Whether a woman’s wedding dress ends up in the closet for years or is handed down through generations, many brides consider their dresses to be something very precious. For women who have had to say goodbye to an infant, however, those dresses can be given a new purpose through a program known as angel gowns. These beautiful, pastel creations resemble hospital gowns with ties at the back and are crafted by upcycled wedding dresses that have been donated by anonymous brides. Across the country, volunteer groups are collecting and sewing these gowns for grieving parents, whose infants may be stillborn or pass away during a hospital stay in the NICU. The idea started in 2013 when a mother named Lisa Grubbs from Fort Worth, Texas, saw a need to provide families with a special keepsake garment for their babies. The NICU Helping Hands organization now collects wedding gowns nationwide and turns them into bereavement gowns that are given to parents to take final pictures of their infants. While the gowns are being fashioned, volunteers stitch sweet messages on them, like “heaven’s angel.” One seamstress adds antique buttons to each piece and sews little angel wings in remembrance of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where Clarence the angel received his wings. Another volunteer, Judi Fleury, is a designer of clothing, jewelry and handbags who runs the Waterfront Studios art studio in San Pedro. She and her volunteers gather monthly to fashion the angel gowns in her space. When the Wilsons lost their daughter, Kennedy, in 2014, they decided to donate her gown to a local organization that had just opened up a branch in Ohio. The dress was a perfect fit, and Brandy knew it would bring comfort to other families who had experienced the same tragic loss. The organization, Sunshine State Angel Gowns, now has over 40 locations in six states. Each location is staffed by volunteers who sew the gowns and provide a memory box with a golden keepsake angel, poem and a stuffed animal for families to remember their baby. The group also makes bereavement blankets and wraps and provides a variety of other keepsakes to the grieving families. A generous financial donation of just $30 provides a complete bereavement package for a family in need, including the gown, gift box and golden keepsake angel. It’s not often that a stranger will offer such a thoughtful gift, but when it happens, it changes the lives of those who receive them. If you would like to learn more about how you can help, visit Sunshine State Angel Gowns or reach out directly through the organization’s Facebook page. You can also get involved by donating a dress or making a financial contribution. Please share this article on social media and spread the word. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of the thousands of families that will be affected by the loss of their baby each year.
For parents who have suffered the loss of their infant, child or young adult, arranging a funeral can be one of the most difficult tasks they face. While there is no perfect way to plan a service, there are many things that can help alleviate the pressure for parents and their families. The first step is to make sure that the family can receive a death certificate from the local vital statistics office. Then, the next step is to determine what type of service they wish to hold. Typically, families of young children who were stillborn or died in utero hold private services where family and friends can bid their farewells. School-age children tend to have funerals that are more public, allowing their classmates and teachers to pay their respects. When talking to your child about their upcoming service, it is important to relate what they will experience. Start with what they can understand, such as what they will need to wear, where the service will take place and who will be there. It is helpful to remind them that they will need to be quiet and sit still for long stretches of time during the service. It is also a good idea to have an adult who is known and trusted by the child to go with them during the funeral or memorial service. This person can distract them or take them out of the service if they get restless or bored. They can also reassure them that it is OK to cry and that it will help them heal. Some children may want to attend their sibling’s funeral, while others will not. It is perfectly normal for children to not want to see their dead sibling and they should not be forced to do so. It is a difficult decision for all parents to make but it is always best to allow children the option to go and then to support them whatever their choice is. If a casket is open, it will be important to talk with your child about what they will see. You can explain how their loved one will be dressed and in a box, but you can also reassure them that their sibling is not suffering or afraid. Explain that there are other ways to remember and say goodbye besides attending the funeral, such as visiting the graveside and lighting candles. If a cremation is planned, it will be just as important to talk with your child about what they may see at the service. You can explain that their loved one will be in a special urn, which can be kept with them at home or displayed in a memorial room. You can also reassure them that their sibling does not feel cold or pain and encourage them to ask questions. You can also invite them to visit the crematorium or cemetery with you and their other family members. This can be a very moving and memorable experience.
