A sign from above is comforting reassurance to a grieving sister.
Purple was my twin sister Suzy’s favorite color. It was the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses on her wedding day, the color of the sweater she had worn most often, a gift from me.
And now, on a cold, rainy day in March, I stood in her driveway with my family, Suzy’s children and her husband, all of us clutching purple balloons, our eyes wet with tears. In a minute we would release our grip and the balloons would float up to the heavens. The balloons were our way of letting go. Moving on.
It had been exactly two years since that horrible day when Suzy had a massive stroke and died at the age of 41. The grief and shock had slowly begun to fade, but I seemed to feel her absence even more.
I had depended on her for everything–her good humor, her common sense, her organizational skills, her guidance, her voice on the phone reassuring me that I was doing the right thing. Now I seemed to need her more than ever.
Mom couldn’t be here with us for this last farewell. Her health had declined rapidly since Suzy’s death. She rarely left her home anymore. She’d become increasingly forgetful, didn’t get together with her friends, couldn’t even remember how to play cards. The mail was stacking up, the house was a mess. She kept asking me the same questions again and again when I dashed over every day from the school where I worked as a lunch lady.
If Suzy were around she’d help me find the right caregiver and the right nursing home, I thought, not for the first time. Now I had to make the hard decisions. Alone.
The wind tugged at the balloons, pulling on the strings and the notes that were attached: “Keep watching over us, Mommy.” “I love you, Aunt Suzy.” “To my wife, with all my love.” All I had managed to write was, “I miss you.”
“Okay, one, two, three... let go!” I said. The wind kicked up and the balloons lifted. They floated up past the bare branches of the trees, rising into the clouds.
We stared at the sky until the little purple dots disappeared. “Take these to heaven along with our prayers,” I said. “Take them straight to Suzy.” If only Suzy could somehow send a message back to me. What do we do about Mom?
Two weeks later on April Fools’ Day, my youngest called me from upstairs: “Mom, there’s a purple balloon out back. Do you think it’s the one we sent Aunt Suzy?”
I dashed outside to grab it, but the wind picked it up. I chased it through my neighbor’s yard before realizing how silly I must have looked. I wasn’t going to solve my problem chasing purple balloons.
All the while Mom was only getting worse. I put her on waiting lists for nursing homes and spent hours on the phone. And I kept running into purple balloons.
I was at the bowling alley with friends. I was telling my story about the April Fools’ Day balloon when I noticed an employee blowing up balloons for someone’s birthday. Purple balloons. Just as I looked over, one balloon popped.
On a walk when I was looking for guidance after another frustrating call with a full-to-capacity nursing home, there was a purple balloon bobbing up and down on my neighbor’s lawn. I couldn’t help but think of Suzy. She was the practical one. If she were here I knew she would say, “Donna, it’s only a coincidence.”
On Christmas morning Mom had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. She was discharged to a nursing home with round-the-clock care, but one neither of us liked. The staff was rude and overworked. Mom often looked disheveled and uncared for. “Mom, we’ll find you a better place,” I promised her.
More waiting lists, more phone calls. No room, no beds. I was at the end of my rope.
I was sharing my frustrations with my boss one day while making lunch in the school kitchen. A coworker overheard us talking. “Have you tried Pembrooke?” she suggested.
“I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” I asked.
“On the other side of town,” she replied. “Not too far.” Just 10 minutes away.
By some miracle a room was available. Mom could be transferred in a matter of days. It had to be better than where she was. Didn’t it?
I got in the car and drove straight there to check it out. “Suzy,” I said as though she were sitting in the seat next to me, “this place sounds good, but how will I know for sure? You would know just the right questions to ask and the people to talk to. I sure could use your help right now.”
I looked for the building with the tall white pillars out front. I’d been told it would be on my right, set high up on a hill. But it was impossible to read the tiny addresses from the road. If Suzy were really in the car with me she would have been able to check. Had I driven too far? Did I need to turn around? I wondered.
Then something caught my eye. I slowed to a stop. A purple balloon was tied to a wooden post, dancing in the breeze. And across the driveway? A sign: “Pembrooke.”
I burst out laughing. “Got the message, Suzy,” I said and turned into the drive.
Mom was at Pembrooke for three years and the care was wonderful. The staff was kind, respectful, courteous, and even in her confused state Mom was comfortable and happy. It was an answer to prayer.
I’ll always miss Suzy. When you love someone that much, the void they leave behind never closes completely. But I know that she didn’t leave me alone. A trail of purple balloons told me so.