Outer Banks Mom: Sending balloons to heaven

By on April 16, 2019

Every Outer Banks local and every Outer Banks vacationer has a story about why the Outer Banks is their happy place. Whether this is home and always has been or it just makes you feel like you’re coming home every summer, the Outer Banks holds a special place in all of our hearts.

I know that my Outer Banks story began with my grandparents. When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents got together to plan an extended vacation for my family, including my cousins, aunts and uncles. They all joined together to bring us to the Outer Banks.

Between Duck and Corolla, we vacationed every single year, rarely missing a family member because no one wanted to miss the best week of the summer. I have so many memories of staying in beautiful soundside homes and poolside Bingo nights at Corolla Light. I have amazing memories of going for night swims with my sisters and riding the trolley.

I can distinctly remember conversations that I had with my grandfather on the back deck of a giant beach house in Corolla. I can remember the way that the air smelled and the way that his voice sounded as he tried to talk above the cicadas to tell me a story or just to make me laugh.

One Summer while we were all hanging out at the pool, my grandfather overheard me trying desperately to convince my Mom to buy me a giant inflatable shark. He laughed and said that he didn’t think I needed it because I already had a “Great White Shark” as he pointed to his pale skin that had been covered by his golf polo the other days of the year. Oh, he had the biggest laugh over his quick-witted remark!

Losing my grandfather when I was in high school was the hardest thing that I had ever gone through. I really didn’t know how the Earth would continue to spin without him. But my grandmother’s strength and her beautiful desire to continue their legacy on her own is what kept us all going.

Over the past 15 years, we have all made beautiful memories together. Outer Banks trips continued to happen. Family memories continued to be made. The Outer Banks still felt like coming home, even when we were missing our patriarch.

When my husband and I somehow mustered up the courage to move here, we were so excited. When we finally got the keys to our first beach house, we rushed right over to begin moving things in.

As we pulled into the neighborhood on a scorching hot day in August, we saw kids packing their car for the beach. Shoved in the back of an old pick-up truck was a giant inflatable shark that stopped me right in my tracks. I knew it was a sign.

Today, I find myself on my own back deck having conversations with my own children as we all try to hear what our youngest is saying over the sound of the cicadas. These beaches always make me feel so close to my grandfather.

After our big move to the Outer Banks in 2011, my grandmother and I chatted over the phone often. During every single phone call she would tell me how happy she was that I followed my heart to the Outer Banks.

When my grandmother passed away last April, our family gathered for a traditional funeral ceremony in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa.

After the funeral, many of us got to talking and we just felt like there was another way that we needed to honor the life of my grandmother. We needed to sit and eat our delicious homemade recipes, squished like sardines around a long table. We needed to have a conversation that led to a muffled laughter the exact way that my grandmother would have done. We needed togetherness that was more of a celebration of life and less of a ceremony.

As the days passed on, we put a plan in place to honor her life here on the Outer Banks. Within weeks we had a date set and decided that a beach bonfire would be the best way to remember all of the memories that we shared as a family in the sand.

As the date came nearer we looked more and more at special things that we could do to honor her. Naturally, as any 30-something will tell you, I went to Pinterest. I was searching for ways to include everyone in the celebration.

The number one thing that continued to pop up on my Pinterest feed was a balloon or lantern release. Of course as someone who has called the Outer Banks “home” for about eight years now, I hear the word balloon release and cringe. But from the abundance of positive comments on Pinterest, it is clear that so many people feel that sending balloons to your loved ones in heaven is just about the greatest thing ever.

As a family portrait and wedding photographer I have even been asked to photograph balloon releases, which really leaves my stomach in knots. It’s difficult to respectfully decline a request that someone really believes in but the short of it is simple. Balloons just don’t go to heaven, they end up in our ocean.

After Hurricane Florence, our family walked up and down the beaches trying to do our part to put our little sliver of sand back together. Penny was surprised to find so much debris and brought over a deflated balloon and a small collection of trash that she had found. Her first thought was that someone had a birthday party at the beach and didn’t clean up after themselves. When we told her about this idea of sending balloons to loved ones she was baffled. At just 6 years old, even Penny knew that those balloons will eventually come right back down.

