Mark loves to name the family member in several pictures that hang in our stairwell. He typically babbles, “Mommy, Daddy, Mark, A-belle” with a huge grin on his face while pointing to each person in the picture. “A-belle” is his adorable way of pronouncing Isabelle. I smile every time he says it.
The other day, after we were downstairs, he ran over to the bookshelf in our kitchen. He was giggling and really excited about something. He extended his arm and pointed to the picture of Isabelle. “A-belle,” he said at least three times while transferring his gaze from her to me. It is hard to put into words the feeling that stems from hearing Mark recognize Isabelle and say her name.
I want Mark to grow up knowing that Isabelle is part of our family. I want him to understand that although she isn’t physically with us anymore, she now prays for us from heaven. How do you explain that to a toddler?
Here are the four ways we currently incorporate Isabelle into Mark’s daily life:
1.) We use her name
We use Isabelle’s name frequently around Mark. Her brief life is not a secret topic that we avoid mentioning around him. As Mark’s vocabulary grows, we have made an effort to teach her name to him the same way we teach him the names of other family members.
2.) We point out her picture
There are several pictures of Isabelle around the house. We point them out to Mark, just like we point out pictures of his grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
3.) We celebrate her birthday
Our family has several traditions that we do each year on Isabelle’s birthday, including attending Mass and watching a Christmas movie. (We watch a Christmas movie because she was born on the 25th of July, the month in which many people “celebrate” Christmas in July. What better day to celebrate it than on the 25th, the same day that Christmas is celebrated in December?) This is our special way of remembering Isabelle on her birthday. As Mark gets older, we will continue these traditions each July in memory of our sweet girl.
4.) We regularly ask her to pray for us
We typically pray with Mark after breakfast, before his nap, before dinner, and before bed. Each time we pray, we ask Isabelle to pray for us. Much of our extended family also asks Isabelle to pray for them before dinner. It is a beautiful tradition that reminds us that she is still very much a part of our lives.
I know in the future, as Mark gets older, he will have some very difficult questions about Isabelle that will need to be addressed. Such questions should be answered in an age appropriate manner, but with honesty. In the meantime, we will continue to incorporate Isabelle into Mark’s life in small but meaningful ways.
I have written often about how our society seems to feel that parents should silently deal with the loss of a child from miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. People are just too uncomfortable to talk about it or don’t know what to say to grieving parents. This mentality won’t change unless we make an effort to address difficult topics with our children when they come up in conversation. It is my hope that someday Mark will grow up to be a compassionate and faithful adult who is able to support those who find themselves faced with tragedy. The process of getting to that point starts right now with his little toddler finger pointing at a picture as he says, “A-belle.”