CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There is no greater heartbreak than that of a parent having to bury their child.
It's a familiar feeling to 62-year-old Bonnie Beck. Although it's been 38 years since she delivered and grieved her premature child, there's not a day that goes by that Beck doesn't remember her "angel baby."
"That baby is a part of my life," Beck said. "It's something that the mom, even the dad, you never forget... You have that with you forever."
So when Beck thought her heart may break again, this time over the potential loss of a grandchild as her daughter struggled through a high-risk pregnancy, she decided to act.
"One day I was sitting in my guest bedroom and the Lord just put this on my heart. I had never sewn in my life," Beck said. "I sat down and I cut my wedding dress out and I made a dress, a bonnet, a blanket for a little baby girl that died at one of the hospitals in Concord and I gave it to that baby and it just grew from there."
What started with cutting up her own wedding dress has grown into a gift for angel babies across the world.
"An angel baby is a baby that dies," Beck said. "That's what my definition of an angel baby is."
Beck is the founder of Heavenly Oats, an organization dedicated to bringing love and comfort to grieving parents and families during a time of loss.The group's volunteers sew clothes for angel babies from donated wedding dresses.
"What I'm trying to do is make people aware of the need, because the last thing that a mom or a family is thinking about when they have to bury their child is what am I going to put my baby in?"
While bleak, the need is there. Since the first snip of her own wedding dress in 2014, Beck and other Heavenly Oats volunteers have sewn hundreds of dresses for angel babies.
Photos: Woman recreates donated wedding gowns into angel gowns
"When my baby died… they didn't dress ‘those’ babies," Beck said. "And it's something that softens, I think it softens that blow when that Mama sees that baby... when they have to bury that baby."
As wedding dresses symbolize a significant, life changing event in one's life, they continue to do that as gowns, cocoons, buntings and outfits for angel babies. Beck says the conformed wedding dresses not only give the babies dignity, they keep the integrity of the gown and provide healing for those donating their dress.
“When I was getting married I just thought, here comes my knight on a white horse and he’s going to take me away and it’s a big fairy tale and you’re going to live happily ever after… but that doesn’t always happen,” Beck said. “Sometimes you get these dresses because of death, sometimes you get these dresses because of divorce, sometimes you get them because you just want to get rid of them.”
“It’s a healing for the person who is giving the dress, not only for the person who is receiving the dress,” Beck said. “It’s a blessing for both sides.”
Beck and her volunteers also make prayer shawls and blankets for those grieving the loss of a loved one, not necessarily a child. It’s all a part of Beck’s passion to give dignity grieving families and angel babies, through the compassion of others’ donations.
“For me it’s giving something tangible, it’s saying, ‘You know what, you’re not going to walk alone. I’m here with you.’ I may not be physically, but you have my prayers, you have my thoughts, and I understand because I’ve been there and I’m here with you.”
Interested in a dress or contributing to Heavenly Oats?
The organization is always accepting wedding gowns and monetary donations to purchase embellishments as well as yarn, lap blankets, baby items, sew-in Velcro, thread, ribbon, soft fleece, elastic, etc. If you're interested in donating items or volunteering, click here.
If you're interested in receiving an angel gown from Heavenly Oats, you can contact them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page for more information.