She would have had long brown curly hair like her mom and her grandmothers’ blue eyes. She would have loved to wear pink and danced around the room while watching princess movies.
The image of Isabelle as a little girl is one that flutters though my mind at unexpected moments. As grieving parents, we often try to avoid such thoughts because they usually come with a stabbing pain that we try to avoid. Occasionally, however, we can’t help it, and the thoughts consume our mind. We think about what our child would have looked like. We think about how he or she would have played with siblings. We wonder and we dream about who that child would have become.
This year, I participated in three different Catholic saint peg doll swaps. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, basically you sign up for a Catholic saint and then paint a designated number of peg doll versions of that saint. You then send the dolls to a designated person who in turn mails back one doll from each submitted set. The result is a diverse collection of peg doll saints. The concept has become quite popular in the Catholic mom community as a tool to teach children about very holy men and women whose examples we should follow as we strive towards living faithful lives.
I’ve recently started letting Mark play with the peg dolls. He loves to practice making them stand up right and also likes to put them in his plastic cups. I plan to order a wooden car off Etsy for him to put the peg dolls in and push around the room.
My most recent peg doll has been a true labor of love. This particular swap was a “Painter’s Choice” swap. After much thought, I signed up for St. Isabelle of France, one of two saints for whom Isabelle was named. (Someone signed up to paint the other, St. Clare, the next day.)
St. Isabelle was a princess, the daughter of King Louis VII of France. Even though she had many suitors, she chose never to marry but instead devoted her life to God through serving the poor. Although she founded a Franciscan monastery, she never became a nun so that she could continue to financially support the sisters.
St. Isabelle of France lived so long ago that we don’t really know what she looked like. As I began to paint, I took some creative liberties and gave her brown curly hair and bright blue eyes. It didn’t take long to realize that I was painting my little St. Isabelle Clare complete with a princess crown, pink dress, and green glittery cloak. I think she would have loved it.
I guess in a way, the doll is both St. Isabelle of France and my daughter. They are both in the same place after all, and I ask them both to pray for me on a regular basis.
I enjoy painting and having an opportunity to be creative, but I found this project to be particularly therapeutic. It is as if with each brush stroke, I was bringing to life a small piece of a little girl who never had a chance to grow up. There is something about the process of painting the image of Isabelle in my head onto a peg doll that seemed to help me continue to move forward after losing my daughter. It is similar to the feeling of relief you get when finally having the strength to talk openly with someone about a loss.
As I admired my completed blue-eyed dolls, part of me wished that they weren’t finished. I had a strong desire to add even more detail to them even though I knew there was nothing else to paint.
And so it is with Isabelle: I desperately wish I could see the person that she would have become in life, but there is nothing else to paint. Time marches on, and she remains our tiny princess wrapped in pink.
It is my hope that as Mark grows up, he too will ask both Isabelles to pray for him. What better way to strive towards heaven than to ask those already there to pray for us!