I planned my escape to the last detail. I need to leave DisneyWorld w ith rent money. But I spot him – the one last Disney strategically vendor placed between the tram and me. To late – he shoves an inflatable big-eared rat in my daughter’s face and the giant sucking sound heard
is grocery money leaving my wallet.

Ok, ok, I buy her the balloon. What’s the big deal? But, I warn her, if she looses this one, she won’t get a new one. The balloon is so big it needs it’s own tram seat and we barely manage to get to our
parking space. But as we were getting into our car, our daughter let out a blood-curdling scream. She lost her balloon.

What is the strong pull balloons have on little girls? Whatever it is, some keep the fascination long after childhood. It was that fascination that drew a college freshman off to the elevated side of a Houston
freeway one morning. On her way home from college registration, she decided to stop and take a picture of the Goodyear Blimp as it was rising over Houston.

In the instant it took the camera’s to focus, a semi-truck, swerved slightly to avoid a hazard and found no resistance in the slight frame of this balloon-watching fan. She was dead on the scene.

When victims this young, Emergency Responders will often send them to the hospital because they are ill-equipped to make death notifications. In the hospital social workers and chaplains can support the family and help make funeral arrangements that are complicated by unexpected deaths.

The ER clerk gave me the girl’s name and told me that the mother had been asked to come to the hospital but had not been given any additional information. I was told to station myself at the front door of the ER and look for a “Mrs. Stephens.”

I didn’t know Mrs. Stevens, but I was sure of what she would look like. She would look like all of us would look if we were called at the office and told “there has been an accident involving your daughter. “The doctors are with’ her now. Can you come to the hospital?”

With all the police in ER that day, I didn’t notice when a female officer hurried past me to the front desk until I heard, “I’m Mrs. Stephens. You have my daughter.”

“Oh, God!” I thought. That was a prayer – not an exclamation. How could I do this? “Mrs. Stephens,” I began with a professional air. This would be the best way to handle this. “I’m the Chaplain. Please come
with me. I did a pivot and bolted forward, but the jerk to my shoulder reversed my forward momentum.

‘No!” she said, as she swung me around. “Tell me right here.”

Squarely faced off with me, she grabbed me by the shoulders, “Just tell me what happened. Is my daughter ok? Just tell me!” she ordered.

My reasoning was a bit incoherent and cowardly. The gun she wore made me a bit more disposed to her orders. “No, ma’am, I blurted. She is not ok. She died.”

Grabbing at my suit coat she slid down my torso like a woman sliding off a cliff. “NOOOOOO!” she screamed sounding much like my daughter screaming for her lost balloon. Her daughter –not too unlike that pretty“ balloon” my daughter released had been in her grasp only a few hours earlier when she kissed it good bye.

She asked to see her daughter. We tried to discourage that and explain in the simplest way we could, that her daughter was really “broken.” But she persisted.

She entered the room and there were more wails of denial interspersed with staccato sentences explaining that she had just recently lost her police officer brother in a duty-related shooting. She hugged her daughter like a child, who had found her lost balloon, but the balloon was broken now and there was no way to re-inflate it.

There is something about balloons that reinforce that cliché about the only love “meant to be” is the love that returns to you after you release it. Releasing a child is much more difficult, but, at some point, if you are to let your child fly her own path, you must let her go. In releasing her, there is every possibility that you may be faced with inexplicable unfairness, but the alternative is to keep that balloon locked up until
it’s buoyancy can no longer elevate it above the shallow draft in your house.

You see, for a while, my daughter did find a great way to keep her balloons. She denied their flight, deflated them, and tacked them to a wall resembling wanted posters in the Disney Post office.

You can also deny the flight of a child, but at some point the resistance ceases and the child no longer resembles the love that originally inflated it. Pin the child to the wall and she becomes a trophy – a protected and safe trophy, but a trophy does not love.

By the way, I couldn’t make good my original threat. I did buy another Mickey balloon and we still had food money. Now she has a car and it seems like I rarely see her, but when I do catch a glimpse of her, she is almost always flying high!