A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Daddy Debrief: Balloons

by David DeWitt
A few weeks ago Finn and I were fighting monsters in the back yard when he said, “You have to get that red lobster monster over there!”
I went along with it and pretended to fight a big lobster. But he wasn’t satisfied.
“No it’s really over there in the bush,” he said.
Then I saw it. Something shiny and red reflecting through the branches.
It was a deflated red metallic balloon. I pulled it out to take to the trash but noticed some writing on it.
The red balloon. Photo by David DeWitt.
“Happy Birthday,” it said. There were a couple of names and “We miss you both” on one side.
There was a phone number with the message: “Tell me where this balloon was found.”
It looked like it had burst open, perhaps from reaching a high altitude.
I texted the number saying I had found it.
“You just made my day. Thank you so much,” came the reply just a few minutes later.
The balloon had been released in Philadelphia, about a 150 miles away.
I didn’t ask any more questions right away, but I kept thinking about it, wondering who the people were on the balloon. A couple of weeks later I texted again saying I was a writer and asking if they wanted to share their story.
We eventually spoke on the phone. He didn’t want his name mentioned but seemed happy to share. The two names on the balloon were family members who had passed. One was his brother-in-law who had survived a horrific car crash. “But then he was prescribed a drug that took him down the wrong path,” he said “He died of an overdose. My wife and I have been trying to raise awareness on the dangers of prescription drugs,” he said. “He died too soon.” The other name was a beloved uncle who on the day that he passed “had just visited our whole family,” then suffered a sudden massive heart attack.
“They were both good people. Good at what they did,” he said. “Sending the balloon up is like sending a message to them,” he said, “Getting as close as we can.”
I didn’t ask why he put his phone number on there. When we send out a thought or prayer, it’s nice to know that someone heard it.
Over the last several months, three of my cousins have passed suddenly and one just a couple of weeks after this balloon showed up. We had lost contact for years, but I have vivid memories of us all as kids at family reunions and extended summer visits.
There is a yearning to reach across the miles and years of separation.
Speaking on the phone with with my cousin Judy, sister of the cousin who died most recently, I had the oddest mix of emotions. Sharing sorrow, interspersed with the sheer joy of reconnection.
We promised to stay in better touch. To at least have an occasional chat.
To make sure our thought balloons are received.

David Dewitt is an artist, blogger, and painter who lives with his family in the Rondout Valley. For more visit daviddewitt.com.