On this day made for love, it’s easy to get caught up in all the hearts and flowers, in stories with fairy-tale endings and princesses in stunning gowns. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course, but they are only physical manifestations of something that’s often harder to define. It’s what we all desire as humans: to be cared about by another, truly, sacredly, deeply. Where we sometimes get confused is in thinking that love can be wrapped up all neat and tidy and delivered with a bow. True love is much more subtle. It resides in the partnership and mutual respect of two people in an enduring commitment. It is present in the give and take of friendship. It exists in the real and messy work of birthing a child, and then, over the course of a lifetime, in the dedication and everlasting concern of parenting that child. And occasionally, devastatingly, it is present in the loss of a child.
My daughter Holly called me a few years ago to make a strange request. She wanted to donate her wedding gown – the one for which we’d shopped together, the one that made her look like a fairy-tale princess, like Cinderella at the ball – to an organization that would cut it up, re-work its beautiful satin and lace, and fashion it into bereavement garments for babies. Babies who didn’t make it. They call them angel babies, and the garments are angel gowns.
It all started in 2014 when a woman in St. Louis named Janet started ALLISON’S ANGEL GOWNS in honor of her daughter, Allison, who died in 2012 at one day old. AAG was Janet’s way of not only coping with her own devastating loss, but also of helping other grieving parents who are dealing with the death of a child. Everything about AAG depends on the love and kindness of others, all done for free: from the gently used donated wedding dresses of strangers, to the infinite hours of the volunteer seamstresses, to the bereavement gowns themselves, which have graced the lives of so many.
“I guess I never thought about it before,” Holly told me that day. “A precious tiny baby. How would you ever get over that loss? And then to have to think of burying your child. I can’t imagine it, Mom. I know you and Dad paid for my dress, but I really want to do this. I really want to help.”
As Holly’s voice faded, I realized there were tears in my eyes. I take pride in the fact that all four of my children have kind hearts, but Holly’s sweet penchant for fixing every broken sparrow’s wing has always touched me deeply. Still, I needed a minute to process her words. I had to get that image out of my head of her beautiful gown all severed and cut apart. After I did, though, it struck me that she was making the perfect donation, one for which her dress seemed destined. Granted, it was a bit of a sacrifice, but then love – true love – often is.
Moved beyond measure, I posted about Holly’s dress that Valentine’s Day, and left a brief message on AAG’s website as well. What happened next stunned me. Janet found my Facebook post and reposted it to AAG’s Facebook page. Responses came in to my page by the dozen. The sheer volume amazed me, but the sentiments conveyed in them affected me more. Janet and some of her seamstresses expressed gratitude. Holly told everyone how happy she was to be able to make this small difference. Parents related their heart-wrenching stories, always ending with praise for the comfort AAG had provided. Nurses chimed in to relate how helpless they felt when someone lost a child, but how thankful they were to be able to deliver an angel gown in the middle of all that grief.
Love and more love. I could see it unfolding right before my very eyes.
It was a miracle in motion. It was kindness in action. It circled around and connected us all. It circled back and touched me.
A few months later, Holly came through my front door carrying a small package from AAG. We hurried to open it, and there, in her hand, lay the last lovely remnant of her dress: a tiny satin handkerchief for her to keep. The accompanying note read in part: “We’re so grateful for your gift. Your kindness allowed us to make five angel gowns.”
Just those beautiful words alone filled us both with joy.
Mother Teresa once said that anything can be accomplished through our will and God’s grace, and I firmly believe that’s true. Kindness, whether random or planned, is the force that sets it all in motion, for even in the face of extreme suffering and loss, when we receive and bestow kindness, our hearts change. Kindness lifts us up from our depths and gives us strength, stitching together people who might not otherwise have met, and when that happens, all sorts of miracles can grow. I saw recently that AAG is now shipping gowns overseas, so Janet’s mission is flourishing. And there’s something more. Inspired by this experience, Holly has started her own crafts business called Wish Upon a Bear, making keepsake stuffed animals from a child’s first sleeper, a loved one’s last shirt, a pet’s favorite blanket. In her own sweet way, Holly is sowing – and sewing – love.
And love, as they say, has pretty much everything to do with it.
I believe there’s nothing more perfect than love. The real kind. The deep kind. The sacred kind. The messy kind. In concert with God’s grace, love enables us to reach out and touch lives, which is the most precious thing in all the world.
For more information on Wish Upon a Bear, please visit my daughter’s Facebook page:
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Until next time,