Message for Frankie
My nephew died four years ago. He had just turned 19 and was co-captain of his high school wrestling team. He was jogging before a track meet one afternoon when a teammate drove up behind him. Horseplay. An accident. A tragedy.
Frankie was also my godson. Every year on his birthday, I visit his gravesite and release a helium balloon. I stand there watching it until it’s out of sight. I like to think it’s going up to Frankie in heaven and not headed for the trees in the next town. It’s my quiet way of remembrance. It does more for me, to soothe my soul, than it does for Frankie, who probably has no need of earthly gestures.
Today as I stood in the cemetery, holding the lovely latex balloon, I thought how hard it is to let go. It goes against everything in my nature to let go of that balloon. From an early age we’re taught to hold on tightly, and that’s what we do: hold on for dear life to the things and people we love.
One of the hardest things we must do is to let go—of the string on the balloon, of a loved one’s hand, of a favorite old sweatshirt or toy.
We hold on so tightly to what we love, and how it hurts when we must part with it.
When I was scared and overwhelmed as I went through breast-cancer treatments, a friend said, “Let go and let God.” I had never heard that phrase, but now I hear it all the time. Let go and let God. But let go of what? Let God do what?
Let go of our fears and attachments and our need to control and make everything according to our plan and let God lead the way. Let God lay the path for us.
I believe the saying would be better if it were “Let go and trust God.” Trust that whatever path you find yourself on—even the difficult paths like losing a wonderful, gentle nephew so suddenly and so young—it is according to God’s plan. So as I stand at Frankie’s grave, I release the balloon. As it floats away with my whispered messages to Frankie, I realize that my letting go of that balloon is an act of trust. I trust that Frankie is where he should be. I trust that God has reasons for taking him so young. I trust that Frankie knows my messages: “Happy Birthday, my dear godson. We miss you so very much. Please watch over your sister. Please help to ease the grief of your dear father, such a good man, such a devoted dad. Please help your mother and brother to smile more and worry less. Please help them all to experience joy again in their lives.”
The wind gave the cold a bite today. The balloon struggled to gain altitude, but it eventually stopped going sideways and was carried upward and away. I found it fitting that it was flying to the east, and like the wise men more than two thousand years ago, I looked eastward in the sky with wonder. I wanted to feel hope, but I was not sure what I hoped for. Peace, perhaps. Peace for my loved ones, eternal peace for Frankie, peace for my own frenzied spirit.
I thought I was sending a message to Frankie; but in the letting go and with the willing release of the balloon, I think I was the one who received a message.