My son’s sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Rohlfs, died one year ago today, on February 26, 2008, ten years after her doctor gave her just six months to live with ovarian cancer. Here is part of what my wife wrote to Mrs. Rohlfs’s adult son:
I am so sorry to learn of your mother’s passing. Your mother had a profound impact on my son and because of that I feel compelled to write to you. I want to tell you about who your mother was for my son. I suspect that what I want to tell you about your mother is not unique. Through tear-filled eyes and sobs of grief, my son told me about your mother. I knew Mrs. Rohlfs was a special teacher, and that Greg was fond of her. I knew that she gave him his first-ever “C” and that he was working harder than ever this year. I knew that she was a really good teacher – one who was good at explaining things. But what I didn’t know, and learned Tuesday night, was that Mrs. Rohlfs deeply and passionately loved her students – each and every one of them.
Greg told me the following and I remember his every word, every look, like a video tape in my head. “There is one boy who all the teachers hate to deal with. But Mrs. Rohlfs found the good in him. She found the thing that he was really good at, and he’s been doing so well this year, so well. She loved him.”
I asked Greg “How do you know she loved him?” With tears streaming down his face, he looked at me with the most knowing look I’ve ever seen. I understood. So I said to him “You just know it, don’t you?” He nodded and sobbed. I asked him “Did Mrs. Rohlfs love you?” All he could get out was “Oh yeah.”
What an incredible gift. To be loved so completely, for all that you are and all that you aren’t. To convey your love so that, not only does the recipient know it, but everyone around knows it too. Wow. What a wonderful place the world would be if people were more like Mrs. Rohlfs. To be able to see the good in everyone. To be able to see potential in everyone. To be able to foster that potential, in just the right way. What a gift Mrs. Rohlfs was to all of her students. Sometimes, kids (and all people!) just need someone to believe in them, and that makes all the difference in the world.
How many children has she influenced? How many lives has she changed for the better, forever?
One of Mrs. Rohlfs’s favorite quotes was:
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.
See Gina Rohlfs’s online memorial here.