raise a quarter of a million dollars since 2012.

The years can blur together sometimes, and I need to remember to stop and appreciate how long we've been at it and how far we've come.

On the home front, we've adjusted to life without Sunny. Gus is growing up... but the puppy in him needs to come out sometimes and he just can't help it. Don't leave your shoes... or your underwear... unattended.

Erin is now halfway through her freshman year of college, having reached the second half of winter quarter. Drexel's 10 week quarters seem to fly by, packed with exams and papers and a week of finals.   She makes time for some club volleyball, socializing and seems to be managing to do her laundry without my help.

Erin is exploring her new city when she gets a chance. Drexel is just across the Schuykill River from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Erin sent us a text on Friday that she was off for a run. She arrived at the museum and sent Dan and I a picture, saying she was going to run the museum stairs for exercise, doing her best Rocky impersonation ..."Cue the music" she said...

I love that she's happy and that makes our empty nest less sad. She's doing exactly what she's supposed to be doing at this point in life. We raise them to fly...

Erin and her friends have made plans for spring break, which means she won't return to Rochester until June. She really doesn't live here anymore, I guess... I haven't fully admitted that to myself until now. We will get her home this summer, but after that, there are no guarantees.

Since I certainly can't go from January until June without seeing her, Dan and I have made plans to visit Philly together in April. We will spend a few days in the city and be there to celebrate Erin's 18th birthday. Yes, she will finally be an adult!

This momma already feels better now that I have a visit scheduled. 49 days and counting...

Sunny the Wonderdog

Today, we lost a faithful companion. We had to put Sunny down, just short of her 14th birthday. The last 48 hours were a quick decline and loss of function, so it was time.

We FaceTimed Erin so she could say goodbye. Today is one of those days when it's really tough on Erin to be far away. She's got good friends in Philly who are keeping her company tonight.

Sunny joined our family when she was 6 weeks old. We loaded Shannon and Erin in the minivan and went to look at puppies on a farm in Preston, MN. The girls picked her out of the litter and she hid under Shannon's seat in the minivan on the ride home. We told Shannon and Erin they could name the dog, and they decided on Sunshine.

Sunshine helped us raise those girls. The shepherd in her always protecting them and the collie loving snuggles and play. These past few years she's slowed way down, but she was still a sweet dog. When new neighbors moved in several years ago, Sunny made friends with them. She would visit for morning coffee on the deck and the kids would let her in their house for a treat. One day I got a text from the mom... a picture of Sunny lying on their couch watching cartoons with the kids!

Sunny made a couple dozen trips to the cabin with us. While she didn't love to swim, she did it out of duty, circling around the girls in the lake to make sure they were OK. She wouldn't jump of the dock, but she would run to the end, watch the girls jump in, and then run to shore and swim out to check on them.

One time, at my parent's cabin in Wisconsin, Sunny was very nervous about Shannon and Erin and their cousins, Laurynn and Jack, continually jumping off the dock and screaming. Sunny was going to "save" Erin, so attempted to catch her which resulted in a nice dog bite on Erin's side. That's the only time Sunny ever bit anyone... until she met Gus!

We were a two dog family for the last 9 months in the hopes that the puppy could learn from the elder. Gus is now 11 months and hopefully, Sunny trained him in well enough before she left us. Let's just say, I still have my doubts.

In her younger days, Sunny would chase the ball for hours and developed the incredible skill of fitting three tennis balls in her mouth.

Sunny was so present on our journey with Shannon. We walked most days around the reservoir, using the time in nature to process what was going on in our lives.

Sunny traveled wherever we went during Shannon's illness. She came with us to a vacation on the shores of Lake Michigan, riding across the lake on a ferry.

And of course, Sunny road tripped with Grandma and Papa Harkins from MN to Memphis to join us at St. Jude. Shannon didn't want to be without her dog, so my parents drove her and our minivan to us in Memphis. By the time Sunny got there, Shannon was in a wheelchair. I'll never forget Sunny trying to pull Shannon out of the chair to play. Shannon thought it was funny, Sunny pulling on Shannon's shoe and making the wheelchair roll.

In Shannon's last days, Sunny would lay on her hospital bed at Shannon's feet. Shannon could no longer communicate much or move much, but I think Sunny knew what Shannon needed.

And so, the end has come. We've suffered worse losses, of course. But this one hurts a lot right now.

I'm a skeptic, but if there is a heaven, Shannon and Sunny are playing fetch tonight.

7 Years

Today is one of those days we mark on the calendar and know that it will be a struggle. It has been 7 years since Shannon passed away. We were reminiscing about the warm January weather we had 7 years ago, much like we just experienced this weekend here in Rochester. The sky is pink this morning, just like it was on that day in 2012.

Today's anniversary also coincides with sending Erin back to Philadelphia last night. Not great timing for her or for us, but classes start Monday morning, so it was time to get back and get organized for the next quarter.

We had a fabulous three weeks with Erin at home. She spent a bunch of time with me and Dan, saw lots of family and friends and even worked a few shifts to make some money. And, she might have caught up on sleep that she was lacking after finals week! Just what everyone wanted and needed.

Now, she is back in Philly and we are here and life goes on. We don't know when she will be home next, which is crazy. Next summer for sure.

So, we are back to our empty nest and the 6th of January all at once. Damn.

On this day, I don't like the passing of time. Erin is a whole different person now than the one that Shannon knew. Maybe I am, too.

I've been reading a little bit about grief again lately. Just processing, I guess. Still trying to reconcile how life can be good and I can be happy? Because that is how I feel. I like my life and I am happy. Will I always feel just a little bit guilty about that?

I read recently how loss and grief, in the early days, it consumes all of you. But in time, it changes. It's not that the grief goes away or lessens, but if you are fortunate, your world gets bigger around it. So when your world gets bigger, the grief feels smaller. I don't know if that makes sense, but that is how I feel. I know my life wouldn't be this full and meaningful if we hadn't lost Shannon. My relationships are deeper and my purpose is greater as I try to carry on in her memory.

Erin feels it, too. She knows she probably wouldn't be at Drexel studying health sciences if it weren't for losing Shannon. It's hard to have something good that's a result of something so bad. I don't know how else to describe it.

The month of January also brings all of our Shannon O'Hara Foundation events. We've got a couple of girl's hockey nights, the Shannon Cup, and will be going through the process of choosing this year's scholarship winners.

The foundation just had an amazing holiday season fundraiser, with donations totaling more than $20,000. People continue to help us make a difference in Shannon's memory. Every check or online donation warms my heart.

Shannon's words ring in my ear. She wanted to be a positive light. She wanted her life to matter.

If you want to hear Shannon again... or for the first time... here she is: