by Melinda Gallo

Sending off a note to Heaven from Piazza Santo Spirito

I was told about this special event, Notes to Heaven, a few weeks ago through the Florence Film School. Francesca Casilli is a film student who is making a film on people who have lost a loved one. There was something about the idea that filled me with much joy even though I felt it was also a bit scary. The idea is that each participant write a note to a loved one, attach it to a red palloncino (balloon), and send it off to Heaven from Piazza Santo Spirito. To bring something so private out in the public enticed me quite a bit because I feel as if I have been grieving for so many years all alone.

Living in Florence :: Sending off a note to Heaven from Piazza Santo Spirito

Alessandro and I walked briskly along the Lungarno dei Medici toward the Ponte Vecchio. We tried to stay in the sun because the air was chilly. We headed down a few shady side streets to avoid the crowds and arrived in Piazza Santo Spirito where we saw mazzi (bunches) of red palloncini for the event. Even though we were each there for a loved one who has passed on, people appeared cheery.

I had printed out my letter and wrote it down on a piece of paper that I could attach to the palloncino. I chose to write to my mother without hesitation because I felt as if I miss my connection with her the most, and I secretly hoped that she'd somehow read my note.

A large group of children, adults, students, and residents stood at the top of the steps in front of Santo Spirito with our notes attached to the palloncini. The faded yellow facciata (fašade) of the chiesa (church) was our backdrop. When Francesca counted to three, we all let go of our palloncini. We all watched as they drifted up to the sky grouped together. A few of them staggered behind and barely had lift off. I felt tears well up inside of me at the sight of the red palloncini in the limpid blue sky. Surprisingly they were tears of joy and not of sadness.

Alessandro took pictures for me so that I could be fully present in the event. When he joined me up at the top of the steps, I hugged him. I felt so happy with the thought of my note reaching my mother. The letter was very difficult for me to write, and I included things that I hadn't told anyone before. Feelings that I have had since the day my mother passed away.

The crowd dispersed and headed to the side of the chiesa to watch the palloncini float up higher and higher into the sky toward the Duomo. I wondered where they'd end up, and hoped that they would eventually make it to our loved ones.

I was happy to have participated in such a beautiful and touching event. I can't wait to see Francesca's film after she has completed it. I'm sure it'll be quite powerful because it's true that so many people grieve, and it is so comforting to know that we are not alone. That other people have been touched by such tragedy and find a way to embrace life nonetheless.

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