A sample of this book was provided to facilitate this review. All opinions and thoughts are our own!
Two weeks ago, my uncle died from lung cancer. It was advanced when diagnosed, so his death was fairly quick, happening within about 6 weeks from his diagnosis, if that. A few days short of a year ago, my grandfather also passed away. That we would lose his youngest son so soon, and again be burying a loved one during the holidays once again, makes those still-raw wounds ache all the more.
A year ago, I felt unprepared for helping my children prepare to let go of their great-grandfather, other than to have them visit with him and be part of the family gathering around him in his last days.
This year, we thought of some ways to share our love with Uncle D from out of town. The boys painted pictures for him early after he was diagnosed- one of Spider-Man fighting the cancer and the other of a crocodile chomping it away (or something- the 19 month old’s story was a bit of guesswork). When we thought Uncle D might be going through chemotherapy after radiation, we decided to make a warm blanket for him, to have a way to connect with him while he was in the hospitals where we couldn’t visit. We picked out flannel fabrics for a quilt- each child picked two- as well as fleece for a tie blanket. The fleece blanket made it to him to enjoy before he passed, but, sadly, the flannel one did not. It was pieced but needed a back, so we took the flannel quilt blanket with us to the visitation for the family viewing and shared it with him. Sorta. Because his body is here but his soul isn’t anymore. And then the boys and I talked about how we would finish the quilt and they would be able to curl up under it together, and we could all remember Uncle D.
We took time to visit in the hospital, when we could. I was given descriptions of what wires or whatnot might be hooked up to Uncle D, so I could talk to the boys about them before we went to visit. This preparatory talk helped a lot when they were visiting Dad-dad last year, to help reduce fear and anxiety because of the strange medical equipment. Uncle D didn’t really have those, so he looked pretty normal to the boys (but sick). When we went to visit, we also took some favorite toys and a harmonica, so they could share and have something to do to interact with Uncle D. I remembered this was hard for them last year, with Dad-dad. When he was sick but alert enough to watch them and talk to them briefly, they felt awkward and, after a few minutes, whined to go home to play. This way, they were able to be silly and charming and more comfortable while bringing Uncle D amusement and laughter that he talked about frequently in the days between visits and up to his death. With both, we used “hand hugs” because it eventually hurt them for us to hug them.
I wasn’t really sure where to find a good book to help talk about Uncle D being gone but still a part of us, or about the grieving process. Enter My Yellow Balloon, by Tiffany Papageorge, which I was given to review right before Thanksgiving, a week after Uncle D passed away.
It sat on my kitchen table the morning after I got it from Michelle, and my oldest found it. I walked by in the flurry of getting all the morning chores done, to see that he was sitting on the floor in the middle of the kitchen, turning the pages and reading it for himself first.
“Mama, read it to me,” he said a few minutes later. “It’s a story about a boy who loses his yellow balloon.” We curled up on the couch with his little brother and started to read.
The pictures reflect the moods of the story so clearly and beautifully. Erwin Madrid did a fantastic job with his illustrations, capturing the many emotions Joey experiences. My boys were entranced by them and we lingered over each page to take in the details. Telling the story of a little boy who gets a yellow balloon from the fair, and his adventures playing with his balloon every day, until one day, the balloon slips off his wrist and floats away, My Yellow Balloon describes the grieving process and how it takes time. First, the little boy is angry. Then confused. Then very sad. He even dreams that his balloon has returned and they are again going on all kinds of adventures.
I especially like that the little boy’s grief spans different seasons, where he goes from missing his balloon all of the time, to a lot of the time, to some of the time, until he realizes that, “…whenever I see the sun, big and bright, I’ll feel you with me. Wherever I am, wherever I go, you are a part of me and I am a part of you. We’re a part of each other forever and ever.” This line was most comforting to my older guy. He pondered over it for quite some time and has referred to it several times since the first time we read the book.
At the end, there is a picture of balloons that are clustered together (those that are here) and some that are floating away (those who have passed on). This image was a great one for my older one. He specifically picked two (ignoring the names on them) to represent Uncle D and Dad-dad, so we can touch them after reading the books and remember them again, and know that our grief will pass, but our memories of them will not.
I look forward to sharing this book with friends who have also lost loved ones, as it is extremely powerful, yet so simply told and easy to relate to that my toddler also thoroughly enjoyed it.
You can find My Yellow Balloon on Amazon
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We have a tree planted in our yard for my dad. We often go there and talk to him and have picnics. It’s like a part of him is with us.