Wendy was a very sad six year old. It was now mid-summer and six months earlier Wendy’s mother died. Wendy’s grief was beyond measure. She withdrew from the world, no longer willing to play with friends or do fun things with her dad, Max. She stayed in her bedroom much of the time and sat looking at photos of her mother. Often she would stare out her bedroom window as if waiting for her mother to return.
Max tried everything he could think of to help Wendy work through her grief, but nothing seemed to help. Then one afternoon as he was driving home from work he passed a party store and got an idea. He decided to try the idea early Saturday morning.
After work on Friday Max stopped at the party store and bought twenty-seven helium filled balloons and put them in the back of his SUV. When he got home he told Wendy about the twenty-seven balloons and that he wanted her to go to the beach with him on Saturday morning.
Wendy used to love going to the beach with her mother and Max on Saturday mornings. The three of them always had such a good time together. They would stroll along the water’s edge, sing silly songs, splash each other, play tag, and share stories as they enjoyed a picnic brunch. Wendy’s favorite game was when the three of them would take turns thinking of words that started with the different letters of the alphabet. Because the beach outings had such fond memories for her, Wendy agreed to go.
When Saturday morning arrived, Max and Wendy headed for the beach which was only ten minutes away. Once there, Max explained to Wendy what they were going to do.
“We’re going to remember Mommy,” Max said. He thought this would please Wendy. “We’re going to play the alphabet game like we always did when mommy was alive. Only this time, we’re going to use balloons. We’ll take turns. First I’ll share a memory I have of mommy using a word that begins with A or has an A in it and then I’ll let the balloon go. Then you’ll share a memory of mommy using a word that starts with B or has the letter B in it and then let the balloon go. We’ll proceed all the way through the alphabet, each one sharing thirteen memories. How does that sound?”
“It sounds okay,” Wendy said. “But you said you bought twenty-seven balloons. There’s only twenty-six letters in the alphabet. What is the twenty-seventh balloon for?”
“I’ll explain that when we get to it,” Max said. “Now, let’s take these balloons and go to the edge of the water just like we use to.”
Max grasped the strings of all twenty-seven balloons in his left hand and when they got to the edge of the water he took the string of just one balloon in his right hand and said, ” This is a memory of the time when mommy got angry because a boy threw wet sand in your face, but then we all laughed because you looked so funny. The letter A stands for the word angry and away it goes .” He let go of the balloon and it soared high into the sky. He then gave a balloon to Wendy.
“My memory of mommy is how beautiful she looked,” Wendy said. “My word is beautiful and begins with B.” She hesitated momentarily then let the balloon go.
One by one Max and Wendy shared memories. They laughed and hugged and splashed in the water and even shed a few tear. Soon the balloons dwindled down to the last one.
“Wendy, we’ve shared some wonderful memories of mommy this morning as we let go of the balloons,” Max said. “We no longer have the actual balloons. They’re gone. We can’t bring them back. But we still have the memories. The ability to have these memories is a gift that God gave us. The memories are blessings. They help us keep the people we love alive in our hearts. The people are gone but we will always remember them. Now, I’m going to ask you to take the twenty-seventh balloon and do something special with it.”
Wendy took the balloon and looked up at her daddy.
Max knelt down beside Wendy, took her free hand, and said, “Wendy, this last balloon in your hand represents mommy. You’re holding the balloon as tight as you can but you have to let go. The balloon wants to be free and soar. Once you let go the balloon will be gone, just like mommy, but you’ll still have all the memories we shared today and many, many more. It’s okay to let go. We both have to let go…..and help each other.”
Wendy lifted her arm and held the balloon’s string for several minutes.
“It’s okay, Wendy,” Max whispered. “Let go.”
Wendy opened her hand and let go…..and the balloon soared into the sky. It was soon out of sight. Wendy turned and hugged her daddy. They both wept.
After a while, Max stood and took Wendy’s hand. “Come, let’s stroll along the edge of the water and tell stories. Just like we used to do. And later we’ll sit on a blanket, listen to the waves, and enjoy the brunch I brought.”
Max smiled and Wendy smiled back. Then, hand in hand, they strolled down the beach.