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Gowns for Grace

She should be turning 16 on June 1.

She should be clutching her newly minted driver’s license and deciding if she wants a big Sweet 16 bash, or to just hang out with family.

She should be so many things, but most important, she should be here. But she isn’t.

Grace Susie Bain died May 29, 2003. She was delivered June 1, 2003.

How do you mark this kind of milestone?

Sarah Bain, Grace’s mom, thought long and hard about ways to honor her daughter’s brief passage through this world. Then she got her wedding gown out of her closet and called Peggy Mangiaracina.

Mangiaracina had a long career in health care, from starting as a labor and delivery nurse to retiring 35 years later as executive director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and vice president of women’s services.

When she retired, she got out her sewing machine and began making “angel gowns” for babies like Grace, who never come home from the hospital.

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

“I remember being a labor and delivery nurse and not having anything for these babies,” Mangiaracina said. “Parents would ask me what I wrapped their baby in. They wanted to know.”

Last week, Sarah invited me to be with her when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina.

First, the talented seamstress showed us examples of how she used the donated dresses. From a bin she pulled out gowns fit for a princess’ christening and tiny satin tuxedos with velvet bow ties – each creation, like each child, unique.

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Wedding gown trim like tiny seed pearls, satin-covered buttons and delicate lace make each gown a work of art.

“Oh, I would have loved a gown for Grace,” Sarah said.

In addition to wedding wear, Mangiaracina has used prom gowns, handkerchiefs and high-quality linens. She also uses soft, carefully lined flannel to make little “cocoons” for the tiniest and most fragile babies.

At the hospital, nurses offer grieving parents a small selection of gowns to choose from. Infants can wear them for photos and to the funeral home.

Mangiaracina gives the parents of the baby a memory square with a swatch of fabric from their child’s gown, a silver heart charm and a card that reads, “Babies are innocence on earth, a link between angels and man.”

Each woman who donates a gown also receives a memory square, as well as photographs of the gowns made from their donated dress.

Friends help Mangiaracina with the sewing. A group of ladies in Coeur d’Alene knit tiny hats to go with the gowns. Then they are distributed to nine hospitals across the region.

Now, it was Sarah’s turn. Her beautiful ivory satin gown with puffed sleeves, elaborate beadwork and a scalloped lace train hadn’t been taken from the box since her wedding 24 years ago.

She knew the dress wasn’t to her 18-year-old daughter Sophia Bain’s taste, so she decided to use it to honor Grace.

59708414_2312918792080068_1957199751925465088_n[1]Her eyes filled with tears as we opened the box.

“I wore this before I knew babies died,” she said. “This is like donating an organ, like pieces of my heart are being spread out across the community.”

And she told Mangiaracina her story. About the sorrow and trauma that came with the news that her baby had died while safely snuggled under her heart. About the scant few hours she had to hold her. About how the loss of Grace forever changed her and her family.

She also talked about her wedding day, and how she’d felt like a princess in that gown.

“Every dress has a story,” Mangiaracina said.

The story of Sarah’s wedding dress isn’t over. Sometime in the next year, grieving parents will carefully dress their baby in a bit of ivory satin. Tears will likely dampen delicate beadwork. And the gown that Sarah wore with such joy will bring them a measure of comfort and the sweetest whisper of Grace.

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Columns

A Trip to Remember

I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.

Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.

Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.

We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.

I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.

Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.

“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”

“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”

I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.

Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.

After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”

The feeling was definitely mutual.

As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.

While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.

She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.

“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.

And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.

The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.

When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.

Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.

Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.

Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.

The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.

Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.

Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.

From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.

My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?

Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.

It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.

Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.

On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.

“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.

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Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.