Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Angels Above Baby Gowns: Soothing A Terrible Loss

November 2017 UPDATE:  In the words of founder, Dawn, "Angels Above Baby Gowns is still going strong. We are now in over 350 hospitals and in 5 countries. We grow bigger everyday."

IT IS A BUSY THURSDAY MORNING as I pull to the curb of Dawn's home. Garbage trucks rumble nearby, and Blue, her adoring companion, eagerly waits for me to enter the yard's gate. I am here to meet the Michigan founder of


"It's not about us, it's about helping families."
A gentle hug 'hello' continues the relationship we began on the phone. Face to face, the glow of peace and wholeness from Dawn Lafferty is remarkable. 

You would never guess that only a few years ago, she emerged from an abusive marriage, betrayal, fraud, and multiple fragile health concerns and yet:  she glows.

Propelled by a driving energy that belies her disabilities, Dawn proudly navigates the busy sewing quarters of her basement, plucking up and distributing supplies to volunteers.
 "I'm not lonely now...I've never felt younger!"
THE STORY BEGINS less than two months ago, when Dawn read an article about a woman who created burial gowns for babies who never left the hospital. 
Grieving parents sought a dignified farewell for their precious child, born premature. Ready-made clothing for such tiny babies is nearly impossible to find, but a trip to heaven requires more than a diaper!

The compelling need touched Dawn deeply. Not finding a Michigan organization to assist, she launched ANGELS ABOVE BABY GOWNS.

Dawn retired early, for medical reasons. Leaving a corporate career, she had more time for her love of sewing.  "I started sewing when I was 10--taught by my Mom. She made all the clothes for the seven of us."

Dawn is the volunteer Costume Organizer for the Grosse Pointe Theater;  She creates hundreds of costumes for several plays each year. This Spring, the production of Les Miserables required over 300 costumes to be designed, sewn and fitted for each actor!  And when the theater is dark, Dawn's sewing room is not: "I sew every day-- alterations for family and members of the community senior center."

When parked at a sewing machine, Dawn straight-stitches gown seams with expert swiftness, but tender care. She stands up at a serger overlocking machine to finish seam allowances:  no frayed edges for her Angels!

Volunteer, Wuneetha, mother of two and Coney Island waitress, is here because "my nephew, Matthew, was an angel baby." She describes the grief of her sister, D'aun, who puts balloons on her son's grave, each month. "A child is growing inside you; you've given your heart. Their death is devastating." 

Before beginning my assignment of packaging gowns for delivery to hospitals and hospices,
Karen Herzog arrives to donate her wedding gown.

Transforming a gown is exciting
Lace and beading are harvested

Patterns are applied and cut from the silk and satin

"Let the little children come to me"  Matthew 19:14

Exquisite details create a precious gown for baby
Varying in sizes, each is unique

What do grieving parents find helpful or hurtful?

Wendy has experienced several miscarriages and a newborn's death. A board member of Friends Supporting Parents, she shares:  
"Our hearts broke the moment hers stopped, and to this day, remain broken. People feel uncomfortable with death, and even more so with a child/infant death.

After a while, we begin to feel alone."

 She encourages grieving parents to find peer support. Wendy has been attending Friends Supporting Parents since 2010 and describes the comfort: "we are surrounded by people who know and who care because they've been there too. We continue to come because we can be authentic about our grief. And, everyone gets it."

The Condolence Coach says:
  • Let's understand that a miscarriage IS a baby lost. Your note to the parents can acknowledge that. This is the time to step up with assistance because a physical trauma to the mother, has also occurred: 
    • I can see [or hear] how devastated you are; take good care of yourself.
    • How can I help you at this time? Would you like me to____?  It is best to go ahead and make practical offers such as helping with other children, grocery shopping, meal preparation, even cleaning or gardening.
  • Don't pry, but be a good listener: This is so sad. Would you like to tell me about the baby [or name]?
  • Do not interject assumptions or advice other than: 
    •  I know how excited you were to bring the baby [or name] home. 
    • This is hard for your whole family.
    • You've been through so much. Take care of yourself.
    • Maybe the hospital gave you a referral, but I've read about a local support group; would you like their information?
Contact or Follow Angels Above Baby Gowns on Facebook

More Resources from The Condolence Coach:
I was inspired to write about Angels Above Baby Gowns by a woman who lost two grandchildren by miscarriage. Now, I know more about her loss: When Grandparents Grieve

Read more heartwarming and heartwrenching stories of Angels Above Baby Gowns:
 Someday I'll Meet My Brothers,  Delivery At a Birthing Center,   A Time to Tear and A Time to Mend,  and Heartbeats and Lightening Bolts

Readers may also wish to visit this post about baby and children's death:  Two Too Many: Gone But Never Forgotten
When siblings experience the death of a baby brother or sister, these posts may provide good condolence guidance:  Grieving Children, Part 1,  and  Grieving Children, Part 2.
This post is a good review of responding to any child's death: 5 Things to Say When Death Strikes the Young

Grieving parents may find comfort in this peer blog:  Wanted Chosen Planned 

Your friends will thank you for Sharing this post.  I thank you for caring!


Rick Miller said...

Deborah, This was a great article. I am a Friends Supporting Parents board member and want to thank you for the suggestions you posted at the end of the article. These are topics that we often talk about in our monthly meetings. If any of your readers have experienced an infant loss or miscarriage please refer them to our group as we are here to help and have been dealing with this grief for quite some time. We want them to know that they are not alone and there are people available to help them in dealing with this horrible loss. Thanks again for the linking to our site and for the work that you do in helping these parents. ~Rick, FSP lead facilitator

Anonymous said...

ISO.... A seamstress that can take a ball Gown and turn it into a 6 to 9 month Christmas Dress? My mother passed Away this Past April and my Brother's Wife was expecting the last grandbaby of the Family she was due in July and mom was so excited to have this little girl coming into the Family unfortunately she didn't make it to the Baby's Arrival but there is this Dress that she Loved and what a Great way to Remember her at Christmas then with the baby wearing HER Dress! If Any ONE can help please contact me.tyia

Athenas Accessories said...

Hi Tyia my name is Athena and a wonderful new friend shared your post with me. I think I can help I am a seamstress / jeweler and love creating new from keepsakes. I have created baptismal and communion gowns from wedding dresses. I've also created a baptism gown from a communion dress. I would love to help you and can be reached at amz825@live.com or athena@athenasaccessories.com I look forward to hearing from you.