The Birth of Isabelle’s
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
however, provided comfort and hope that Sophia’s spirit remained
with us through the beauties of nature.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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