Five-year-old Madison Wells misses her dad, Larry Wells, who was fatally stabbed while working as a Toys R Us assistant manager in the Town of Hamburg last year.
On days Madison misses her father the most, she and her mother, Jill, write notes and attach them to balloons, then send them skyward to heaven.
That’s how Madison copes with her daddy’s death.
Local author Matt Chandler was so touched by Madison’s story that he wrote a children’s book based on how Madison has coped with Larry’s death. He called it “Balloons for Heaven.”
“As a dad, I have a little girl,” said Chandler, of Blasdell. “I can’t imagine having to explain that daddy’s not coming home.”
On Sunday at Fireman’s Park in Blasdell, on the one-year anniversary of Wells’ death, Chandler launched a book release and invited the Wells family and friends, as well as anyone in the Buffalo community who wanted to join Madison in sending notes to Heaven.
More than 200 children and their parents bought books, wrote messages for deceased loved ones on Post-It notes and released the balloons together. At 3 p.m., the cloudy sky was filled with color – hundreds of pink, purple, blue, yellow and green balloons carrying messages from children and adults alike:
Six-year-old Emily Goldwater wrote, “Dear Maddie’s daddy, we have fun,” so Wells knows her friend is taking care of Madison.
Wells’ friend Brian Smith, of North Collins, sent a note to his grandfather, Robert Runge, who died six years ago, and was like a father to him.
Cathy Tarnish, of Hamburg, worked with Wells at Toys R Us and attached a bracelet she wears with his name on it to her balloon.
Carol Kaminski, of Orchard Park, didn’t know Wells. But she brought her two children to the park because her father died of a heart attack last month. Her daughters, 6-year-old Olivia and 4-year-old Sophia, miss him.
But Sophia said she was “super happy” after she wrote: “Grandpa, I love you and wish you were still here.”
“I think he’s gonna say, ‘I love you too,’” said Sophia, smiling.
Jill held 6-month-old Paityn close to her as she thanked guests for coming. She teared up as everyone released balloons together. Vicki Wells, Larry’s stepmother, cried on Jill’s shoulder as they watched the balloons climb.
Jill and Larry were high school sweethearts. Larry’s family struggled to talk about him. The fun-loving father and fourth-grade teacher was 35. He’d do anything for his family and made forts out of books with his students.
He never met his youngest daughter. Jill was three months pregnant with Paityn when he died.
Madison played with young ones on a slide and swings. One boy yelled, “Blue – no, green!” as he got to pick out what color balloon he was going to release..
The young ones who attended brought a childlike aura that seemed to carry Larry’s spirit.
Larry’s father, Larry Wells Sr., said.
“It’s nice to have everybody together here supporting Larry and all the things that he dreamed of. He had so many dreams of life, working the store, he just loved kids.”
Chandler, a law firm marketing director and freelance writer, has two chlidren about the ages of the Wells children. After he interviewed Jill in November while he was the editor of Buffalo Law Journal, he decided to write the book to help Madison and Paityn – as well as all children who suffer from loss.
He is donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the Wells children.
On Sunday, Chandler signed books for those on hand. The book has already resonated with readers nationwide, he said.
The book begins with a little girl whose hamster dies. Then the book transitions into a girl named Maddie losing her father. In both scenes of the 24-page tale, parents discuss death with their children.
Chandler published the book independently.
“I think he’d be very proud of the book,” Larry Wells Sr. said of his son. “I’m proud of Matt and how Jill is standing up, holding herself together. It’s unbelievable.”