Keeping an assortment of newborn clothing essentials on hand will ensure that you always have something clean and ready for baby. Newborn babies need a lot of diaper changes, and it’s a good idea to have some quick outfits that make the process easier. You’ll also want a few warmer clothes for cold weather and some accessories like hats, booties, and blankets. Baby clothing is generally made from soft, durable fabrics that are safe for the washing machine and able to withstand frequent wear and tear. Cotton is a popular choice for infant clothing because it is hypoallergenic, which means that it doesn’t irritate the skin and can help prevent rashes. Cotton is also breathable, which helps keep baby comfortable and cool. When selecting infant clothing, look for brands that offer organic cotton options. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which means it’s better for the environment and the workers who produce it. Also, the fibers are longer and more resilient than conventional cotton, which means that they will last longer and hold up well through repeated washings. You can find affordable organic infant clothes from a variety of stores, including Gap and Carter’s. These brands have classic pieces that look far more expensive than they are and will grow with your child, making them a great investment. You can also find organic baby clothes from smaller boutiques and online retailers, but they may be more limited in the selection that they have available. Newborns are incredibly sensitive, and reducing the amount of friction, chafing, and rubbing caused by clothing can go a long way in improving their comfort level. Bamboo clothing is a great option for infants because it is softer than cotton and is naturally antibacterial and breathable, which can help reduce the risk of infection. A bib is an important part of any newborn’s wardrobe because it can help protect against stains and moisture. It’s a good idea to have several bibs in different colors and materials so that you can choose the one that best fits your baby’s personality and preferences. It’s also a good idea to invest in a few burp cloths, which are useful for wiping up excess spillage. As you shop for clothing for your newborn, consider buying items that will accommodate their umbilical cord stump. This stump will be visible for about 10-20 days, depending on how it was clamped, and you’ll want to avoid clothing that rubs against it or can cause chafing. Look for newborn kimonos and other clothing that has been specially designed to accommodate the stump. A hat is an important accessory that should be available for all seasons, especially in colder climates. Newborns will often lose body heat through their heads, so a warm hat can be a lifesaver. In addition to keeping them warm, a hat can help shield their eyes from the sun and prevent them from getting too much sun exposure.
Burial attire is an important part of a person’s funeral, as it can leave a lasting impression on loved ones who have remained behind. Many families choose to dress their deceased family members in burial outfits that reflect their life. For some, this involves selecting formal attire, while others prefer something more casual. A funeral director will ensure that the deceased is dressed in an outfit that is dignified and comfortable. Those who are concerned about how the clothing will decompose after the body has been buried can ask to wear an outfit for a viewing before the funeral service. Traditionally, men are dressed in suits and women are dressed in dresses or funeral gowns. These garments are often made of cotton, silk or wool, which tend to break down over time in a natural way. However, other fabrics such as polyester can also be used. The clothing worn by a deceased person can also help in keeping their body warm and dry. The material also helps to slow down the body’s natural deterioration, which is accelerated by moisture. For this reason, it’s best to avoid clothing made of linen or other fabrics that will absorb moisture and deteriorate more quickly. If the deceased individual was a member of a particular religion, they may have specific requirements regarding their attire in death. For example, some Buddhists believe that the departed should be dressed in plain clothes to symbolize virtue. Other religions may have their own requirements in regards to a person’s clothing in death, and it is important to consult with a religious leader for guidance on this matter. Some families dress their deceased loved ones in clothing that they wore during their lives, especially if they had a special piece of jewelry that was sentimental to them. This is usually acceptable if the deceased did not specifically state otherwise in their will or obituary. It is important to note, though, that any clothing that will be worn by the deceased after the funeral will not likely be returned to the family as it will be cremated with the body. For parents who have lost a child, the loss is especially hard to endure. One mother in Wisconsin, Hazel Jones, has turned her workshop into a sewing room, where she makes tiny outfits for babies who die before birth. Her work, called Mattie’s Memory, was inspired by her own son who was stillborn at 21 weeks and buried swaddled in a blanket. Jones is always looking for donations of materials and sewing supplies such as thread, needles, scissors and seam rippers. If you have any old formalwear that you would like to donate, you can contact Jones through her website. She can also give you a list of places where you can drop off the items to be donated. In addition to outfits, Jones also sews hats and bonnets for infants who are stillborn or born too early. She also has quilts that are donated to hospitals for use with NICU patients.
