I had no intention of crafting another blog post so soon following my last entry on Kate’s second anniversary…but I never anticipated this…
Last Wednesday we were graced by a visit by one of Matt’s life-long friends, Katie Wildman, whom we had not seen in a few years. Along with the smiles, warmth and love that always accompany Katie she brought with her a non-descript cardboard box. Unbeknownst to me, the box was filled with handcrafted treasures made possible by a circle of love…all in honor of my sweet Kate. Below is the letter I found inside the box from Katie’s mom Sandy.
Matt and Betsy,
The day Betsy posted information about NICU Helping Hands on her Facebook page I was taken with the idea of sewing in your Kate’s honor. I volunteered immediately and waited patiently for instructions. My reaction was sincere and didn’t diminish over the five months it took for the organization to contact me. They had been very, very busy in the meantime.
Originally, a NICU doctor in Fort Worth asked his wife to organize support for the families of the babies he cared for. Her small local group provided education, counseling and funds. She knew her wedding gown wouldn’t be used again, for she had four sons. The dress was used to make the first Angel Gowns. After four years the organization was invited to do a local TV spot. The spot was picked up nationally and internationally and NICU Helping Hands became an overnight sensation. Within weeks they had 8,000 donated wedding gowns and 400 volunteer seamstresses. That’s about the time I volunteered. Since March of 2014 they have worked tirelessly to deal with the overwhelming challenges of becoming an overnight nationwide organization. First, where do you store 8,000 dresses?
A family who had benefited from the organization’s care donated warehouse space. The group spent Saturdays in an un-air conditioned warehouse in Texas heat, packing wedding dresses to be shipped to their volunteer seamstresses. They built a Facebook page and a sewing support team to guide them.
Finally, an official press release was posted and I asked Shannon Sloan Datitilo to post the NICU announcement on her Facebook page because she has 1,500 friends. I received 15 weddings gowns as a result.
Shannon also has challenges for she adopted a daughter with CP. She knew she would never marry and wanted to donate her dress, but wanted a picture of her daughter in the dress. Adrianna, who is nine, nonspeaking and wheelchair bound was not happy with our attempt at a photo shoot and with tears in both their eyes, Shannon sent me home with her wedding dress. I couldn’t bring myself to cut into her dress and sent a message that I was returning it. Shannon called a professional photographer and the enclosed pictures are a result. The photographer had also experienced NICU services. She offered to take pictures of the finished Angel Gowns from Shannon’s dress. They will be included in the NICU Helping Hands blog along with a story about you, Kate, Shannon, Adrianna and Hannah, the photographer. This experience has created so many exceptional moments of love and kindness. We have created a circle of love and it started with Baby Kate.
The idea of cutting into a wedding dress was tantalizing; I couldn’t resist! Working with the fabrics, beading, lace and buttons has been a treat, but with every Angel Gown I finished I thought of your Kate and the day I could demonstrate my sincere sorrow for your loss. I have donated 50 Angel Gowns and bonnets in Katherine Elizabeth Mitchell’s honor. Each of the 50 families who receive the gowns will be comforted in her honor. Her legacy is one of love.
I read the letter and cried with Katie. Behind the letter I found the following photos and my tears were replaced with a huge smile. What an incredibly beautiful photo of Adrianna and of her and her mother Shannon! What a special memory! What love!
After reading the letter and smiling at the photos I slowly, very carefully, admired each one of the sample selection of Angel Gowns Sandy had sent. Holding each gown I held tremendous love…
…a physical manifestation of the love felt on one of the happiest days of a woman’s life...her wedding day…
…the love and hope a mother feels from the moment a she discovers she is carrying a new life and is expecting a baby…
…and the love and talent of a volunteer seamstress to help honor a brief life and immeasurable grief.
Below are just a few photos of the many gowns and bonnets Sandy sent to share with me.
This is Kate’s gown and bonnet. The photo does not begin to do it justice! It's beautiful! It was made from one of my wedding dresses and I feel it embodies everything I pictured Kate to be…beautiful, classy, refined, elegant and simply lovely. It warms my heart to know that I now have something that has been ‘passed down’ to Kate. Matt and I have decided we will have Kate’s gown and bonnet mounted and preserved in a shadow box until she is interred with me.
I intend to keep a couple of the gowns and donate them to the Iowa City NICU/PICU. Our family owes a visit to the hospital staff who so lovingly cared for us in the days before and after Kate’s time with us. With Sandy’s help I will send the remaining gowns on to the Helping Hands organization in Texas who will then pass them along to other families.
And so continues Kate’s story of lasting love! Sandy...you are awesome! Thank you for sharing your love and talent with us and so many others! Your generosity and talented fingers have given us a lasting memory and will undoubtedly give the families who receive your Angel Gowns a little comfort knowing their baby was love, celebrated and remembered.
Kate...Way to go baby girl! Keep up the good work! ;-)
About NICU Helping Hands ‘Angel Gowns’: Our organization believes that every life matters and should be honored – no matter how brief that life may be. We are honored to help provide a little piece of hope in the midst of these very dark days. Hope in knowing that someone cares and that grieving families are not alone. Complete strangers joining together to honor the life of a lost baby. A priceless gift in the form of a simple Angel Gown garment provided by a donating bride, a volunteer seamstress and NICU Helping Hands.
To read more about the organization, to donate or to request a gown please visit: