In January of 2017, I was invited to attend NJTV’s “Everyday Heroes” event in Trenton, NJ, where successful initiatives and recovery programs implemented by coalitions, activists, advocates, alliances and law-enforcement, as well as common citizens, were recognized. I was asked to read some of my work, and I agreed.
A few days later, I was asked if I could also read the poetry of a young woman named Molly Ina O’Donnell, also from New Jersey.
You see, Molly could not make it to the event this past January, because she overdosed and died nine months prior. Her family had submitted her poetry and asked that it be read at the event in her honor, a privilege that was entrusted to me.
After reading pages and pages of Molly’s poetry, I choose to read “When the Devil Knocks” and “Raw.” Her work drew lucid illustrations on how no family is immune to the ravages of addiction and provided me a glimpse into who Molly was before, during, and even after addiction.
Usually when I write about those who lost their lives to drugs, I get to know them through their parents, siblings, or spouses. This time, I got to know Molly through Molly herself. I realized very quickly that she knew she was really hurting herself and her family.
“She had talent, friends, and a loving family,/
But none of them could restore her back to sanity./
Her beautiful life had turned into a calamity,/
And her poor mom and dad were left with a tragedy.”
“He’ll help you forget what it’s like to feel
remorse or guilt toward the people you’ve used./
You’re not the only one who feels abused./
It affects you and all the people you love./
They all just want to see you live above/
the influence that brought you to Hell and back./
Who knows if you’ll ever be back on track?”
– When the Devil Knocks.
I believed Molly, who mentioned God and Heaven throughout her work, perhaps at times prayed for a way out of her addiction.
“No more heroin and no more crack./
It’s time to take my old life back./
I was once happy, fun and free./
I recently believed that that could never be./
I had given up. I threw my hands in the air./
I said, “Why me God? This just isn’t fair.”/
He’s testing me, making me stronger,/
pushing me to fight just a little bit longer.”
“They did all they could to try to revive her,/
But it was too late. This one wasn’t a survivor./
An innocent life taken far too soon/
by the drugs she had taken that cold afternoon.”
“She wouldn’t live like a junkie anymore/
so she found her solution through Heaven’s doors./
Rather than dance with the Devil on the ground,/
she disappeared to a place she would never be found,/
with the other lost souls, safe and sound.”
– Short Cut
Through her work, I discovered Molly had aspirations of getting off drugs once and for all, and wanted to help others in the struggle do the same.
“I’m destined to do greater things,/
to help other addicts and give them their wings,/
to teach them to fly without getting high,
to teach them to live and how to forgive.
There’s more to life than everything white.
There’s a difference between brightness and seeing the light.”
After reading all of her work, I felt connected to this young poet. Molly was under my skin, had become a part of me, almost. Molly and I were in the same fight. Though on different sides of the same coin, we both wanted to use our words to help spread a message of awareness and help heal those affected by addiction.
“Molly was a free spirit and did things on her terms no matter how much guidance was given,” her father, Loren, told me after the event. “Molly and I had an incredible relationship. We were the presidents of each other’s fan clubs.”
Molly was a talented singer and a National Champion competitive cheerleader. Molly loved being on the stage. For about nine years, Molly was involved in performing in several Cancer benefits and participated in numerous Kids Cabaret productions at Brundage Park Playhouse in her town, Randolph, NJ. Molly also was very talented with hair and makeup, and would do her friends hair and makeup for proms, dances, and performances.
Molly also had business cards printed up for her cupcake business, Baby Cakes. Her cupcakes were very popular and delicious.
Molly always willing to listen and help anyone in need. She loved cats and would visit their local animal shelter and spend time with the kittens.
Molly’s father went on to tell me that he and his daughter shared a love of red M&M’s, movies, and pepperoni pizza. They shared the same sense of humor and love for photography.
“Then, in-between 2013 and 2014, the darkness began. And now, life will never be the same again,” said Loren, alluding to his daughter’s descent into the world of addiction. “All definitions on what makes a great father became paramount and questioned. The darkness came fast and furious. The pot, the pills, the huffing, the cocaine, the crack, all crept in silently but with massive destruction and heartache.”
Once the drugs took hold of her, Molly became distant which made communicating difficult. Molly’s academic efforts ceased, and she almost did not graduate from high school.
