The loss of any loved one is hard. The loss of a child is heartbreaking. The loss of an infant child is simply unbearable.
There are those, however, with a special gift for understanding that unbearable loss and consoling parents suffering with the emotional trauma of having a stillborn child or losing a child shortly after birth.
When local businesswoman Maryann Wilson, of VIP Promotional Products, learned about a nonprofit organization in Michigan that makes burial gowns for infants, she contacted Angels Above and asked how she could help. At the top of the organization’s “wish list” for supplies and volunteer assistance is a request for wedding gowns, which are used to make infant burial gowns.
Wilson, a lifelong Liberty County resident, immediately donated her 20-year-old wedding gown and what she called a “tacky” prom gown.
On Thursday, she donated some of the baby burial gowns made from her wedding gowns to Liberty Regional Medical Center. Marketing Director Rene Harwell and registered nurse Jan St. John called the gowns “precious” and thanked Wilson for caring so much to help soothe the loss of grieving parents.
“I was married 20 years ago, and I preserved my gown,” said Wilson, who is now divorced. “I was talking with my mother recently about what to do with (my gown) and couldn’t come up with a good idea. … My mom found (Angels Above) on Facebook, and she tagged me in it.”
Wilson said Angels Above founder Dawn Lafferty started the organization when she read a story about a mother who lost her infant baby while in the hospital. The little boy was brought to her wrapped in a washcloth. Lafferty made that child a burial gown from her own wedding gown, and then she started Angels Above.
In less than a year, Angels Above has made more than 5,000 “angel” burial gowns, Wilson said. The gowns have been given to 29 Michigan hospitals as well as hospitals in four other states. Lafferty’s organization now has about 100 volunteer seamstresses in Michigan, Florida and Georgia and more than 1,500 followers on Facebook.
Items on their wish list include wedding gowns; white thread; white, ivory, ecru, blue and pink ribbon; small white bows and rosebuds; tiny buttons; and angel ornaments and figurines.
“It’s sad but we do have babies that are stillborn,” said St. John, director of Liberty Regional’s prenatal unit. “But this is wonderful. This will be something our mothers will have as a remembrance. I’m also a bereavement counselor. Our ‘Moms 365,’ which is a photography company we use here at the hospital, takes newborns’ pictures and (makes) a bereavement packet … for the mothers. It’s free of charge.”
As the ladies talked about them, one end of a conference table was covered with tiny gowns. Most were white though some were blue; some had tiny bowties or ribbons on them. There was a sample “baby wrap” for really tiny babies and Christmas angels that also were made from part of Wilson’s wedding gown.
Harwell said Wilson contacted her about her intentions to have baby burial gowns made from her wedding gown and donate the gowns to hospitals.
“This is such a sad time for the families,” Harwell said. “Hopefully, they can find some comfort with the little gowns and the remembrances they will have with the ornaments. We’re just ecstatic that Maryann has taken this initiative and done this out of the goodness of her heart. She is passionate about doing this.”
Wilson said she will make a similar donation of baby burial gowns this week at Fort Stewart’s Winn Army Community Hospital. She said Winn will become the first military hospital to receive the baby gowns. Wilson said Angels Above is honored and proud to be able to give back to military families, especially during a time of grief.
For more information about Angels Above, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/AngelBabyGownsGardenCityMIArea.