Photo courtesy of Stephany Henson.
From left: Catherine, Stephany Henson, Lavinia Whatley and Patricia Henson met on March 18 to hold a prayer circle and send packages to both the Finleys and the Hodges.
When Lavinia Whatley saw something silver floating in her pond, she felt a pull to pick it out of the water.
“It was just kind of nagging at her; she just couldn’t let it go,” said Stephany Henson, the daughter-in-law of Whatley’s best friend, Patricia Henson.
Whatley waited until the balloon was close enough to the shore, reached in and grabbed what turned out to be a silver Mylar balloon with “Super Cooper” and loving notes written on it. She took the balloon to Patricia Henson’s, where they laid out and dried the balloon and read the notes.
“When I came home from work on Wednesday [March 7], they were just in tears,” Stephany Henson said, “and I was afraid they were going to tell me someone had passed.”
Instead, they showed Henson the balloon and asked if she could help them find the family of Super Cooper, the family who wrote the notes to a young boy who had died. During the journey to find one family, Henson actually found the stories of two Super Coopers — Cooper Finley from South Carolina, and Cooper Hodges from Alabama.
Henson posted a photo of the balloon, showing the words “Super Cooper” and a Superman symbol as well as a green angel tied to the balloon, to both family’s pages. The Finleys replied first.
“I had looked at his [Cooper Finley] page, and it was very touching,” Henson said. “The logo was on the headstone, on their T-shirts.”
She even got a message from Cooper Finley’s grandmother, who went by Mimi. The balloon had a note from Mimi, “so I thought, ‘Oh, it’s got to be them,’” Henson said.
That’s when Henson decided to return the balloon to the Finley family.
Henson’s mother died in the summer of 2016, and Henson was unable to bring back her personal effects from Washington. Instead, she mailed them, and one day the package of items showed up at her house.
“I opened it, and I just, I wasn’t ready,” Henson said. If she had known to expect the box that day, she said she could have planned and prepared herself. And she didn’t want Super Cooper’s family to feel that same shock.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to do that to a family,’” she said. “I wanted to fill it up with love and put cards in there.”
She reached out to Facebook, sharing the story of Cooper Finley, who died in January when he was just a few months old. She asked people to send cards or words of encouragement, and she said she would collect items at Somewhere in Time in Chelsea and 280 Paint and Body.
“I think that there are people out there that want to spread love because it makes you feel good. It really does,” Henson said. Kind messages started to flow in on Facebook, she said, and the story was picked up by a local TV station. But when the story aired March 12, Henson heard from the Finley family. It wasn’t their balloon.
She once again took to Facebook to find Super Cooper.
“A flood of people said, ‘Hey, this is the Hodges family. I think it could be theirs,’” she said.
Cooper Hodges died June 11, 2016, after battling cancer at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. His family had released a balloon in his memory near the time he started treatments for the tumor on his spine.
“We realized that we now had two families that are grieving,” Henson said, and their goal to send cards and encouragement extended to both families.
On March 18, Henson and a small group from her church gathered at the Lee Branch UPS store to mail two packages — one for the Finleys and one for the Hodges. In addition to sending the balloon and cards to the Hodges, the group donated $100 to the Ronald McDonald House. They also sent a stuffed bear to the Finleys and donated $100 to the American Heart Association walk.
“They are both equally amazing families that have gone through such a tragedy, and this balloon has connected them,” Henson said. The balloon also connected three communities, Henson said, and she hopes the stories about two Super Coopers helped encourage others to give back and find hope.
“I want people to have some glimmer of hope that there’s something positive going on here. That there’s love that can be spread around, and there’s good news,” Henson said. “And I want them to feel part of this journey because I know when you give to others, you get a really good feeling inside. And giving to others allows that kindness to grow in another person’s life.”