Molly started back at school today. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with her and was comforted to learn that she was continuing to heal from her loss. She has been surrounding herself with family, shielding her heart and its raw wound from well-intended strangers and those who might unwittingly damage her already-paper-thin spirit. However, she knew that going back would be part of the healing process, too. She told me...
"Barb, I know I have to go back to school; I have to go on, but even though I know rationally that it's the right thing to do, I can't help feeling that I owe it to Ryan to curl up and die, to not go on without him. I just wish Ryan would communicate with me somehow. I know on an intellectual level that he is in God's loving presence and all that, but I don't feel it. I wish I knew that he is at peace now; that he would just contact me in some way and let me know that he really is okay. I need to know that he knows that I'm so proud of him for trying so hard to fight the addiction and that that I know his death was an accident."
She longed for a dream or for Ryan to send her some kind of message, so that she could find some peace.
Molly's friend and colleague, Kathy, had secured a sub for herself so that she could help Molly in her classes today. Molly had no concrete plan for how the day would go, other than that she wanted to "just talk" to her students, from her heart. Kathy would take over the teacher part when Molly was ready, as she knew she would not be prepared to tackle math on her first day back. Everything was ready....
A few days ago, Molly went to visit a priest in order to seek answers and the peace she so desperately needed. While waiting for him, she met Sister Caroline, who knew of her story and greeted her warmly upon hearing her name. She quickly asked Molly to wait a moment and left, coming back with a prayer shawl that had been made especially for her. When Molly shared some of what was in her heart, Sister Caroline said, "Molly, talk to Ryan. Ask him to help you. He is here with you, too."
So, Molly did. Sunday night, she prayed to God for strength and and comfort. She also asked Ryan to help her on Monday. She prepared her clothing for the next morning, still not feeling sure about her decision. She took out the many, many letters her students have written to her over these three weeks and read them. And, finally, she went to bed.
In the morning, Molly took a shower and readied for work, but did not feel good about going. In fact, she felt terrified, vulnerable. She thought she would throw up, didn't think she could go through with it, and even thought about calling Kathy to tell her she just wasn't ready. But she forced herself into the car and left.
Molly teaches three Calculus classes to students the same age as her Ryan. When she walked into her classroom, she didn't have it all planned; she just felt moved to pull up a stool and talk. She thanked the students for their letters and support. She shared something her son, Brandon, had said to her about his strength as he had accompanied his singing brother Austin on the piano at the funeral, tears streaming down his face. He said, "Mom, it's going to be hard, so incredibly hard, but no matter how much pain we're in, we have to keep playing; for ourselves, and for Ryan."
Molly talked about Ryan; how much she loved him, what he stood for, and how valiantly he had fought his addiction. She confronted the rumors she'd heard and set them straight. She talked about who Ryan was and how she wanted people to remember him.
She told me later,
"As I began to talk, I became filled with an incredible sense of tranquility and peace that I have never experienced in my life. It was spiritual, and the energy was so palpable, I could feel physical warmth enter my body, all the way to my fingertips. I stopped talking and asked the students,
'Do you feel that? Is it just me?'
They didn't indicate that they did, but it was so very real. It was such a beautiful feeling; almost like I was in a dream."
When she had finished talking, she walked to the back of the room, where Kathy was sitting (tears streaming down her face) and said,
"He's here. Ryan's here." Kathy nodded silently and hugged her friend.
Molly did not teach today (not math, anyway.) After her talk, Kathy taught the class, and students came to the back of the room to welcome their teacher back. A young man choked back tears as he told her, "Mrs. R, I admire you so much for being here. I'm just so proud of you." He was so moved that he could no longer speak. Other students offered condolences or cards or just thanked her for coming back.
Of her first day back, Molly said, "I just knew that I belonged there, Barb," she told me. "I'm not kidding myself; I know that there will be harder days ahead, but this one...this one was such a gift."
Thank you so much for your prayers...God has clearly been listening.