By Sarah Wibell
Jonathan’s Bench, located in the Uncle Remus Regional Library’s Laughin’ Place Garden, is dedicated to Jonathan Marshall Morris who lost his struggle to mental illness in 2014. The bench, hand-built by sculptor Tom Prochnow, is engraved with, “My son, my sunshine, Jonathan Marshall Morris, for him and all the sons of the world, then, now and forever.”
Last year, Jonathan’s mother, Beverly Morris, wanted to do something special for his birthday and invited anyone who had similar experiences to release balloons in honor of those lost and to raise awareness about suicide. She provided 24 yellow balloons – 24 for the age Jonathan would have been and yellow for his favorite flower, the sunflower. This year, on March 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Morris will repeat the balloon release with 25 yellow balloons and more balloons in other colors. The memorial event is open to the public.
“The purpose behind this is that it is personal. People have different reasons for why they want to come and release a balloon for someone. The reason I started was to raise awareness of suicide. You’d be surprised how many people are dealing with that in Morgan County – I was. I found this out at the balloon release last year,” Morris stated. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “A lot of people won’t talk about it,” Morris added.
There is no formal ceremony. People can simply come out to the bench at any point they choose and untie a balloon. “I think that’s why a lot of people like it, because they could go and meditate and think about the good times with that loved one and know that that loved one is somewhere better. Yes, there are tears, but there are lots of smiles,” Morris shared.
A book will be set out on a table for anyone who wants to share their story or write a special message between them and their loved ones. Names are not generally written down, although some people chose to do so last year. Morris explained, “People might not necessarily be able to speak about what happened, but they can write about it as a way of healing if they want.” Flyers explaining the purpose and the history of the balloon release will be available to read on site.
Morris did not realize the impact this event had on the community until numerous people contacted her to thank her for this different and personal way to process their loss. “You never get over it,” Morris added, “but the healing process does come by not keeping the grief in but giving it away and helping other people. I have found that you can’t get stuck in it. In order to not be stuck, you have to give it away, and this is part of the balloon release. You are not just sitting there saying, ‘This was a terrible thing that happened,’ and dwelling on that; instead, you are reaching out. A lot of people are stuck. They’re stuck in the anger of ‘Why?’ When it’s time to grieve, you have to allow that grief to come like a wave. Ride that wave, and then move on. Don’t drown in it. The balloon release is all about giving the grief away and letting go of the pain and heartache. That’s what a balloon release is.”
Morris invites anyone who has lost a loved one, even if it is not to suicide, to come and release a balloon or even bring their own balloon to Jonathan’s Bench.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.