One of the hardest times a family can go through is the loss of a child. One local woman knows firsthand the grief of such loss, and decided to turn her sorrow into something beautiful.
A few years back, Patti Browne received a wedding dress her cousin, Susan Moore, wore in 1950 from her mother, Bonnie Moore-Moffitt. She decided to find a purpose for the vintage gown by turning the fabric into lovely funeral attire for infants. She has since named this endeavor David’s Cradle.
“David's Cradle got its name when my uncle had a son named David, and he passed from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when he was six months old,” Browne said.
Never forgetting her cousin David, Browne said she would later suffer a painful miscarriage.
“I didn't know what the sex of the child was, but I named him David," Browne said. "David in the Bible lost a son in the Old Testament and New Testament as well.”
While carrying the memory of the two Davids in her heart, Browne said she decided to deconstruct wedding gowns, starting with her cousin's, so that other grieving parents would have something beautiful in which to bury their infants.
Growing the effort
Two years ago, Browne approached her pastor and his wife, John and Nita Lopez, at First Baptist Church in Tehachapi, and told them of her idea for David’s Cradle. Pastor and Mrs. Lopez encourage Browne to pursue the idea as they felt it would be great way to reach out to others in the community who need them.
"Our purpose is to show the community that our love and compassion for those who have lost a child, and that we are here for them and have pastoral care if they need it," Browne said.
Soon, other women of the congregation learned of David's Cradle and Browne's efforts, and offered to help as well. As word spread, more women from other congregations came to deconstruct donated wedding and bridesmaid gowns and turn them into beautiful resting clothes in which to dress newborn and premature infants who were called home by God’s Angels.
"My daughter had a miscarriage, and now I have an Angel Baby,” said Bonnie Ruz, a member of the David’s Cradle sewing group. ”That’s what I call them, Angel Babies.”
Today, six women gather every month at First Baptist Church to tear apart the dresses, which range from simple and plain to the extravagant, before they can be re-sewn into tiny gowns.
Lopez says she doesn't sew, but deconstructs the gowns in preparation for their transformation which takes about a couple of hours.
“Someone from the hospital gave my daughter a memory box, and inside that memory box were pictures that they had taken of the baby,” said Lopez, who lost her infant daughter full-term. “When Patti told me about David’s Cradle, and I saw some of the gowns, I thought how wonderful it would have been for us to have received a gown like that to have her buried in, and for someone to come and pray for us at that time. That would have meant a lot to all of us.”
Not all the women work on the making of the gowns, like Ruz, who makes blankets using a loom, a form of crocheting.
Linda Stivers sews wraps for the tiny infants, and makes quilts and blankets.
“Sometimes the babies that are lost are too tiny to try to put their arms and legs into the gowns, so we make these little tiny wraps for when they take them (babies) back into the moms,” said Stivers, holding up a wrap which she opens to reveal a pouch where premature infants can safely be placed. “The parent has something to hold and to snuggle. It's a sad reality of our life.”
Although Stivers said she has not experienced the loss of a child, she still feels compelled to pray for the infants as she makes each wrap, and for the child’s family as well. Stivers said that oftentimes, the infant is too small to determine a gender, so she makes non-gender wraps in addition to larger ones for bigger babies.
Many ways to help
New to the group is Addy Cox who says she has been assisting in the deconstruction process for the past three months while Dawn Krueter sits crocheting hats, scarves and blankets for cancer patients and residents of nursing homes.
“These patients need this kind of comfort and love,” Krueter said as she works on the Trinity Stitch, which she says helps her to focus on the meaning of the garment she is creating. “Patti had the heart and the stamina to pull all this together, so I just crochet like crazy.”
It takes about eight hours to make a gown, and each deconstructed gown has enough material to make about 10 infant ones. The women work from a pattern they designed; however, new designs are welcomed.
Many of the wedding dresses have been donated from as far away as Florida, Washington, D.C., Georgia and Alabama and mailed to Browne. One Barstow woman contacted Browne saying she wanted to donate a few dresses.
Said Browne, “When we got there, she had 30-some dresses. They filled up my van.”
Recently, during choir practice, another woman showed up unexpectedly with a gown she wanted to donate. With a storeroom filling up with gowns, the sewers can use more hands said Browne, who welcomes newcomers.
Said Browne, “There is something for everybody to do, and not just people from our church. If fact, you don’t have to go to church, just come!”
The sewers have dozens of dresses they are currently deconstructing, so many that they had to move their meeting place to a larger room inside the church’s annex. What they are in constant need of is other sewing supplies, such as thread, buttons, flannel, ribbon, yarn and men’s suits, which they use to create suit dresses for boys.
Said Browne, “We are building up our supplies so we are ready.”
Every month, the women of David’s Cradle meet, and continue in their mission to ease the pain of parents who go home empty-handed.
Said Cox, “I believe this is a labor of love. God has made these babies and He has called them home.”
Stivers and her daughter, who lives in San Diego, remain committed to the idea, with her daughter sending gowns she creates to the group.
Said Stivers, “It’s hard to wrap your heart around this. Just thinking about the tiny baby that had to be comforted and wrapped in love, the love that we have and could give, and the tangible gift that we give to the families that are so broken over losing a wanted child.”
Preparing for funerals
Locally, Wood Family Funeral Service, Inc., does not charge for services rendered to infants. The family will only be charged for purchases, such as a casket or for a cremation permit.
"We feel families are going through enough at the time, and finances may be a hardship," said Sally Periman, office manager for Wood Family Funeral Service, Inc. "We do whatever we can to help them."
Periman said the funeral home has worked with other organizations such as David's Cradle in the past, including Angel Gowns of Bakersfield.
Said Periman, "Sometimes a family will make something or buy something themselves for the baby, but typically not. The gowns come as a blessing to the family as well as the funeral home. We want to help the family any way we can to get them through this tragic time in their life."
For more information about David’s Cradle, call Patti Browne at 972-7172. Donation arrangements can also be made by calling Browne or at the First Baptist Church, located at 1049 S. Curry St.