The yellow balloon

Years ago I read a story in the United Church Observer. I liked it so much I cut it out and kept it. I recently contacted the author and asked her for permission to print it. My guest blogger today is Linda van Omme.

The Yellow Balloon

© Linda van Omme 2011

I hadn’t thought much about spirits, until that day. The Hallowe’en horrors on the TV screen didn’t affect me much, and the recent flush of angels flitting through the living rooms of the nation struck me as more soppy than spiritual. Spirits didn’t really touch me.

Until Kevin died.

My husband, a United Church minister, first met Kevin soon after we moved to Nanaimo, BC. Kevin was a personable 26-year-old with a bright future in front of him. But Kevin was dying. During that period, my husband visited him often and was moved, each time, by his courage and his spiritual growth.

The afternoon of the funeral, the church was packed. Many young men and women sat silently, eyes glistening, tissue clutched in their hands. It was during the PowerPoint slide presentation that a yellow balloon, part of a multicoloured bunch that had become lodged at the peak of our church’s A-frame ceiling following their joyful Easter morning release, began, very slowly, to descend straight down, in front of the flickering images of Kevin’s life. It came to rest, hanging in the air, just in front of the screen. Some of us smiled a bit, as one does when quirky things happen in church, and then shifted our minds back to the sad proceedings.

But the yellow balloon started to move again. This time it floated, ribbon dangling just out of reach, away from the front of the church, just above the heads of Kevin’s family and friends.

“Odd,” I thought. “There must be a draft in here.”

I watched the balloon make its way down the pews—a welcome small distraction for those of us in the choir who could clearly see the sorrow on the faces in front of us.

When the yellow balloon reached the last of the pews, it moved across the back, toward the side windows, and then began to drift toward the front again.

My thoughts turned to scientific considerations of airflow and thermal dynamics—certainly not to the movement of the spirit. But the yellow balloon was not through with us. It returned to its spot at the front of the church and, again, toured across the congregation. This time, it floated straight above Kevin’s mother, its ribbon dangling within inches of her head. She was smiling.

“This can’t be happening,” a choir member beside me whispered. “I don’t believe in this sort of thing.”

Neither did I, but it was happening whether we believed in it or not. It was like we were split in two: half of our minds in tune with Kevin’s ceremony, the other half simply experiencing, in wonder, the path of the yellow balloon. We sang the anthem from our hearts, tears trickling down our faces.

The second time the balloon reached the back, turned and proceeded up the side aisle, it was less of a surprise; we had seen it before. But when it stopped at the front window and just hung there as if waiting politely, I wondered what it was planning next.

The funeral was almost over. A final prayer, a benediction, and our goodbye to this wonderful young man would be complete. But when my husband moved into place and bowed his head to begin the prayer, the balloon moved as well. It gently floated from its resting place by the window, over his bowed head, and hung there, its ribbon touching his hair.

When the yellow balloon then moved to rest above the choir, the words “You’re welcome” came into my mind.

At the end of the service, the yellow balloon floated to the centre of the front of the church. There it stayed, bobbing softly, until one of the kids from Kevin’s family caught its ribbon.

When I heard later that yellow was Kevin’s favourite colour, it was more of a confirmation than a surprise. A confirmation of something I still don’t understand, but something good. Whether it is realistic, or logical, or scientific to think that a spirit—a funny, caring spirit—can show its presence through an everyday thing like a helium balloon, I don’t know.

I only know that I do think about spirits sometimes now, good spirits, especially when I see a yellow balloon.

© Linda van Omme 2011

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