A Life Worth Living – Open Heart Story

Story By Cynthia Lee De Boer

“If dad were alive, he’d let me—I hate you!”

Those sharp words cut into Julie’s heart with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.  Kate was right, her father would have approved, but Julie couldn’t release her daughter to the same possible fate that claimed her husband’s life.

It was so different then, before Tim died.  Julie was so positive and passionate.  Now, ten years later, she hated the person reflecting back from her mirror.  Blank lifeless green eyes, tiny lines around her mouth.  She never noticed the before, they use to be hidden by her smile.  Even her thick auburn hair was dull.

“My, what a beautiful walking corpse you’ve become,” she said with disgust.  “No wonder Kate hates you.”

But Julie knew Kate loved her and wanted desperately to please her.  She’s in mourning too, Julie thought.  She misses the lost weekends in the sky with her father.  Most of all, she mourns the loss of the mom who used to be.  Still, Katie had managed to hang on to her fearless wild spirit, and as she grew, so did her resentment.  I’ve sacrificed our lives, rich with laughter and adventure, for a meager existence of dull safety.  Katie can’t wait to escape my choke-hold.

Now, Tim’s old team would be attempting to circle the globe in a balloon.  Katie wanted to join the expedition.  And so the argument began.

Katie, pleading with reason. “Mom, I want to be in the basket of that balloon.  It just isn’t fair.  For God’s sake, Rick’s leading the team.  He was dad’s best friend, I’ve known him since the day I was born and he’s an expert in the field.  Why won’t you let me go?”

“Your father was an expert too,” Julie shot back, “that didn’t save him.  You know the risks Katie.  I’m just trying to protect you, why can’t you see that?”

“Oh, I see alright.  You’re smothering me.  I can’t wait till I’m eighteen then you won’t be able to control me.  I’ll do what I want!”

“The launch date is well before your birthday, you’ll still be my responsibility.”  Julie had trumped her daughter’s remarks, knowing full well what was to come.

“If dad were alive, he’d let me—I hate you!”  Katie dashed to her room, tearful words trailing behind.

The argument has ended exactly as Julie expected.  They were on opposing sides.  A yes or no answer—no middle ground—no room for compromise.  This single decision would change the course of their lives.

To complicate emotions even more, tomorrow they would release Tim’s ashes.  Katie was four when her father dubbed her Katie Brighton—Princess of the sky!  She had flown several times before, but that day was special.  She chose that site to say her final good bye; it would be on the tenth anniversary of the accident.

Julie poured herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee and played a CD of Spanish guitar music.  The coffee’s fragrant smell and the soothing music calmed her.  She focused on checking her camera equipment for tomorrow’s event.

Forty minutes passed before Katie ambled out of her bedroom. “Mom, don’t you think we should go over things for tomorrow?  I want everything to be perfect for dad.”  Pretending the fight never occurred.

Julie followed her queue.  Sure honey, I’m just finishing with the cameras.  I could use help preparing the food trays.”

“Alright, mom.  What about a cake?”

“I bought your dad’s favorite, chocolate cheese cake,” Julie replied, smiling.

This light verbal dance lasted all evening, twirling cautiously above the underlying tension.

When Julie finally went to bed, she felt completely drained.  Tomorrow Rick wanted a decision regarding the trip.  Either way, she was losing her little girl.

“ Please Tim, give me a sign.  I don’t know what to do.” Julie fell asleep praying desperately.

Nightmares of the tragedy invaded her sleep.  The investigation called it an Unavoidable Accident.  The burner in the new balloon failed and wouldn’t re-ignite. A freak gust of wind hurled the balloon carrying Tim and George Banks into high voltage power lines.  The balloon exploded in flames. 

Rick was manning Julie’s camera.  The film captured the horror.

Katie was slated to go up, too, but she was sick with the flu.  The illness had saved her from the fiery fate.

Julie’s fitful night ended, leaving her even more exhausted.  Her prayers were unanswered but the day wasn’t going to wait.  It was calm, cool and heavily clouded.  The weather forecast was favorable so they hurried to the launch site.

The ground crew worked meticulously, filling the balloon and checking the lines while

Julie set up for filming.  The camera rolled with a shot of the basket holding Rick and Katie.

They were smiling and Katie was cradling her father’s blue porcelain urn.

Julie’s camera lens changed her perception of Katie, transforming her instantly.  No longer a little girl, instead she was a stunning woman with cascading dark hair and the same deep blue eyes of her father.  Julie tracked Katie and the balloon’s slow tethered ascent to eighty feet.

The heavy clouds were suppressing the eager sun, creating an ominous backdrop for the vibrant balloon.

Rick’s husky voice magnified through the blow horn, “We are here today to honor Tim Brighton.  We all miss you buddy.”

Over the side of the basket, Katie shook the open container.  But the ashes didn’t fall!

They floated out like magic dust, tiny spirits on the breeze, parting the clouds to make way for the sun.  Shimmering gold and silver flecks swirling, dancing ever higher.  Finally spiraling together to ride a light beam straight into morning sun.

It was breathtaking.  Hypnotized eyes were locked on to the sky.

The trance was broken when Tim’s words flowed through Rick,

“A life worth living—is in the sky!” 

Author’s Note: This fictional story was inspired by a true incident.  Ashes of a loved one were released from a balloon, and seemingly turned into gold and silver flecks.  The life those ashes represented was a short, but beautifully full life.  Remember, it’s about the journey.  Original story date:  November 2009.  The Photograph of the sunlight streaming through the clouds was a perfect match to this story.

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