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Golden Valley grandmother turns wedding dresses into angel gowns for grieving parents

"Someone's joy is going to someone's loss"

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – When a Twin Cities grandmother spotted a thrift store wedding dress and bought it for just 50 cents, she saw more than a symbol of joy.

After a family tragedy, Tess Soholt set out to re-purpose that gown, for a life that never began.

Soholt, a recently retired labor and delivery nurse, decided her new chapter of retirement would begin by providing grieving parents whose babies have died during pregnancy or at birth with angel gowns.

Angel gowns are tiny handmade gowns stitched from old wedding dresses that bring dignity to a baby's brief life.

“When you have experienced this tragic loss, who wants to go shopping for something like this?” said Soholt. “It validates that baby was living and part of the family. Some may never want to look at it again, it's too painful. Some might frame it, and in some cases, they might bury the baby in it. It's not going to fix it, but I hope it brings a little bit of comfort.”

Soholt's first delivery as a nurse was a stillborn baby, and the loss is even closer to her heart after her son and daughter-in-law lost a baby at 18 weeks gestation.

“We held him and took a couple of pictures with him and said our goodbyes,” said Jackie Rangen, Soholt's daughter-in-law. “My husband's thing is if one person can be comforted because of our loss, it brings us a little bit of peace.”

An Iowa hospital wrapped their son, Andrew, in a simple angel gown, and that's when Soholt knew beauty would come from her family's broken heartstrings.

Andrew's Angel Gowns is now named for the grandson Soholt never had the chance to meet.

She visited Empty the Nest home clean out and thrift store in Golden Valley, and told store owner Sharon Fischman what she planned to do with a vintage wedding dress.

“She told me and I was like, wow. I got goosebumps and from there it has a life of its own,” said Fischman.

Many of the seamstresses joining Soholt understand how the dreams of becoming a parent can abruptly unravel. One woman shared she had miscarriage at 12 weeks, and another volunteer came because her grandson died at seven days old.

Fischman began to help Soholt collect gowns and offered her store to a group of volunteers who wanted to help cut up the wedding dresses and sew them into delicate garments. A group now meets monthly to create angel gowns inside the store.

With more than 200 wedding gowns in her basement, so far, Soholt and her team of volunteers have sewn more than 250 angel gowns and 75 bonnets.

“I will never look at wedding dresses the same, thinking what can I do here? And then reality hits, and it's emotional. Someone's joy is going to someone's loss,” said Soholt. “When I carry the gowns into the hospital, I pray for a blessing on the families.”

At the Birthplace at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, and more than a dozen other Twin Cities hospitals, nurses have Andrew's Angel gowns on hand for grieving families. Soholt dropped off several boxes to labor and delivery nurses at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, who were stunned by the detail and love in every garment.

“This is amazing,” said Amanda Peterson, RN. “Since they can't take their baby home with them, the mementos mean everything to them.”

Soholt has learned because of Andrew, because of the angels among us, the invisible threads of loss are sometimes the strongest ties that hold us together.

“I hope this tiny little gown can help some of the pain they are going through, to hold on for the remembrance and not forget that little life. It's a loss you carry with you for a lifetime,” said Soholt.

Soholt has many wedding gowns, but needs volunteers to help her sew. If you'd like to help, visit her Facebook page, Andrew's Angel Gowns.