People say I am a nice man, a good soul, but there was a time when I was dark and filled with hatred.
It has been 6,941 days since my life changed forever.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. All great stories have a beginning and an end. Let’s start at the beginning.
My dad worked for the airlines and my mom worked because we had 5 kids and times were tough. We didn’t have the fancy jeans, nor drove a fancy car. We were simple people just trying to survive.
It was 1987 and I lived in Fairview Park, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland and I went to Fairview High School , the home of the Warriors.
I was a geek and wrote with Dana Miller , Shawn McCormick and a random woman that belonged to the popular crew, the school newspaper. We went to Bowling Green University for the State Newspaper Championships. I didn’t expect anything at all. I expected us to have some fun. I tried to hit on Dana unsuccessfully and had the time of my life. We went to the awards ceremony not expecting anything. When the 3rd places were handed out, I was thinking that if we would win anything it would be there, or maybe an honorable mention.
We didn’t win HM or 3rd place.
Nor did we win 2nd place.
We won 1st place in our division.
1st Place in the state of Ohio.
I was on cloud 9. I thought that “this would give me a boost in popularity!”
I was wrong.
My Senior year, 1988, I was still a geek and , I found out later, nobody gave a shit about a 1st place in newspaper as long as I kept talking about how bad our football team was.
And yet I did walk taller, and gave a shit more. Some people would come up to me to talk about the changed Sean.
Until the day that would change my life forever.
I was pulled out of my classes and sent to the councilors office to talk to the councilor.
“Why do you hate your sister?” I was asked.
I didn’t hate her for much. I hated that she was younger and was the popular girl, loved by all while I was the one that wasn’t strong, tall or cool.
It was petty, I know that now. But then the next question threw me for a loop.
“Why do you think your sister wants to commit suicide?”
I found out that the fight that my sister had with my parents the night before ,which caused her to stay the night with a friend, had caused her to tell her English teach Dr. Fawcett that she wanted to kill herself.
The days all after blended together, with thoughts of glory days for my senior year gone.
I was just Tara’s older brother.
And I was sick of the sessions with the councilors, sick of the people from the state who came and harassed my parents , and it came to a boiling point that one day in lunch.
I was sitting with Dana and Shawn, alone but with the two people who in my mind always has, and always will have my backs when Tara came up.
She spoke words that I don’t remember, because they don’t matter, and because they made me madder than I’ve ever been before.
“May you catch a contagious disease! May you die for what you have done to Mom, Dad and to ruining my senior year. I hope you die,” I said with such venom that it took everyone by surprise.
I found myself back in the office so I can “talk about my outburst”.
I have blacked out the days of my senior year, just remembering that I screwed with Dr. Fawcett, trying to fail because then I would be in the same class with my sister when I had to return the following year. I wanted to screw with her final year like she made my final year a nightmare.
He passed me with a D. I didn’t do the “required” Senior paper, because he was harder on me because he thought I covered up for my parents.
I didn’t. He was an asshole.
I walked across the stage at graduation and looked at my proud parents, prouder of me that I achieved through a tough year.
My parents have always thought that those 3 years in Cleveland were the beginning of problems because of the school district and their stupidity. My hatred of that city and that school is boundless. I will never, ever return to Fairview Park. Ever.
I walked past my sister and celebrated with my brother Patrick when it was over. She was dead to me.
Was that the day I’m referencing, no, keep reading.
The next year, I moved to New York to go to college at a place that I only went because I couldn’t get in anywhere else. My senior year wasn’t stellar, let me just leave it at that.
When I would go home for holidays, we would never talk directly at each other, just to other people to direct messages.
“Pat, could you please get Tara to pass the mac & cheese to me?”
“Pat, could you tell Sean to go to hell,” she’d reply.
My parents were as patient as they could be and as soon as she graduated high school in Texas, she was a pharmacy tech at Tom Thumb.
I returned to Texas in 1990 with my head between my legs after a miserable time at Adelphi University. High School only prepared me to fail there.
I moved into an apartment complex and started a set of jobs that I only continued to fail at because I looked for the fight. I looked to try and fix the injustices that I thought were there.
Tara moved down the street, and though we were less than a half a block from each other , we only saw each other at our parents house for birthdays and holidays.
One of my darkest moments were approaching.
One day, I saw my sister with a goiter on her chin.
Now to me, the pretty girl that everybody loves, was imperfect once again.
And I took advantage of it.
“Hey turkey girl, nice little gobbler. Can you come to dinner and gobble for us?
My hatred came out with venom and anger.
And yet she said nothing and walked away to cry.
I had won.
And yet I lost so much more.
I had won a battle that was so meaningless that to this day it is one of the single most embarrassing moments in my life.
A month later she was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
Burkitt’s is a very rare form of cancer with about only 300 new cases a year in the United States. Burkitt’s Lymphoma, rare in most of the world, is the most common childhood cancer in Central Africa, and is one of the most aggressive of all human cancers.
