Mollie Trager ’13 arrived at Wheaton full of many of the usual freshman jitters and aspirations. That first year she successfully ran for class vice president, and got involved in groups such as Gospel Choir and Young Life.
Her student government bid paralleled her dad’s own bid for U.S. Congressman of the 8th district of Wisconsin. A radiologist by trade, Marc Trager had retired due to eye problems caused by type 1 diabetes, and had then decided to throw his hat into the political race.
The summer after her freshman year, Mollie went on the Wheaton in Spain study abroad program. While there, Mollie got a text from her dad saying that he had dropped out of the race. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me . . . I just need to do this to take care of myself,” her dad wrote.
As the trip was nearing its end, Associate Professor of Foreign Language Dr. Christine Kepner called Mollie aside so that she could answer a phone call from her mother.
That call would forever change her life. Her dad, who had become increasingly anxious and depressed, had killed himself.
The next hours and days went by in a haze as Mollie packed to fly home to be with her family. The rest of the Wheaton in Spain group wrote notes for her to read on the flight home. Though she recalls being scared, she says, “They really showed me the body of Christ. They were all hurting for me. I was part of their family.”
When Mollie tried to return to Wheaton for her sophomore year, she couldn’t cope with what had happened. “I was never actively suicidal like my dad, but I remember calling my mom and saying, ‘I don’t want to live anymore! This is so hard!’” She took the fall semester off to heal. Her best friends reached out to her, some calling every day.
“Through all of the difficulty, I feel like God gave me a small picture of what Dad was going through. It’s debilitating.”
Professors reached out and President Ryken wrote her a note and called her when she had to leave the College.
Because of the care and support, Mollie was able to return to Wheaton in the spring. During the first all- school communion, she heard a student leader sharing about a recent bout with depression. At that moment, Mollie realized that she would one day be speaking from that lectern. That day came in April 2011 when she was one of the student speakers for Staff Appreciation Chapel. “I knew I had to talk about my dad’s death to convey why the Wheaton staff meant so much to me,” she says. “It was a turning point, being able to verbalize what had happened.”
The healing process is not over. “I’m still missing my dad. There’s still a lot of sadness there.” But Mollie is doing well. A Bible and theology major pursuing an accelerated master’s in Christian formation and ministry, she has become passionate about mentoring other students. She also serves as a Young Life leader at a local high school, where she sees God at work— using her to help others heal.