Every Outer Banks local and every Outer Banks vacationer has a story about why this place matters so much to them. Because of this, we have many celebration of life ceremonies and gatherings here on our beaches.

So in an effort to shine a little bit of light on environmentally friendly ways to honor a loved one while you’re on the Outer Banks, I put together a top five list! Let’s work together to keep our beaches clean, the sea life safe and preserve the beauty of the Outer Banks for the next generation. 

  • Hosting a paddle out is a locally favorite way to honor someone. This can be done on surfboards, paddle boards or even by swimming. Talking about your loved one in the middle of the ocean without any distractions is nothing short of amazing.

  • Build a beach fire. This is an awesome way to simply be still as you remember someone you loved. Let the fire warm your soul and the waves wash your grief away.

  • Get with your favorite local town and plan to plant the appropriate dune grass on the beach. Giving back to the Outer Banks by protecting the coastline and watching a healthy dune flourish for years to come is a great way to honor someone you care about.
  • Enjoy a sunrise ceremony on the beach. Sunrise always makes me feel as though Heaven might not be that far away, which is usually a needed reminder when we lose someone that we love.

Walk with friends and family members and talk about the beautiful memories of your lost loved one. Plan a craft for your home using seashells or driftwood that you find as a sweet reminder of their love.

The takeaway here is that there are so many ways to honor someone that you love. Even though they may leave beautiful footprints in our hearts and minds forever, we have the choice to stop leaving messy footprints here on the Outer Banks forever. 

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Comments

  • Currituck Voice

    THANK YOU for raising awareness about balloons, and even more lasting and dangerous, the curling ribbon often attached.
    I collect beached balloons–sometimes with printing still visible–and send them back to the executives of the organization. I politely explain how their balloon was found on our beaches, and how it impacts marine life so far from their offices.
    On an encouraging note, I have received thoughtful letters from enlightened executives vowing to stop balloon marketing.
    Your story is heartfelt, but very purposeful. Thanks!

    Tuesday, Apr 16 @ 11:03 pm
  • Audra, Outer Banks Mom

    Thank you! I am so grateful for your feedback and I’m glad to hear that the execs of said organizations were responsive to your outreach!

    Friday, Apr 26 @ 11:43 pm
  • Claudia

    Thank you so much for helping to educate people about the environmental horrors caused by releasing balloons. Keep spreading the word!

    Wednesday, Apr 17 @ 10:21 pm
  • Carol Berklich

    Dear Claudia,
    I, too, am from Pittsburgh. I have been vacationing at the Outer Banks since the mid 50’s when my parents drove our family “down” on the advice of Gilbert Love, a writer for the Pittsburgh Press. Since then, my husband, children, grandchildren, other family, and friends have spent many of those vacations at the OBX with me. A few years ago, I began encouraging the gang to walk the beach with me each morning to collect beach trash. Recently, we had just begun walking on Duck beach when, sure enough, I looked down and there in the sand were two of my most easily recognized and commonly found sand “treasures.” The first, discernible on the sand for its ultra white color, was a chip of styrofoam from a takeout coffee cup–the second, a balloon ribbon. Today, tears filled my eyes when I read of your family’s tribute in, “OuterBanks Mom Sending Balloons to Heaven.” Our “Burgh” families are smiling.

    Friday, Apr 19 @ 4:46 pm
  • Audra, Outer Banks Mom

    Well this is the sweetest comment ever! Thank you for your feedback and for cleaning the beaches when you come with your family. I sure wish that I could have one more beach walk with my Grandma. Don’t let those kiddos sleep in when you’re heading out on a morning walk! 🙂 Sending lots of love back to the Burgh.

    Friday, Apr 26 @ 11:46 pm
  • Windy Bill

    What ever happened to the idea of mixing cornstarch into the balloon material so it would disolve quickly in water?

    Friday, Apr 19 @ 6:25 pm
  • Ana

    Why kill turtles in your loved one’s memory?

    Wednesday, Apr 24 @ 11:13 am
  • Ana

    I just saw a balloon being released. The ribbon is harmful the balloon is harmful to sea life and birds. Why would you do that?

    Wednesday, Apr 24 @ 11:15 am