The loss of an infant is one of the most devastating things a family can experience. This is especially true for families who have lost their children through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or early childhood illnesses that lead to death. These parents desperately need a way to memorialize their babies and a way to say goodbye. One way they can do that is by laying their baby to rest in a special garment called an angel gown. This is where a project like Hillary’s Cherished Gowns comes in. This organization specializes in taking old wedding dresses and turning them into burial garments for newborns who don’t survive their pregnancies or are born premature. This organization has a warehouse full of wedding dresses and a team of seamstresses who make them into angel gowns for grieving families.
After losing her daughter, Lori Gulley saw other grieving families struggle to find burial clothes small enough for their tiny babies. Her experience inspired her to create an organization that gives families a place to turn for help. She now leads a team of seamstresses in Naples, Fla., who make these burial gowns out of exquisite wedding dresses donated by caring people across the country.
Each dress can be made into about 10 little gowns. The organization asks for a $100 monetary donation to cover the cost of shipping the dresses and the materials needed to turn them into a burial outfit. Women who don’t have a dress to donate can still participate by “sponsoring” a dress for another woman who doesn’t have a wedding dress but wants to help a family in need.
The gowns are offered to hospitals, birthing centers, funeral homes and directly to families who have suffered an unexpected loss in the NICU. Dignity Health – St. Mary’s Medical Center Long Beach is grateful for the support of this community-based effort.
“These gowns are so beautiful and provide a sense of comfort to the families,” says Judi Gaber, director of NICU Helping Hands at Dignity Health – St. Mary’s. “These are not your traditional funeral gowns, but they are so lovely and a great way to remember a precious life.”
Many women choose to have their dresses embellished with different details such as embroidery, gemstones and lace. Some add quotes such as “heaven’s angel” or use antique buttons they’ve saved from their mothers. One seamstress has been sewing bells onto each garment lately, inspired by the ending scene of It’s a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart rings a bell to help Clarence the angel get his wings.
These gowns have become so cherished by these families that they’re often saved as keepsakes to be passed down through generations. For many parents, the gowns will be the first memory of their child that they can hold on to and cherish forever. This is what makes the program so special for the families who receive them.