Family Happenings Personal Thoughts

Celebrating Seventeen

On Friday, August 10, Kolby turned 17.  Seventeen.

As I  had planned, we took balloons to the cemetery as our way to celebrate Kolby’s first heavenly birthday.  It’s not what any of us ever wanted, not how we had ever imagined his seventeenth birthday party, but it is what it is.

And, it wasn’t so bad.  It was filled with sorrow, sure.  We hurt- absolutely.

We were also filled with hope.  I saw a smile break across Brandi’s face, a smile that I haven’t saw since she was at my house on April 11- the day before Kolby died.  I saw that smile on Friday and oh how absolutely beautiful it was.  Something so amazing and moving happened as we were wrapping up the “party” and I knew I had to share.

Birthday Balloon Release for Kolby Clayton

Our little party wasn’t planned. I had briefly mentioned that we were going to take balloons to the cemetery in a previous post about our loss and I had told Brandi.  To my surprise, our entire family came together to celebrate Kolby’s birthday.  My mom purchased balloons and a helium kit.  We all met at Brandi & Rocky’s house.   When we pulled up and I saw so many people, my heart felt lighter.  We were together.

It turns out, everyone had the same idea. We had all brought balloons to send up to Kolby!  Instead of the 10 or so balloons I had  planned, there was probably 50.

A storm was quickly approaching so we headed to the cemetery.  We gathered around, sang happy birthday, wrote messages on our balloons, and then released them for Kolby.  The balloons traveled straight to the storm and the red balloons all managed to stay near one another while the other colors scattered and mixed.  Brandi had already told me that “99 Red Balloons” was one of Kolby’s favorite songs when he was younger.

Family Birthday Balloon Release

The storm continued to approach and the sky was getting dark.  We were all standing around Kolby’s grave.  Brandi was bent down in front of it when she gasped and turned to me.  As soon as she did, Justin gasped too and said something about a heart.  He didn’t have to say it though, because we could all see it.  Each and every one of us.  We saw it.

In the middle of that dark, gray sky, a patch of white broke through in the shape of a perfect heart.  A heart more perfect that any I could ever draw.  Of course, we all fumbled for our cell phones wanting to capture the heart in a photo.

That moment wasn’t meant to be captured in a photograph though.  It was meant to be captured and held in our hearts.

And it was.  It is.  It always will be.

Brandi, Kolby Clayton

In the midst of the storm, the storm that began on April 12, 2012 when we lost a gentle, kind-hearted 16 year old that lit up our lives, and the storm that was approaching as we celebrated his first heavenly birthday, we were given a sign.

An undeniable sign.

I have made my peace with Kolby’s death, but this heart was the final step for me.

As soon as the heart appeared, it disappeared.  Within seconds, it had come and gone.  When the heart faded and the sky darkened, the lightning began and we knew we had to leave.  I feel like that was Kolby, sending us a sign and then telling up to pick up the pieces and move on.  Maybe move on isn’t the right word, because that isn’t possible, but I know that he would want us to live.  To truly live and find happiness.

Birthday Balloon in Memory of Kolby Clayton

Our family decided to go have dinner together.  Now, Justin is a believer but he isn’t a very big talker when it comes to feelings.  You can imagine my surprise when he turned to me and said “How can anyone see that and not believe in Heaven?  If I ever had any doubt, it is completely gone now.”  And he smiled, then he told me that he found peace in that moment with that single white heart drawn in the dark sky- he found his peace over Kolby’s death.

At dinner, the atmosphere was completely different.  We weren’t just the family mourning the loss of a life cut short, we were happy and chatty and our smiles were genuine.  We were a family that came together to celebrate a birthday even if the guest of honor wasn’t physically there.

He made his presence known in the shape of heart.

He was there.

In Loving Memory of
Kolby Jason Clayton

August 10, 1995 – April 12, 2012

Kolby's 17th Birthday


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  • Beautiful! I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose someone so young, but I admire your strength and your beauty through this.

    I read, but I often don’t comment because I simply don’t know what to say. I’ve haven’t been there. I’ve haven’t experienced it. I can’t possibly say anything that would make any sense.

    But if anyone in the family had any doubts about Heaven, I don’t see how there could be any now.

    • Thank you so much, Crystal. Even having experienced it, I still don’t know what to say. Just knowing that people care, that people know how he touched our lives in 16 short years- that is enough. I think there are zero doubts now, just joy that we will all be together again one day. Thanks again for taking time to comment!

  • Thank you for sharing this. It was beautiful and powerful. In June we celebrated my sister’s 24th birthday and her first heavenly birthday as well. Your post… well, thank you.

    I just discovered your blog today and I am so thankful. I will be sharing it with my mom as well. You’re not alone and those miracles and signs let us know that everything will be okay!

    Praying for you and your family!

    • I am so sorry for your loss, Mariah. Thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment. Prayers to you also!

  • You have such a way with words (and pictures) and have one again left me crying here at my desk. I am so happy for your family. So, so, so happy to hear about the smiles … many prayers still with you and your family.

  • What a beautiful post. It moved me to tears. I’m a big believer in signs, and it sounds like this was the perfect one at the right moment. Xoxxo

  • Thank you for sharing. I know it’s hard to put that kind of experience in print, but you are very eloquent. Thank you for such a touching moment.

  • Thank you Whit! I have been waiting for this post, and yes…. that smile I smiled was completely genuine.. Awesomeness, and heaven sent. I am so proud that each and every one of you were there to witness this gift from Kolby. I love and appreciate each and every one of you.. And I think he was keeping those red balloons for himself 😉 This experience was just an absolute beautiful, heavenly gift from above, and no one will ever be able to take that away !! Love you <3

  • Wow. That gave me chills. I know he was there in spirit with you all. Still thinking of your sweet family. Time may pass, but I know it’s still so hard.

  • What an amazing heartwarming story. Signs from loved ones show us they’re still with us. Although I’m sure you’d rather have him with you physically, it sounds like he was definitely with you spiritually. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to