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: