Each year, on the date of her late father's birthday, Ashlynn Marracino writes her father a letter to heaven, written on a balloon that she releases. Writing a letter to heaven was something her mother, who had also lost her father at a young age, suggested Ashlynn do in order to help her cope and deal with her grief after Ashlynn lost her father suddenly to a brain aneurysm in 2008.
"I can write out stuff that I want to tell him," Ashlynn told Today Parents. "It makes me feel like he would receive it -- seeing it go up into the sky and disappear... it feels like a weight has been lifted off your chest."
This year, age 16 and now a junior in high school, Ashlynn wrote her dad everything she wanted him to know in her letter to heaven -- that she had started at a new school and had made varsity. She told him that she wanted to attend Humboldt State University in Northern California, and that she was so sorry she had missed his last phone call. She told him that she loved him, and how much she missed him.
"It was very private and personal. We wrote exactly what we wanted to say," Ashlynn's mother, Robin Godfrey said.
And this year, Ashlynn asked her father for something in return -- a sign, something to let her know that he saw her.
"I don't think he's watching. I just want to know if he is," Ashlynn told her mom
On January 6, Ashlynn released the silver, star-shaped balloon with her letter to her dad written on it. The next day, in the parking lot of a restaurant more than 400 miles away, a customer picked up a silvery, star-shaped scrap covered with writing that started with "Dear Dad" and ended with "I love you." The customer showed it to Lisa Swisley, the owner of the restaurant.
"We started reading it, my coworker and I, realized what it was and we got kind of teary," said Swisley. "It was very sad to us that she was missing her dad so much. I just thought I wanted to reach out to her."
Ashlynn had signed her full name on her letter to heaven, and so it was easy enough for Swisley to look her up online. And then she posted the story on her community's "Pay It Forward in Auburn" Facebook page and got an immediate, heartwarming response. Members of the page offered to send Ashlynn cards and gifts.
And, in that way, Ashlynn's letter to heaven is being answered.
Ashlynn also believes the overwhelming response is the sign that she asked her dad for, saying, "It's a huge one."
Swisley had, coincidentally, just finished listening to the audio version of the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and she firmly believes that it was meant to happen.
"The message to me was you can make an impact on people's lives by doing small things. I felt like the balloon came to me for some reason."
Swisley is sending Ashlynn the many gifts and cards she has collected in answer to the girl's letter to heaven this weekend -- including a special package from Ashlynn's dream school, Humboldt State University.
"All this support she's getting is just amazing," Ashlynn's mom says. "Maybe we can give hope to some other people, too... they'll know that our loved ones are watching us."
Letters to heaven do occasionally get answered. Read about how one post office replied to a little girl's letter after she lost her dog here.
[Image via Today]