STEPHENS CITY, Va. - One year ago, WUSA9 asked viewers to donate wedding dresses that would be turned into infant gowns. The burial outfits are to be gifted to parents in their darkest hours after losing a baby due to miscarriage, still birth of premature death.
These burial gowns give comfort to families around the country.
Thanks to your generous donations, Forever Angels of Virginia has grown to serve hundreds more grieving moms and dads. There was one donation that we just couldn't forget: a widower who brought in his wife’s dress and tearfully told of the decades of joy it brought them.
“I just wanted to see her smile. It was a big broad smile,” said James Kuykendall.
This is a love story that started in 1958. Kuykendall and his bride, Virginia, were engaged a month after their courtship. The couple raised two boys together. Enjoyed laughs, long car rides and trips to the movies. Their wedding day, just like her smile, is etched in Kuykendall’s memory.
"It was her I was marrying, not the gown,” he said.
But it was still hard to part with her wedding dress. Virginia passed away eight years before Kuykendall walked into the doors at WUSA9, her precious gown in hand ready to donate to families in need.
PHOTOS: Burial Infant Gowns from Wedding dresses
WUSA9 collected nearly 400 wedding dresses that day for Forever Angels of Virginia. Each to be transformed into mini-burial outfits for infants.
Almost a year to the day, Kuykendall traveled to Virginia’s Frederick County to see what was created out of his wife’s wedding dress; plus, a party dress he also donated.
“They are tiny,” said Kuykendall, as he looked at the gowns for the first time.
Out of the two dresses he gave, a seamstress made 31 tiny infant burial outfits for baby boys and baby girls; some so small only a pocket would fit.
That seamstress was Sherry Heishman. She also sewed mini-booties and the smallest of diapers.
“I cried and I just held it in my hands and I was thinking what a tiny, tiny baby,” said Heishman.
The infant gowns all contain pieces of the special outfits Virginia Kuykendall wore for that memorable winter wedding back in 1958.
“The whole day has been very nostalgic,” Kuykendall said as he choked back with emotion.
VIDEO: Forever Angels of Virginia
It is hard to say goodbye to the love of your life who gave you 51 wonderful years of marriage. It was Kuykendall's unwavering dedication to his wife that spoke to Heishman. This is why she requested to transform Virginia’s gowns.
Forever Angels of Virginia has received so many gowns from our WUSA9 viewers, they‘ve moved out of the basement into a storage unit. They’ve also added 22 more seamstresses, but could use more.
Heishman volunteers her time and was one of the first seamstresses.
“When I know I’m making it for a certain baby there are a lot of tears shed over that one,” she explained. “Usually I think of making it for a live baby, and I want it to feel good on the baby look pretty and ‘Oh she’s going to look so beautiful.’
“It hit close to home,” said Kim Violette, founder of Forever Angels of Virginia. “It’s very hard to talk about it, but we had a family member whose daughter passed. She lived only a very short time and we hand delivered a gown to her. That day I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore,’ it just tore me up. But then that was the selfish response because that’s exactly why we do what we do, is to be able to bring comfort and as her baby passed she was wearing one of our gowns and as she went into heaven that little baby was dressed in the finest. So we will continue to do this as long as I have breath in my body.”
And that brings us back to our love story. The love of a widower and the love of a mother who through grief, tears and unimaginable heartache found peace in this labor of love. Gowns that once brought joy in the beginning of a new life, now offering comfort in the end.
“To do what I can to alleviate the pain, that’s my purpose,” said Kuykendall.
The infant gowns are free to grieving families. And the seamstresses, who donate their time to make them, are constantly in need of materials--ribbons, beading, thread and sewing machine parts. They also welcome new seamstresses to help make the outfits. If you'd like the help out you can contact Angel Gowns of Virginia directly.