Almost exactly two months ago, on Oct. 15th, 2015, I lay in my bed crying. It was the annual "Wave of Light", a world-wide day of remembrance for babies who have passed away. My angel candle was softly flickering next to me as I thought about our sweet Callie and how much I missed her. She would be three now. Whenever I meet a three year old, I can't help but wonder to myself what it would be like. How tall would she be? What would she like to do? What would her voice sound like??? I looked across the room to a photo of her, to the little bronze statue of her hand, and to our Callie Bear and longed to be able to know her more.
As my questions started to fade away (they're always there), I was eventually able to bring myself to pick up my phone to check my email as a distraction. There, in my inbox, was an email with the subject line "My Yellow Balloon". (If you are new here, please read this first!). I smiled through the tears as I opened the email, knowing before I even read it that Callie was somehow, someway saying hello. Here's how it began:
My name is Tiffany Papageorge. I am the author of a children’s book called My Yellow Balloon that is about the dimension and transformation that comes to us all from living and feeling our way through the process of loss. I originally wrote it in the 9th grade for an English assignment. It has been quite a journey over many long years but I was finally able to publish it last October. I had no idea when I published it how it would affect not only children but teens, adults, and seniors. It has been such a beautiful, touching, humbling experience.
The reason I am writing to you is that I am in the midst of answering questions for an interview article and the author of the article shared your blog about the yellow balloon. I read it and had chills. I just had to make contact with you and ask if there is a way I could send you a copy of my book for you and your family? The only thing I would like to ask (and it isn’t conditional based upon this request) is that I might be able to speak with you on the phone and be able to give you, from my heart, the director’s cut, if you will. Either way though, I would love to send you my book.
You have touched my heart with your story. I am so sorry about the loss of your beautiful baby Callie Marie. I am also so very happy for the birth of your beautiful Charlotte Grace. God bless you and your beautiful family.
One part of me could not believe it. How could it be possible that today, of all days, I should receive an email from an author about a story about a yellow balloon that is a metaphor for loss and grief? But the other part of me was not surprised at all. Not one bit. I wasted no time calling Tiffany and we talked for over an hour and a half about the many connections we shared and the paths that led us to each other. It was like talking to someone I've known my whole life! We both agree that our paths have crossed for a purpose that is greater than us and I truly consider her an amazing new friend.
Fast forward a few weeks... I received my own copy of My Yellow Balloon in the mail from Tiffany. Holding it in my hands, I felt like a kid on Christmas. The illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful and the story of Joey and his yellow balloon touched a part of my heart that no other book has done before. I received many beautiful, wonderful books after Callie passed away and each of them gave me some small dose of comfort that I held onto. But this book... This book!! It was like it was written for me and only me. I heard my voice in Joey's voice and my story jumped up from the pages. If I could have written a book about coping with loss, this would have been it. Tiffany perfectly captured my own thoughts and feelings about grief in a simple children's book. Leave it to children's literature to strip something so complicated down to its core and to allow the reader the opportunity to connect on so many different levels.
Tiffany was so gracious as to talk on the phone with me for another few hours giving me her 'director's cut' of the book. She told me all the hidden secrets and symbolism that stretched across its pages. I was amazed at how much thought she put into each and every word and illustration. When we spoke, she mentioned that everyone has some sort of 'yellow balloon'. We have all lost something at some point in our lives. Maybe it was something physical, like a lost toy. Maybe it was a death of a beloved pet. Perhaps, we have lost a family member, a child has gone away to college, a marriage has broken apart. We have all lost. We all have a yellow balloon like Joey.
The most important part of the author's message is that loss transforms you. On the other side of a loss, you are different. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different. In my opinion, it is this transformation that helps give meaning to the loss when there is none. I would give ANYTHING to have Callie back, even if only for a day, but I do know that losing her kicked into motion this journey of mine and I treasure it. I see the world with new eyes now and I'm not sure that I would like to see it with my old eyes again. What things did I care about then that seem trivial now? What priorities did I have? What precious time did I waste?
I'm certainly not perfect and I have felt myself slipping back into attitudes or behaviors that I had before Callie, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But all it takes is one glimpse of something yellow or one gorgeous sunset to bring me right back to my new realizations, the new life, the new me- the reminder that life is so dear and precious and should be lived in such a way as to be a part of the celebration.
Although the yellow balloon symbolizes loss in the book, I have always viewed our yellow balloon as a symbol for hope. When thinking more about the book, I realized how much the two symbols in fact go hand-in-hand. When you experience a loss, you must cling desperately to hope. Hope is the North Star in the night sky for the lost sailor. It is what you put your sights on and navigate towards to get through to the other side. Losing hope would be the most devastating loss of all.
It's 12:01 a.m. and this story was burning inside me so badly that I had to get out of bed to finally write it down. It's taken a few months to burst out of me, but I knew the words would come when I least expected it... When I get these feelings, I know it is a little nudge from my angel above to share whatever nugget of a thought I have nagging in my brain and I believe that there is always a reason for that. That someone, somewhere is reading this and really needed to hear these words today.
It's Christmas. For most, it is a time for celebration, but for anyone who has lost their 'yellow balloon' it is an extremely painful time of year. I hope that sharing our story with you will help you see that, although you may have suffered a terrible loss, you can still have hope and that God is always with you. And that is enough. I promise. Even if it feels like you are barely hanging on. Cling to it and hold on for dear life.
"Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey towards it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us." ~Samuel Smiles