HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — Hope floats.
That’s how Carol Combs, mother of eight-year-old disabled Grayson, explained her Hamilton family’s annual birthday tradition of releasing balloons skyward.
The helium balloons carry a message. Words written by Combs for a son who can’t.
For eight years now the flying messages have been a variation of this:
“Hi! My name is Grayson and this special balloon was released on my birthday! This is a HUGE birthday for me because when I was 5 months old I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Lissencephaly. The doctors said I would only live 2-5 years but here I am turning 8 and beating the odds!
“My birthday wish is for another year of health and another year with my family and friends. If you find this balloon, it would mean SO MUCH to me if you would mail it back to me with the date you found it and location.
With love, Grayson.”
Within days, weeks or months the letters and cards from well-wishers far from Butler County start to come in. Some from states away— the record so far is Virginia.
And with each arrival of mail it is Grayson’s spirits— and those of his parents, extended family and friends —that rise.
“There is a lot of negativity in the world, but there is also a lot of good in the world. Hope always tends to float up,” says Combs gazing at her chair-bound son who can’t speak or otherwise communicate.
As a result of his birth defect Grayson’s brain is smooth where most have folds. His limited awareness of the world around him is often interrupted by seizures.
But through his mother and father, David Combs’, creativity, this little boy has inspired dozens— some from states away —to open their hearts and respond with personal messages of encouragement and hope.
It’s a birthday tradition, says his mother, for a little boy “who can’t eat cake or blow out candles.”
The colorful cards and letters that have come back overflow from a bound portfolio Combs thumbs through when she needs a lift.
She responds to each one, mailing a heart-shaped card of thanks, adorned with Grayson’s hand or footprint doubling as his signature, and a photo of him.
“People take the time out of their busy lives to respond and he knows people out there are cheering him on,” she says.
One of Grayson’s balloons recently touched down 70 miles from the boy’s home, on a Clark County golf course near Springfield.
“To find (the balloon) was amazing,” said Sarah Ream, who works at the Elk’s Lodge and golf course where the special wish was found.
“It had to be that something above was looking over it,” she said.
A club member found the deflated balloon with Grayson’s special note attached lodged in some brush along the course after strong storms swept through the Clark County area in the second week of April, Ream said.
“I couldn’t finish reading it and I almost can’t talk about it because it’s just emotional,” she said.
As a mother herself, Ream said she immediately knew the club had to respond to the Grayson’s special request. She picked out the biggest card at Hallmark she could find.
More than 150 Elks members signed the card and included notes of encouragement. The club said they also want to send Grayson a gift on his birthday next year.
For people to take the time out of their busy lives to reply back to Grayson means a lot to his family, Combs said.
The cards he gets back are encouragement for the entire family, she said.
“Hope is a big key to the special needs life of Grayson,” says Combs. “We hope for the best and hope always tends to float up.”
Information from: The JournalNews of Hamilton, http://www.journal-news.com/cgi-bin/liveique.acgi$sch=jnfront?jnfront