Balloon release offers holiday hope, healing

8 years ago
    CARIBOU, Maine — This Saturday, two local women are looking skyward to reach out to loved ones lost, and are inviting others to join in their tribute.

It all began just recently when Irma Anderson of New Sweden, still touched by the note her Army dad wrote to her when she was five days old, wrote a letter back to him. She thought releasing it by balloon would be a moving way to send her words heavenward.

A special balloon release ceremony is planned this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Caribou’s Maine Veterans Cemetery, and Anderson will be there with her letter, ready to send it upward along with the love she has held for her dad all these years.

To help with the tribute, Caribou’s National Weather Service Office is donating the use of a weather balloon and Matheson Gas of Presque Isle is contributing the helium; individual letters will be attached to the larger balloon and sent aloft. And, as part of the ceremony, a digital “Taps” will be offered.

Though the focus may be on the military and their families, Anderson pointed out this week that everyone is invited to write a letter to a loved one. No funds are being raised and there is no cost to attend. Participants are encouraged to place their letters in a zippered plastic bag and attach them to a small balloon. Those who can’t be there are encouraged to release balloons wherever they are.

When Anderson told her story in the Aroostook Republican Nov. 25, she expressed that so many veterans and families couldn’t communicate with each other years ago, and so they never got to say that last “goodbye” or “I love you.”

“You can’t really be together, all you can do is remember them and share the good memories,” she said.

She hoped other folks would want to honor their deceased veterans, as well as current servicemembers who can’t be at home, by writing their own letters. She felt sharing in the ceremony would be particularly healing at the holidays. It was, after all, at Christmas some 70 years ago when her father wrote to his then-5-day-old daughter.

“My Dear Little Irma Lee,” began Clovis Jandreau’s letter, dated Dec. 22, 1943, “Daddy is disappointed that he couldn’t send you a Christmas present, but he sure thinks of you just the same.”

Anderson thought she must have been in grade school when she learned of the letter, and ever since then has kept it close and reflected on it. In her reply, which she will release Saturday, Anderson tells her father that he really did give her a present after all: “the loving, heartwarming words in your letter.”

The holidays this year are especially poignant for April Caron of Caribou, as this is the first season she will celebrate without her husband.

“My husband Conrad passed away suddenly after a tragic accident seven months ago,” she explained. “It has been very dramatic for us. He was such a great husband and dad to our children. When I read the article in the paper regarding Irma’s dad’s letter, I shared it with my children. It touched us greatly.”

Caron and daughter Michele Lynn Caron of Benton City, Wash., and son Marty Caron of San Diego, Calif., have each written their letters, and Caron herself will be at Saturday’s event at the Veterans Cemetery.

She said the three have shared how writing their letters really helped begin the healing process.

“It gets your feelings out on paper, and if there’s anything you wanted to say that you’ve left unsaid, it just helps immensely,” she said. “It helped my daughter immensely to get it out [in writing]. It started her healing process, where she could feel that she had done everything she could do to tell him whatever she wanted to express to him. And my son told me it just really helped him to empty himself on paper.”

Caron said she has been spreading the word about the balloon release, particularly to those she knows who have lost a loved one recently. She, like Anderson, hopes people can find comfort and peace from the event and this unique process of sharing their emotions.

“It gives you that peace,” she added. “I felt there was joy coming back into my heart. I could see sunshine.”

Add to that this irony: Caron works at Re/Max Real Estate. The company’s symbol? A balloon.