Thrive by IU Health

April 06, 2023

Dressing our angels

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Dressing our angels

Note: This story discusses infant loss.

“It was shared with me that one mamma said that she wouldn’t get to be with her baby girl to choose a wedding gown, but she could choose this angel dress for her,” says Patty Hons. “It was so touching.”

Hons, pictured below right, makes and donates “angel dresses” for babies who die before, during or shortly after delivery. Recently, she began donating angel dresses to IU Health Arnett Hospital – a full circle moment for her. Roughly ten years ago she lost a granddaughter, then a year later, a grandson, at Arnett.

“There really seemed to be nothing out there, so we wrapped our granddaughter in a pink blanket for her burial,” says Hons.

Child Life specialist Olivia Rauschenbach and Patty Hons
Child Life specialist Olivia Rauschenbach and Patty Hons

One day she saw an interview on TV with the founder of Sewing Hearts in West Chester, Ohio. She turned to her husband and shared she had found her purpose – the rest, as they say, is history.

“Making the angel dresses helps me honor and remember my grandchildren,” says Hons who has donated angel dresses to hospitals around Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

Hons started sewing when she was in fourth grade to earn her Girl Scout badge. A neighbor taught her how to sew. For her next birthday, she received a sewing machine. She was a Home Economics teacher for several years before becoming a guidance counselor. Sewing has always been a part of her life.

Hons makes the angel gowns from donated wedding dresses (see examples below). The angel dresses are made in three sizes. What makes them a bit unique from other bereavement clothes is that they tie in the back like hospital gowns, making it easier to dress the babies. There are wraps are for the tiniest babies under a pound. A matching heart from the same dress is for a keepsake for the family.

“Word of my sewing angel dresses spread quickly,” says Hons. “I have never had to ask for a wedding dress donation.”

Angel dresses sewn by Hons
Angel dresses sewn by Hons

Wedding dresses are in every extra space in the house, Hons and her husband moved to in Indianapolis in 2017 to be closer to their children and four grandchildren. When Hons receives a wedding dress, she marks who made the donation and when. She shares pictures of the angel dresses when requested.

“When we went through our loss, there was no support,” says Hons. “When I reached out to Arnett and met Olivia and learned all the things she does to support children and mothers, my heart sang.”

Olivia Rauschenbach, MS, CCLS, CIMI, CPST, pictured above with Hons, is a certified child life specialist at Arnett Hospital. One of her many roles is to support grieving families.

“When I shared the donation of the angel dresses with the team, they were as thankful as I was,” says Rauschenbach.