“The lying, stealing, committing crimes slowly became more frequent and more intense,” recalled her father, who added that Molly wrote many of her poems from jail when she was clean from drugs. “Molly had vanished from our lives and was replaced with someone whose sole purpose was to obtain the drugs her body required.”
Before she even turned 20, she had been incarcerated, in and out, for 148 days. The option for rehab was removed once Molly left before completing the program.
“Molly and I were extremely close but her heroin addiction came silently and blindly,” said Loren. “There were glimpses of hope but they all seemed to dissipate so quickly. It seems like any communications turned out to be lies. There were moments when Molly seemed totally normal and we would sing and laugh and then, like flicking a light switch, she would be gone, unrecognizable.”
Molly passed away on April 8, 2016 from an overdose of heroin, cocaine, and Oxycodone. She was just 21-years-old.
“A million times in my head, I’ve tried to piece together how this happened, how was I not able to beat this and save my princess. I was Molly’s go-to person to save her, bail her out of any problems,” expressed the heartbroken father. “Maybe being naïve to addiction, turning my eyes away in denial, thinking that I did plenty of drugs in the past and I turned out okay, or perhaps, believing the lies all contributed to my inability to save her until it was too late.”
“I cannot speak for any other parents who share this loss, but I will never shake the guilt that I could have and should have done more,” he added.
For two and a half years Loren lived and breathed trying to reach Molly. He lived through the theft, the lying, the felonies, the in and out of jail, in and out of detox, rehabs, her disappearing for five days after stealing her grandparents’ car.
“I really did try my hardest but the Devil and his darkness had come to take her, and they did,” he told me.
Even more upsetting, toward the end of her life, there had been signs of hope, of recovery.
“Less than 24 hours before Molly overdosed, I picked her up in Summit from her IOP meeting,” recounted Loren. “On the way home, we were singing and laughing. The happiness we shared at that moment held no signs of any addiction.”
That was on April 7, 2016. Around 5:00 p.m. on April 8, 2016, Loren received the phone call. Molly had overdosed.
“Forget what you see on television when it comes to trauma. There had to be 20 people working on Molly. And let me tell you, hearing the word ‘charging’ when it’s your kid is just sickening,” said Loren. “During the two-plus hours of trying to revive her, I was by her side four times. I spoke to her, screamed for her to fight this, I stroked her hair but she was not inside of her body.”
Doctors would tell Loren that they had found a faint heartbeat, but there was no neurological function.
“Let me add, that during this two-plus hour attempt to save Molly, the amount of people who needed to speak with me was unreal,” expressed Loren. “‘Sign this and that,’ make decisions on organ donation, cell research, using lifesaving means, detectives, surgeons, insurance, it all is a blur. You feel like throwing up, crying, and screaming all at the same time.”
Within this story, there lives a positive aspect, her writing on addiction, overdose, and recovery. Molly left behind a legacy.
“A week after Molly passed away, I went to Rest Stop Rejuvenate in Rockaway and read Molly’s poems at an open mic night,” said Loren, who explained that Molly had asked him when she was incarcerated to help share her work. “That was nine months ago. Never did I realize the powerful messages the poems held and how important is has become that they be shared on a larger scale.”
“I share Molly’s poetry for several reasons. I believe it helps me grieve,” added Loren. “I share her poems to keep her memory alive. I’m keeping my promise to her; it was her wish, and now my mission, to share her poetry with hope that her words can help someone in need, help someone fight a little harder, and help someone think twice before getting involved with these highly addictive and deadly drugs.”
Even nine months later, the emotional roller coaster Loren now finds himself on seems to get more intense. The first few months he spent living in shock that Molly had died. Now, as more time passes, reality has begun to sink in that he will not see her anymore as long as he lives.
“So, the days continue to go by and my life goes on,” stated Loren. “But it goes on without my amazing daughter, my princess, Molly Ina.”
That night in January, I was able to meet Molly through her work. That night I was also given the “Special Voices” award for my writing on the topic of addiction and family. My heart was full, but heavy, because Molly was one very special voice who was silenced by addiction and taken away from her family far too soon.
To read more stories like Molly’s, check out Alicia Cook’s book Heroin is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Me on Amazon.