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Jan 12, 2015 5:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

'Angel From Heaven' Book Teaches Children How To Grieve

Jan 13, 2015 2:54 PM

After 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, one East Quogue teacher felt the need to do something to help children across the country deal with that tragic loss, and also begin the healing process.Two years later, Christine Capozzola, a special education teacher at the East Quogue Elementary School, published her children’s book, “Angel From Heaven.” It is the story about a girl who sends messages to her sister in heaven by writing a note on the wing of an angel doll.

“When Newtown happened, the children were very confused and sad,” Ms. Capozzola said during a recent interview. “That was my inspiration. We needed something to get through to these kids to show them how to deal with loss.

“I wanted to give them something happy to do that,” she continued. “That’s why I wrote it so that the sister was already in heaven, to keep the innocence and not trigger any particular memories.”

Ms. Capozzola explained that she originally wanted to create an angel doll to send “messages” to deceased loved ones, an idea that came from the popular “Elf on the Shelf” doll that is designed to keep watch over children—to encourage their good behavior—in the weeks leading up to Christmas and to send messages to Santa Claus. She recalls how mesmerized her youngest daughter, Brooke, who was 6 at the time, was with her elf doll.

From there, that idea grew into a story and, eventually, a children’s book. Pretty soon, children will also be able to purchase angel dolls of their own to go along with the storybooks.

“If one family can read this to their child and have some peace—it’s worth it,” Ms. Capozzola said. “Kids are so innocent … if we can keep that light still glowing, that’s everything, but we need something in place to help them deal with what’s going on.”

In the story, the main character, Grace, writes to her sister, Eileen, in heaven. Ms. Capozzola said she chose the name Eileen in honor of her own sister, who died before Ms. Capozzola was born. She explained that even though she did not know Eileen, she still felt a sense of loss growing up.

Last month, Ms. Capozzola read her book to Brooke, who is now 8, following the death of Brooke’s great-grandmother, Francis Harrison, who was better known as “Meema.” Ms. Capozzola and her husband, Paul, have three other children: Lauren, 17, Paul, 14, and Anthony, 12.

“Writing a note to Meema was the only thing that made her feel better,” Ms. Capozzola said of Brooke. “My whole process [while writing the book] was to keep that connection.

“If kids know they can talk to loved ones still,” she continued, “it helps them deal with the loss.”

Published by Morgan James Publishing in New York City in December, “Angel From Heaven” is geared toward children age 4-10. In the story, Eileen responds to Grace from heaven and, after hearing from her sister, Grace begins to write to her on a daily basis. As Grace grows older, however, she writes to Eileen less frequently.

Ms. Capozzola explained that Grace’s grief process mimics that of many who have suffered a loss, explaining that the need for what had been frequent communication fades somewhat when people realize that their deceased loved ones are still present and watching over those they left behind.

“There are angels all around us,” the author said. “You just have to be open to seeing their messages.”

Over the past two years as she was working on the book and doll, Ms. Capozzola shared the development process with students at the East Quogue Elementary School, explaining the creation and editing process of publishing a book.

As the students learned more about the process, they were able to offer their critiques and also ask questions of Ms. Capozzola.

“It was really cool to see one of our teachers writing a book,” said sixth-grader Hailey Hanyo. “It’s inspiring.”

“I like that they’re little kids because it makes it a better story, and it’s easier for kids to understand,” said Grant Skala, another sixth-grader.

Maintaining an innocent tone when dealing with the death of a child was of utmost importance to Ms. Capozzola, though she hopes that adults who read her story to their children will be comforted by its lesson as well.

“There are messages from angels all the time,” she said. “If you let go of your anger and sadness, those messages will shine through.”

Different versions of “Angel From Heaven” can now be ordered online through the site www.angelfromheaven.com. A hardcover copy costs $24.99, a paperback is selling for $9.95 and a Kindle eBook can be downloaded for $7.99. Ms. Capozzola is still fine-tuning the design of the angel dolls, which will eventually be available for purchase on the same website.

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