One glance at the line of cars traveling toward the cemetery and an unknowing passerby may have thought it was the laying to rest of a well-known, perhaps royal, figure. Heir to the throne of selfless love, this young princess wore a unique crown during her time on earth. In her tiny six-pound frame, she held court for countless visitors during her fragile life of nine-months and captured the hearts of hundreds that were privileged enough to know her story.
It began with the gift of her conception and the splitting of chromosomes in such a way that would lead to a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18. Although her parents were counseled by doctors that this life would not amount to anything but trials and tribulations for them and their family, they chose to place their trust in the Lord and prayed for His will to be done and for the courage to accept whatever that would mean for their daughter. Family and friends were informed of the baby’s diagnosis and the prayers began with fervent requests for healing storming Heaven.
Early on in the pregnancy this little girl’s big brother decided it was time to give her a name. Not wanting to keep referring to her as “the baby” he gave it some thought and decided to name her after his favorite Star Wars character. In all of his five-year old wisdom, he bestowed upon his baby sister the name of Issa. While they had no intention of keeping this name after her birth, his mother and father graciously appeased his desires and the little sister became known as baby Issa.
As the months progressed and Issa continued to grow, her parents searched for peace in and among the seemingly endless medical challenges they learned their daughter would face. Simple curiosity led them to research the meaning of the name Issa, and it was within this revelation that they were gifted with affirmation that they were not walking this journey alone. Issa means Jesus, or, “God Saves”.
The little prophet was born on June 7th and was greeted by hearts near bursting with love and cautious hope that she would live even a few hours. Issa Grace was baptized soon after birth and was immediately enfolded in a love so pure, so selfless that it was as if she decided herself she was going to fight against all medical realities and show the world just what she was made of.
Against all odds, Issa went home with her family just a few days after her birth and began her vocation of changing hearts. Although caring for Issa came with many challenges, the community around her came together in service to this most beautiful creation. Many of those who had the honor to be a part of caring for her would, nine months later, speak at her wake in testament to the powerful way this little girl had affected them and changed their hearts forever.
“We get to ride in a limo and it is going to be real fancy”. Those the words of Issa’s big brother who gifted her with a namesake for which she wholeheartedly fulfilled. With Issa’s funeral just a few hours away, his gentle and childlike heart was sifting through the sadness and, as most children would, he chose to focus on a small piece of excitement the day would offer. By day’s end, when his sister had been laid to rest, he would ask his mom to look through pictures of his tiny buddy before he went to bed because he simply “missed her.”
Quietly, peacefully may she rest in you. Quietly, peacefully bring her home to you.
Issa’s proud papa took hold of the tiny white casket and, surrounded by her mother, two sisters and brother, Issa was carried into the church where her final services would honor her most magnificent life and celebrate her homecoming. The casket was placed upon a small table next to the font of holy water, and her family stepped back to allow hundreds of family and friends to dip their hands in the font and trace the sign of the cross on Issa’s casket in their final blessing and solemn goodbye. Men, women and children approached the casket with hearts clearly broken and tears flowing. There are simply no appropriate words to describe how profound a gift it was to witness the magnitude of this small child’s reach.
Were it not for the open hearts of Issa’s family, this tiny prophet would not have had nearly the impact that she did. The door to their home, and their lives, was wide open and it was through the gift of their vulnerability, the exposition of their journey and profound love for their daughter, that we were all able to participate in this child’s life. Their sacrifice was our lesson in true compassion, their long days and sleepless nights our lesson in patience and perseverance, their trust our lesson in fortitude and their humility our lesson in unwavering faith.
As the most holy mass came to a close, Issa’s father stepped forward and sang Ave Maria to his daughter. His song seeped gloriously from his heart and most assuredly reached the ears of his pride and joy in Heaven above. He bent and kissed the casket and went to rejoin his family; a family that will always and forever have an angel watching over them.
What the curious onlooker at the line of cars journeying to the cemetery may never have guessed, is that inside that “real fancy” limo a mother held her child in a casket so small it fit upon her lap. More regal than any royal family member, more wise than any scholar, more wealthy than any successful businessman, she came to us a fragile and most vulnerable child and taught us more in her span of nine-months than many of us could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.
Sweet and precious Issa Grace, pray for us. We love you.
I am posting early this week, as today marks the one year anniversary of our niece’s birth into eternal life. Thank you for taking the time to read a little about Issa and the pure miracle that her life was from the moment of her conception until her last breath on this earth. I invite you to forward this reflection along to your family and friends in honor of Issa and her family; in recognition of the miracle of life and in gratitude for all that Issa and her family taught us about selfless love. Please offer a prayer today for Issa’s family as they continue on their journey of healing, and for all those families affected by Trisomy 18.