From grief to joy

Isabella lives on through acts of kindness

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Reannan Keene's 10-day-old daughter, Lily, born Aug. 9, peers from Keene's arms while wrapped in a rainbow blanket. The blanket symbolizes Lily's status as a "rainbow baby," a term often used to refer to an infant born to parents following a newborn death or miscarriage.

COEUR d'ALENE - Random acts of kindness can come in any form - buying coffee for the person behind you in line, helping an elderly person with his or her groceries, sending flowers to a coworker.

These ways of paying it forward bring peace and joy to Coeur d'Alene resident Reannan Keene, who has taken a tremendous tragedy in her life and transformed it into something completely different.

"I just love when people can take something incredibly hard and make it into something beautiful," she said.

Keene experienced the most unfathomable grief when she gave birth to a stillborn baby Nov. 24, 2011. Isabella would have turned 3 on Monday.

"It's a hard thing to talk about," she said. "Children aren't supposed to die."

Keene, who now has two sons and a new baby daughter, Lily, is at a point in her life where she has come to terms with her tragic loss and wants to honor the memory of Isabella through a movement called "Isabella Lives On." Her good friend, Mary Lyons of Coeur d'Alene, began a Facebook event that allows people to post their random acts of kindness in memory of a sweet baby girl who would have been walking and talking by now.

"Remember the joy in your heart when you give a little kid a present," Lyons said. "If you can just feel that when you are going about these acts of kindness to someone else, that's where it stems."

Through the Isabella Lives On movement, people are encouraged to be kind to one another with little surprises, actions, items or anything else that may bring happiness to someone else's world.

Keene originally began posting for people to participate with a random act of kindness simply to bring joy to her heart and the hearts of her family members who also suffered the loss. When Lyons heard about it, she wanted to make it bigger, so she created the public Facebook event - #IsabellaLivesOn - where everyone is invited to share their experiences. People across the nation have taken notice and joined.

Keene received the following message from a person she doesn't know, a stranger who was moved by one of the #IsabellaLivesOn Facebook posts: "I thought of her when I got out of my car to help a man push his car into a parking lot after it stalled at a stoplight," the stranger wrote. "A very small act of kindness but it was your post and honoring her life that spurred me to actually get out of my car and help. Much love and light to you."

As a birth doula - a woman trained to assist with childbirth and help the family after the birth - Keene has spent a lot of time with other mothers who have had similar experiences. She has found that losing a baby the same day you bring the child into the world is just not talked about.

Keene said she had no idea that babies could die right before they were born, and this is one way to bring awareness to such a tragic event.

"A lot of people don't know what to say," she said. "The hardest thing of all is when there's nothing said. That makes it seem like the baby wasn't real and didn't exist."

Some people who are participating in Isabella Lives On are leaving cards with their surprise gifts that explain why they are doing it. One of Keene's friends wrote this in several of her cards: "Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, an angel was born sleeping. Please help her friends and family celebrate her memory by passing this note along with an act of kindness, compassion and love. Share your random act of kindness on Facebook or Instagram with #IsabellaLivesOn so her family may see the outpouring of kindness which was created in her honor. Isabella Keene, born 11-24-11. Happy 3rd birthday!"

"I really feel with my whole heart, the greater and deeper someone's loss, the greater their ability to give," Keene said. "Everyone has a story, everyone has a loss ... it's important to really pay attention to people as people, and not just as an object in the way of your day."

For information or to participate, visit #IsabellaLivesOn on Facebook or visit Keene's Facebook page.

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