Burkitt’s lymphoma is one type of a group of malignant diseases know as the Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas (NHL). These lymphomas are very similar to the leukemias. The type of malignant cell present is called a B-cell and Burkitt’s is often referred to as a B-cell lymphoma or leukemia.
As with other cancers, the exact cause is not known. Burkitt’s is the most common in children in Africa and there is some evidence linking its cause there to a virus known as the Epstein-Barr virus. Outside of Africa, chromosomal defects in some of the patient’s cells may be the cause. Children still seem to be the most affected, but there are cases of adults with Burkitt’s.
This malignancy grows very rapidly and a person who appeared in good health a month or 6 weeks ago may now be critically ill.
I tried everything. I offered to help with blood drives, platelet drives. Anything to help her. Tara tried everything, from traditional to non traditional fighting every day. We didn’t say anything to each other, though we knew we had to resolve our unresolved issues. We just were too stubborn to say we were sorry.
I remember my 21st birthday like it was yesterday.
The week before it, Tara had been in the hospital taking yet another chemo treatment. Each treatment was worse than the last and the petite woman that roamed the halls of Fairview was bloated to extreme. If I didn’t know who she was, I wouldn’t have figured that the two were the same woman.
She had just finished puking into a pan as she asked me what I wanted for my birthday.
I can still hear my words in my ears today.
“I need nothing, but you home and healthy!”
As she threw up I looked over at my mom and she shook her head no. I knew it would be a long shot, but I had to hold out hope.
She kept fighting and each day I’d look over to my mom who’d shake her head no. She wasn’t going to be home for my birthday. I was so crushed.
I went over to my apartment after work and changed out of the Radio Shack managers monkey suit to get prepared for my parents birthday party for me. I almost went up to see Tara in the hospital, but Mom called me to tell me to put a move on.
Now when I got to the house, I put my key into the door.
But it didn’t work.
I was so frustrated, so angry that I rang the bell over and over again.
Why would they change the locks?
And then the door opened.
And holding a birthday cake was my sister Tara Lee.
We hugged each other and celebrated like I’ve never celebrated since.
But Tara Lee and I didn’t have time to talk.
The next day she was back in the hospital.
April 4th , 1991 I went up to the room to talk to her. I wanted to make peace with her. But as I opened the door, everybody was in the room. My parents, grandparents, Tara’s Fiance Trent, and a priest.
The priest was giving her last rites, and yet she still hit the call button.
“Where are my meds? I’m not done fighting yet!”
I made a deal with my mom and dad. I would come by at 7 a.m. and relieve the parents / grandparents so they could take showers and I would have my moment to make peace with Tara. I would finally get to apologize to her.
I gave her a kiss on her head and told her “We have unfinished business. You me and a long talk in the morning.”
“I can’t wait,” she said to me.
I went home to my apartment thinking about my apology, how I was going to word it and finally went to bed around midnight.
In the middle of the night I woke up with the most incredible pain in my chest. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 4:55 a.m.
The pain was stronger than I’ve ever felt before, and then it was gone.
I tried calling the hospital but the direct line was off “for patient comfort” and I just went back to sleep thinking how strange it was to have that feeling and woke up at 6 a.m. to a phone call.
From my mother…
“She’s gone Sean.”
“It doesn’t matter”
“It does to me, what time?”
I fell to my knees and cursed God. I cursed him for taking her before I was able to find peace with her.
The days thereafter were a blur to me.
6,941 days ago God took Tara Lee Donahue from this earth. She only lived 7,208 days and yet she still is in my heart.
I always put yellow roses on her grave, and this year someone left a pinwheel, I think it was Trent. I’m still here if you need to talk brother.
I can’t say that I have found peace.
I can’t say that she has forgiven me.
But I haven’t forgiven myself.
I was a fool, a child, that made childish mistakes.
And I walk this earth doing stuff for others paying penance for the sins that I have created and those sins that I have yet to commit.
But that, my friends, is only the start of my penance.
I walk this earth from place to place, trying to do things, say things, improve things.
Fortunately for the world, I still have things to do on this earth.
The Big Guy has a plan for me, that I wish I could comprehend or understand but I don’t.
It’s not a matter of forgiveness that I want. I used to want that all the time. But it isn’t what I live for.
I live for my family who help me in my walk.
I live for Shelby Lee and Ryan Matthew, the most wonderful kids in my life.
I live for my wife Joanna, who though she had things that she needed me to do, told me to continue writing and clear my conscience and sooth my soul.
I live for the people that I have touched and those I’ve yet to touch.
I know the words of forgiveness have touched my heart and soul and that she has forgiven me.
I’m here with a mission waiting for the day that I can come face to face to her and say.
I’m sorry Tara.