Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Answered Prayers, Revisited

Two years ago, on October 27th, my best friend, Molly, lost her 17th year old son , Ryan, to an accidental heroin overdose. Molly is an outstanding (incredible, really) teacher of upper level high school students (she teaches Calculus, plus a heck of a lot more that's not in the official standards, but let me tell you, your child would be blessed to have her as a teacher.) Anyway, after about five weeks, Molly faced returning to school when it was the last thing she wanted to do. I was inspired. I'm posting this story again because I love her so much and because I simply feel helpless to do anything else today, Ryan's birthday.


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.


  1. What a beautiful and touching story. I'm so glad you shared it.
    Thank you.

  2. Oh, Barb, I'm in tingles and tears over this. I love Molly and her story. I love the support she receives from those around her. I know the feeling that the world should stop with my crisis; the not-wanting-to-return-to-work after a loss; and I also know so well the answered prayers. Thank you for re-posting this! xo

  3. Thank you for sharing Molly story, I hope she has continued strength and faith to forge ahead.

  4. This is a hard day for her. The hardest thing any parent can ever do is bury a child. My thought and prayers are with her.

  5. This is a sensitive and sweet post about a devastating problem for so many young people.

  6. I think of Molly often and wonder how she is doing. This post touched my heart as much as it did the first time around. I'm just in awe that she could walk into a classroom as soon as she did. As it turned out it was just what she needed...God is good.

    God bless ya sweetie! :o)

  7. Thank you for sharing.

    I truly believe our loved ones are with us all the time and choose to let us "feel" them when we most need it.

  8. Whew - well that was a good cry. What an incredible story. I know you said it was two years ago, but I'm sending big giant hugs for Molly and her family. My prayers go out to them, too.

    Kristin _ The Goat

  9. It's a sad story, but it's also full of faith, courage, warmth and love. Knowing that she's surrounded by good friends, I'm sure Molly will be back on her feet in no time, and setting the math world on fire.

  10. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. what a painful experience!!! i think that is my personal nightmare, to lose one of my children. thank you for sharing Molly's struggle. also, thank you for wanting to do something for a special friend! it is often hard for us to empathize with others who has suffered true tragedy, but sharing her story and being her friend are great things for you to do!!

  12. What a sad but inspiring tale. Losing someone close is so difficult but much more so when it's a child. My good thoughts to Molly and to you.

  13. Molly is lucky to have you for a friend. Hugs!

  14. A sad tragedy and for me it reminds me of young people that have left way too soon. As with many tragedies it also shows the bright side of life, the love, the community, the caring and the support. People are good and even better when we support one another.
    thanks for sharing.

  15. Through my tears I'm saying a prayer for Molly and her family.

  16. I am saying prayers for Molly..and remembering our John who was 17 when he died of suicide...
    The visit comes when you least expect it..

  17. This brought me to tears. A lovely, poignant post. Praying for Molly that she continues to experience these moments.

  18. Wow, I am sitting here with goose bumps and a lump in my throat! What a special Mom/Teacher, friend Molly is....thanks Barb...Lisa

  19. You have a very strong friend. I remember her story, and you put it in words so well. You are a good friend to have, too, she is lucky to be surrounded by you all.

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