Whether you’re a recent bride or groom, there’s an easy way to give your wedding dress a second life. Many bridal boutiques, repurposing experts and charities are willing to take your dress after your big day and put it to good use. It’s a great way to help someone in need, clear out your closet and get a tax deduction. You can donate your wedding gown to charity and still have it in pristine condition, or you can have it cut up into smaller pieces that can be used for a number of other purposes. A seamstress can turn a wedding gown into elegant cushion covers, table runners or even wall art for your home. You can also have your gown repurposed into a unique costume for Halloween, themed parties or theatrical performances. The Salvation Army thrift stores around the country accept wedding dresses as donations and sell them to raise money for charitable programs. The charity offers drop-off and mail-in options, with specific details for preparing your dress for donation at each location on their website. Adorned in Grace – This Oregon and Washington-based organization raises funds to bring awareness to human trafficking. The sale of donated gowns and accessories helps fund professional counseling for victims, as well as awareness publications. The organization is currently accepting new and gently-used wedding dresses, as well as other formalwear for their three stores. Brides Against Breast Cancer – This nonprofit supports breast cancer research, awareness and early detection. The organization accepts wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses to be sold in their online shop to raise funds for the cause. Angel Gowns – This nonprofit supports families who have lost a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Seamstresses repurpose donated wedding and bridesmaid gowns to create infant burial gowns, which are offered to hospitals, birthing centers and funeral homes for free to grieving families. The NICU Helping Hands Angel Gown program is available nationwide. Women who have recently lost a baby can contact the nonprofit to request a gown. Thousands of military and first responder brides are outfitted with the dress of their dreams thanks to this nonprofit. It hosts Operation Wedding Gown events twice a year in bridal salons around the country. Brides wishing to donate can fill out an online form to see if their gown meets the organization’s criteria; gowns should be under four years old and in wearable condition. This faith-based organization is currently accepting gowns in Oregon and Washington to support their mission to combat sex trafficking and aid survivors. The proceeds from the sale of wedding gowns, as well as other new and gently-used attire, goes toward funding advocacy efforts and providing professional counseling for trafficking survivors. The charity is also offering online sales to reach more victims in need of assistance.
For families who lose an infant during pregnancy, birth or shortly after, a simple gown can give them a moment of peace and beauty as they take their last pictures or hold the tiny body. But for many, these dresses are not readily available. That’s why a few local seamstresses are working to change that. Last year, a Fort Worth woman named Judi Grubbs started a program that lovingly transforms wedding gowns into remembrance garments for families who lose a baby in the hospital NICU. She and her small team of volunteer seamstresses use dresses — donated from all over the country, she says — to make angel gowns for families who need them. “They don’t get to dress their baby for a picture or a funeral or any of those things, so this gives them one thing they can do,” Grubbs says. The gowns are often the only piece of clothing a family receives for their little one. The bride’s original wedding dress can be transformed into a delicate, beautiful, silky-like remembrance gown that resembles a christening gown for a doll. The program has grown so large that Grubbs now sends dresses to a national network of nonprofits and hospitals, where they are distributed. The work can be emotional. Many of the seamstresses have suffered their own losses through miscarriage or early infant loss. But the work is also important because it opens up conversations about grief, infertility and race, she says. “I think for a lot of people, it’s not talked about — the grief that surrounds infertility or loss in pregnancy or the fact that the majority of these babies are African-American,” she says. Gowns are made from any fabric, but the most popular are satin or silk. Some have embroidery, such as crosses, hearts, angels or baby-themed words and phrases. The program has even begun to sew gold and silver bells on each outfit, inspired by the bell that rings in It’s a Wonderful Life at the end of the movie. Each year, the program produces 85 gowns for Maryland hospitals, says Schatz. Each is given a blessing by a priest. Families interested in receiving a gown can speak with their hospital or contact organizations such as Share, International Stillbirth Association, HAND, Postpartum Support, Miscarriage Hurts and First Candle. For Fleury and her volunteers, the bells are also a way to keep them going through the labor of love. “They’re kind of like a thank you from the little angel,” she says. A single wedding dress can be transformed into a dozen or more angel gowns, which are then donated to hospital NICU units nationwide. The project is part of the nonprofit NICU Helping Hands. The organization also supplies face coverings, which are similar to angel gowns for newborns who die before they can leave the NICU, for bereaved families. For those who can’t make it to a workshop, the group offers an international program. For a $100 donation, donors can follow the beautiful journey of their dress to a developing country (Guatemala is currently where all of the gowns are going) and virtually meet their seamstress.