99: Elmo Takes a Nosedive

99: Elmo Takes a Nosedive

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Elmo Takes a Nosedive

Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.

~Vietnamese Proverb

My brother Ralph’s death shattered my world. Losing him so suddenly knocked my feet out from under me because he was my lifeline, my confidant, my best friend, and my support through some trying times.

Ralph and his wife, Martha, had moved to my town after his retirement. After Martha’s death, Ralph and I became even closer than before. I did what I could to help him through his loss like he’d done for me so many times.

He and I loved to go to the local auction in our small town. At one particular auction, a laughing Elmo figure from Sesame Street was up for bids. I raised my hand. Nobody else wanted him, so I won the bid. When they brought Elmo to our table, Ralph flipped a button on the bottom of Elmo’s foot, and the fuzzy red character began laughing, shaking and walking toward me. We couldn’t find the button to turn him off, and everyone in the entire room was laughing right along with Elmo. Ralph and I laughed so hard that night that our stomachs hurt.

From that day forward he and I had a daily routine of sending each other a text message with a picture of Elmo attached. Elmo was our way of saying “smile” to each other. The morning of Ralph’s death I received his usual message asking me how things were going, with a picture of Elmo’s smiling face. I replied that all was well, and returned that picture to him. There was nothing in our conversation to indicate that he was not feeling well. But later that day he had a fatal heart attack.

My grief over Ralph’s death consumed me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I missed him and his crazy antics. I missed having someone care about me enough to inquire about my wellbeing every single day of the week. I loved all four of my brothers, but for some reason Ralph and I were cut from the same mold. He was five years older than me, but we remained close even after both of us were grown and married with families of our own.

I was thinking about him one morning about two weeks after his death as I loaded hay into the golf cart to take to the pasture for the horses and donkeys. As I approached the pasture, I noticed something unusual. A helium balloon from some unknown source had landed just inside the gate, and a small breeze caused it to move back and forth across the grass. I noticed that there was a string attached to it, so my best guess was that a child had accidentally let go of it somewhere, and it had lost most of its helium and taken a nosedive into my pasture.

Because plastic can cause great harm to horses and donkeys if ingested, I opened the gate and walked in to retrieve it. As I approached it, the balloon suddenly rose into the air just out of my reach. That’s when I noticed it. Elmo. The balloon had Elmo’s smiling face on it.

Was Ralph sending me a message? Was he telling me to “smile” as he did every morning?

“Ralph, is that you?” I asked.

Just as I asked that question, the balloon did a curtsy, then flew back up. It rose higher and higher, flew over the fence, and headed toward the barn. The horses came out of their stalls, snorting and prancing, as it flew toward their paddock. Up it went, over the top of the barn, across the next pasture, and headed toward the hundred-year-old oak trees in the distance. I figured it didn’t have enough air in it to keep it out of the tall trees, but I was so wrong.

Elmo’s smiling face kept climbing. Every so often the balloon dipped down as though it was waving to me, but then it would right itself and climb higher. It approached the trees, but then it seemed to stop. It danced there in the air for several minutes.

Then over the tops of the tall trees it went. When it reached the top, Elmo’s face took a bow, then continued on its journey, disappearing from my view. It went out of my life as quickly as it had come in.

“I got your message,” I said as tears flowed down my cheeks. All the pain and emptiness I felt poured out. I was completely drained.

Suddenly the tears stopped and a smile came across my face. I remembered the night of the auction when we first bought Elmo, and the laughter he brought to us.

“I know you want me to smile, but it’s been so hard to do since you’ve been gone. But I promise you that from this day forward I will give it my best shot.”

More than two years have passed since Ralph’s death. Every time I think of that unexplained helium balloon it brings a smile to my face.

~Carol Huff

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