I was among the nearly 2,000 people who attended the Celebration of the Life of Molly Conley on Saturday in the Bishop Blanchet High School gymnasium. Less than 24 hours earlier, the gym was filled with graduating seniors who were embarking on a new, exciting phase of their lives.
As I sat there, looking at a picture of Molly's beautiful, smiling face next to her draped casket, I couldn't help but think about how that rite of passage is something Molly will never get to experience. In a gym where Molly should be whooping it up at more pep assemblies, sporting events and her graduation three years from now, her grief-stricken family was sitting in the front row of a memorial service that came way too soon because of a drive-by shooting in Lake Stevens a day after her 15th birthday.
As I looked around the gym, I was also moved by all the people whose lives were touched by this angel-faced teenager and are now devastated by her death. Her lacrosse teammates with their tear-stained faces as they brought her stick and shoes up to the altar. Her soccer teammates laying down her ball, jersey and gloves. Members of her Irish Dance team placing her jumper, shoes and awards with all the other symbols of her life. Relatives, friends, coaches, classmates, parents, all grieving along with her family, wishing we could turn back time and make the pain go away. I saw a member of the Snohomish County Rescue team in the crowd and wondered if she was among the first responders on that horrific night the week before. She also looked devastated.
I never got a chance to meet Molly but the last time I spoke with her mom, Susan, she was beaming as she told me how Molly had influenced her to take care of babies at their home before they are placed in foster homes. She described how much joy they got from holding these precious babies and helping them have a better chance at a good life.
Although Molly's life was tragically cut short, I think the way she lived those 15 years offers valuable lessons about how we should all strive to live ours. At the service, her father, John, said that Molly would light up a room with her presence. "She always found a way to transcend so many of the barriers that divide people. Her mix of wit, sarcasm and her vivacious spirit broke down those barriers." He also shared that the night before the service, a procession of police and emergency vehicles drove by their house with lights flashing, in honor of Molly. He said she would've been thrilled. Her older brother, Johnny, described Molly as supremely loving and utterly selfless. "She made a point of showing her love every single day," he said. Reverend John Whitney, who presided over the service, said we shouldn't dwell on how short her life was. "She lived in a fullness that all of us should aspire to," he said.
Molly Conley was one of a kind, a truly special girl with a heart of gold and endless potential. She lived and loved to the fullest. One of the passages shared at Molly's funeral was from "That Summer Day" by Mary Oliver. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" That is a question I am taking to heart, in honor of Molly Conley.
Conley was killed in a drive-by shooting the night of June 1 as she and several friends walked on a road in Lake Stevens. Police have not identified any suspects and are asking for tips from the public.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial contributions may made in memory of Molly to
Mary's Place (online donations)
Molly's Mother's Helper Fund
PO Box 1711
Seattle, WA 98111-1711
VSS (Victim Support Services)
Victim Support Services
PO Box 1949, Everett, WA 98206
US Lacrosse Washington State
Molly Conley Memorial Fund
8213 Overlake Drive West
Medina, WA 98039
Editor's note: Ursula's son is a sophomore at Bishop Blanchet High School and is friends with Molly's brother, Johnny.