How the Chinese Spy Balloon Brought Me Down
The triggers, they're everywhere.
For 18 winters, until the last one, in 2022, when Ed died, we had been snowbirding in Garden City Beach, SC. Last March, while we were there, Ed contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized after a chest x-ray revealed a huge cancerous mass on his right lung. Nine days later, under hospice care, he died at our condo.
His hospital bed was placed parallel to the sliders so he had an unobstructed view of the ocean during his last days. As hard as those days were, they were a blessing, too. He was in a place he loved, surrounded by most of our immediate family who, by sheer luck and perseverance, managed to get there in time to say their goodbyes. And, best of all, he died pain-free.
I thought when I left South Carolina a week or so later that I would be back the following January, as usual, because that’s what was supposed to happen. It had happened for 18 years. But the closer it got to the time I had to make a final decision about honoring my reservation—some time in October—I knew there was no way I could go back to the place that marked some of our happiest and saddest times together. I cancelled.
I’ve had separation pangs, especially when the snow flies here in Michigan, but no overall regrets—until last Saturday—two days ago—when I read the news about the shooting down of the Chinese spy balloon over the waters off the coast of So. Carolina.
It happened six nautical miles out from the very beaches where we’d spent our happiest winters. People we know there witnessed it, and if we had been there, as we should have been, we would have witnessed it, too.
Most of Ed’s working life was spent on the periphery of the spy business. He worked for a civilian contractor on government projects that involved surveillance and secrecy. He held security clearances of varying degrees, based on the sensitivity of each project. He traveled extensively, and most often couldn’t talk about exactly where he’d been or exactly what he was doing. He loved every joyous, miserable minute of his job.
He would have loved being witness to the drama of the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon over the waters off the shore of our ‘place’. It would have been right up his alley. It would have spurred his remembrances of the things he’d learned and seen and done, and he would have been in hog heaven.
It breaks my heart that he wasn’t there to see it, to experience the hoopla on the beach right out front as people cheered and danced at the sight of the strike and then the balloon descent. He would have been there, high-powered binoculars in hand, watching every minute of it, reveling in the joy of it.
It’s these moments that just kill me. I know in my heart I have to accept them, that they’re going to happen with some regularity, given how long we’ve lived and how much we’ve experienced, but it’s times like this when the anger sets in. Why couldn’t he have lived just one more year? We would have been there. He would have seen it. It would have been such a big deal for him. I can’t tell you how much he would have loved it.
And something else: it feels unfair for me to be here when he’s not. It’s as if I want to hide from the things he would have loved so I don’t have to imagine how much he would have enjoyed them and then lament at what he’s missing.
“Oh, wouldn’t Ed have loved that?” How many times will I have to say it? Will there ever be a time when there isn’t pain involved? Will I ever stop wishing he was here?
I hope not.
Constant Commoner is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Thank you for your vulnerability, and for sharing your grieving in such a moving way. For those we deeply love and cherish who have passed, we become the vessels of what they loved, their eyes, their heart, their voice. We become them, and live out their dreams as our own.
What a touching story!