How a Single Red Balloon Was a Powerful Reminder of My Son
Your classmates moved up to middle school yesterday. They reached a major milestone in their lives. It is one they will remember forever. You weren’t there in the flesh. Yet floating right next to the row of seats was a single red balloon. A powerful reminder that you were there in spirit. Your friends’ faces lit up with smiles as their names were called to receive certificates and awards. Under those smiles some of them saw the balloon and it touched their wound. You will forever be remembered as the boy who died right before first grade started. Over the past few weeks of seeing your friends it has become clear that this event has touched all of their lives. Those who were closer to you struggling with the idea that one day they can be on a playdate with their 6-year-old buddy, saying they will see him on the first day of school, and the next day he can be gone. The uncertainty and fragility of life plaguing their 6-year-old selves.
Your own brothers are obviously not immune from this either. While we openly discuss you and our emotions surrounding losing you, I often question how they truly are feeling. Sometimes they are transparent in their feelings and other times it is a mystery. Leading up to yesterday’s moving up ceremony many emotions coursed through me. As the mother of the family, I believe this means that many emotions coursed through the entire family. Unfortunately when children are younger, their emotions often manifest behaviorally. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that children under 5 may, “cling to a parent, return to behaviors common to being younger and show signs of fear,” among other symptoms. These are behaviors that I have seen present themselves in my youngest son. The NIH states that children 6-11 may, “have nightmares or problems sleeping, have outbursts of anger and start fights,” among other symptoms. Again, I have seen these in my 7-year-old. These behaviors are also common in children who have not seen and experienced what they did. The uncertainty and fragility of this situation plagues me as a mother.
Child loss sets a ripple in motion that affects many people, some for a lifetime. Your brothers are forever at risk to falling prey to their emotions. The fear this ignites in me is raging. What if one day they turn to drugs or alcohol to escape the pain they experienced when they were younger? We will always give them unconditional love and support, but what if that’s not enough? This is where my trauma manifests itself. In knowing that nothing can be controlled, my fears arise. Uncertainty, fragility.
There is no telling where time will take any of us. We have learned that nothing is guaranteed. Life is precious and each moment truly counts. We can’t control anything. We simply are not that powerful. All we can do is use the past to guide us in the present. We can let the visual of that single red balloon remind us to do our best to stay present and appreciate life. We can carry on your spirit by spreading kindness and love. We can recognize that the uncertainty and fragility of life is truth, but not let it take over. Love to heaven…
A version of this story originally appeared on Christian’s Red Balloon.