Release of a Different Kind

Something is different this year!

A letter to my brother, Gordon on his birthday…

Dear Little Brother,

It’s November 8th again, six years since you left us. And as on every anniversary, I release a red balloon for you, for our shared birthstone, a deep garnet.

I take my red balloon to the clerk who inflates it for me, telling me it’s not really red and maybe I don’t want it. I assure him it’s ok, not bothering to tell him why you won’t notice or even care about the color.  He ties a nice pink ribbon to the end of the pink-supposed-to-be-red balloon and I head over to Glenco Beach, on Lake Michigan.

The first time I released a balloon for you, I went to my favorite beach. I knew you’d like it too. It’s a wild, rugged beach, but too far to drive today and too cold.

Illinois Beach State Park, Zion, IL

Here in Glencoe today, the wind is whipping the balloon around in crazy circles. I hang on tight.

I don’t want it to fly out of my hand until I’m ready.

That first year, you (well, your balloon) slipped right out of my hand before I was ready, just as you slipped out of our lives with no warning. That day I went back to the car and got another balloon and released another one when I was ready!

Letting go of the balloon seems to mean something different this year.

In the past the balloon was a symbol of you – the little brother I prayed for – the one who shared my birth month. The one who is gone and left me an only child again.

Today it seems to be a symbol of letting go, but letting go of what, of whom. How do I let go of you? You’re part of who I am.

I turn to leave after your balloon disappears, the wind from the lake lifting it to the south and up over the bluff.

Each year, on these anniversary days, I look for a rock before I leave the beach. And today I look again. This beach has few rocks, but I find one. . . A rock within a rock . . . part of, yet separate. . . how I see you and me.

As I ponder these things over the next few days, I realize this experience is a symbol of letting go of the grief surrounding the loss.

Early in my grief, I read an article about the need to release grief. I wondered how you know when that needs to happen. And is it a specific moment in time, or a gradual adjustment to the loss? **

I still don’t know for sure, but it was important for me to take my own journey through grief. I had to embrace it, accept the invitation your loss brought, run into the darkness so I could find the light, get the help I need and keep writing. Then when the time was right for me, I find release from the grief. The anniversary of your loss becomes a celebration of YOU and the gift you were in my life, rather than a commemoration of the sadness and grief of losing you.

I have learned: having formulas and timetables are much easier for those who want to help the griever, but not helpful for the one grieving. Had my friends told me I needed to let go of my grief rather than letting me work through my grief, I would have focused on the impossibility of letting go.

I am grateful for friends and family who allowed me to journey my own path, incorporating the unresolved losses of the past so that I could arrive on the timetable God had for me. I suspect there is still more to this journey, more to learn, but this anniversary was a milestone.

It feels good little brother. I wish you were here so I could tell you all of this in person. That’s silly . . . I suspect you’d have little patience for this symbolism and processing, but since you’re not here, you can’t give me a hard time about it. We were so different, yet alike in many ways.

I love you little brother. Wish you were here. I’ll see you in heaven someday!

Your Big Sis

PS:  As I look back over the years since this event, I was not letting go of grief itself, rather with time and facing the grief, there were times it did not overwhelm me. At this point I had cared for my mother, seeing her to her heavenly home the year before just one year ago.   It had been a tumultuous journey and I was learning to “live” again.

I have learned and accepted grief will always be with me.

6 Replies to “Release of a Different Kind”

  1. Carol,

    Thank you for sharing this with us/me. Honored.
    Feeling misty here as I read your words. I’m so glad you had family and friends who supported you in your grief process. This is hopeful: “Then when the time was right for me, I found release from the grief. The anniversary of your loss becomes a celebration of YOU and the gift you were in my life, rather than a commemoration of the sadness and grief of losing you. – See more at:

  2. traveling the journey in community is really important to healing, isn’t it?! thank you for your companionship on the journey!

  3. Though you shared this with me in person, reading it again stirs my heart! Traveling with you through your grief journey and my own has been a blessing beyond words. Blessings to you, my dearest of friends.

  4. I love to hear this “Letting go” part for you Carol. Your blog helps the rest of us in our letting go processes. Thank you and Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m glad I found you this year.

    Love, Elaine

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