About Isabelle's Dream

The Birth of Isabelle’s Dream

We were devastated by Sophia’s death and faced a heartbreaking task: explaining death, Heaven and the presence of Sophia’s enduring spirit to then three-and-a half-year-old Isabelle. While we struggled with Isabelle’s questions, our dear friend and neighbor Betsy Bottino Arenella struggled with her own. Betsy always had approached the spiritual world with a healthy dose of skepticism. But as a mother of two young children, the question haunted her: how could this beautiful child simply be gone?

Several months after Sophia’s death, Betsy began creating a picture book for Isabelle. Betsy based Isabelle’s Dream on our conversations about my grief, Isabelle’s many questions, and our family’s search for signs that Sophia’s spirit still was with us. Betsy told me that as she worked on this story, she realized that she was not only telling it to Isabelle and to her own children, but also to herself.

Though Betsy was apprehensive about showing Isabelle’s Dream to me, I thanked her over and over for this incredible gift of love and friendship. Our family had received a number of other books in the weeks following Sophia’s death. Only Isabelle’s Dream, however, provided comfort and hope that Sophia’s spirit remained with us through the beauties of nature.  

The Story

Isabelle’s Dream begins with Isabelle gazing out her bedroom window at the nighttime sky and asking, “Where has my Sophia gone?” That night, Isabelle dreams Sophia alights on her bed. Together, wings shimmering with the most gorgeous colors of nature, the sisters fly into the night. As they rest on a star, Sophia tells Isabelle that Heaven is not a geographical place. The sisters suddenly find themselves sitting on the backs of a lion and a lamb resting together in a marvelous garden. “Heaven is love,” Sophia explains.

When Isabelle asks to join her sister in Heaven, Sophia says it is not yet Isabelle’s time, and describes the many earthly delights that still await her. Sophia reassures Isabelle that her spirit will be with Isabelle always—through the beauty of a butterfly’s wings, the whisper of a seashell, the brilliance of the fall leaves, and the snowflakes kissing Isabelle’s face. As Sophia gently removes Isabelle’s wings, she promises that someday they will meet again in Heaven. Until then, Sophia concludes, “You can always find me in your dreams.”

Making Isabelle’s Dream a Reality

It took Betsy and me more than a year to find a publisher for Isabelle’s Dream. We persevered because we believed strongly that this story could help the thousands of families and communities suffering the immeasurable loss of a child. It was also a positive way for me to channel my energy and feel like I was doing something to keep Sophia’s memory alive.

Our journey brought us to Penny Wigglesworth, the founder of The Penny Bear™ Company, Inc., an all-volunteer, non-profit organization based in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Penny graciously invited us to visit her Penny Bear workshop, where volunteers hand-knit tiny sweaters and dress thousands of custom-made, stuffed “Penny Bears.” The organization then donates these bears to children (and adults!) in need of comfort and hugs.

In addition to providing hours of kind conversation and support, Penny gave me an adorable Penny Bear to give to Isabelle. She also put us in touch with her friend, Karla Wheeler.

Karla is the founder of Naples, Florida-based Quality of Life Publishing, which produces gentle grief support books and booklets. Betsy and I were overjoyed in February 2006 when Karla informed us that Quality of Life wanted to publish Isabelle’s Dream.

Penny’s giving nature and optimistic spirit continue to awe and inspire us, and we cannot thank her enough for helping make Isabelle’s Dream a reality. Isabelle’s Penny Bear appears in the book as a tribute to our cherished friend Penny and her life’s work.

Why an Art and Activity Book?

Originally, Betsy and I had wanted to publish the story as a traditional hardcover book to share with children. After much deliberation, however, Karla suggested publishing Isabelle’s Dream as a 64-page story, art and activity book, which made good sense. 

We had seen firsthand how Isabelle embraced art projects soon after Sophia’s death. The activity seemed to bring her some peace during a time of chaos in our lives. 

Art is also a part of Isabelle’s grief work at the Children’s Room, Center for Grieving Children and Teenagers, based in Arlington, Massachusetts. She attends the Children’s Room’s bimonthly meetings and always comes home with a piece of artwork that helps her connect with Sophia. 

A lecture my husband and I attended in 2006 reaffirmed the importance of art therapy for grieving children. Art is an integral part of every culture, according to Erika Leeuwenburgh, Chief, Section of Child Life/Creative Arts Therapy at Hackensack University Medical Center (New Jersey). Erika encourages parents, caregivers and therapists to use art to communicate with and better understand children.

We hope that when bereaved siblings read and color Isabelle’s Dream they can talk not only about Isabelle and Sophia’s journey but also about their own feelings and experiences. Several blank pages at the end of the book encourage children to create their own drawings or words. “Seven Tips for Parents of Grieving Children” and web-links to grief-support sites are also included in the book to provide guidance for the entire family.

May this beautiful book touch and comfort other grieving families as it has mine.

~ Melyné Zartarian Nagle

It took Betsy and
me more than a year
to find a publisher
for Isabelle’s Dream.
We persevered because we believed strongly that this
story could help the thousands of families and communities suffering the immeasurable loss
of a child.

Order Isabelle's Dream