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North Branford resident Marilou Elles creates tiny bereavement gowns to give hope to those enduring loss, as a volunteer with Connecticut-based Hope After Loss. On June 2, Elles was honored by Hope After Loss during its Compassionate Care Awards at Woodwinds in Branford. To date, she has crafted no less than 150 heartbreakingly tiny white garments, as well as two heart shaped mementos of the same fabric—one for the wedding gown donor and one for the family of the child—with each gown. A photo of her work appears with this story at www.zip06.com. (Photo courtesy of Marilou Elles)
Elles crafts tiny gowns like this one, as well as two heart shaped mementoes of the same fabric—one for the wedding gown donor and one for the family of the child. (Photo courtesy of Jan Ferraro)
Working patiently with donated wedding gowns of silk, satin, and lace, Marilou Elles creates tiny bereavement gowns to give hope to those enduring loss.
The North Branford resident gives of her talent as a volunteer with Connecticut-based Hope After Loss, which has the mission of helping “those who experience pregnancy and or infant loss to find the inspiration of hope by providing connections, comfort, and care,” according to www.hopeafterloss.org.
On June 2, when Hope After Loss held its Compassionate Care Awards at Woodwinds in Branford, the non-profit also honored Marilou for her extraordinary volunteer work. As the sole creator of gowns that are provided by Hope After Loss, Marilou has created no less than 150 heartbreakingly tiny white garments, to date.
With each gown, Marilou creates two ornaments from the same fabric, which she crafts as heart-shaped mementos.
“The heart is given to the mother of the baby who receives the gown, and then we make another heart to give to the person who donates the gown,” Marilou explains. “There’s a connection from person to person—a wedding gown is always bought with a sense of love, and the mother who is saying goodbye to her infant is doing so with a sense of love. So we feel it connects them, in some way.”
Marilou started creating bereavement gowns for Hope After Loss at the request of her friend and Hope After Loss supporter Jan Ferraro, who introduced Marilou to the program.
“I didn’t realize that I was the sole person making the gowns until some time ago, when Jan and I were speaking, and I said, ‘How many of us are doing these gowns?’ And she said, ‘You.’ And I said, ‘Ok!’” recalls Marilou. “But we have reached out to some others, and while it’s been slow coming, we do now have several people that are interested in helping. So it’s nice to know that there will be other people that will be doing this particular ministry with us.”
Marilou says a goal of the effort is to try to provide the gowns to all of the Connecticut hospitals with newborn care units.
“We haven’t completed that mission, but it’s going along very nicely,” she says.
While Marilou provides the gowns to Ferraro to be distributed through Hope After Loss, she was especially grateful to hear from someone who witnessed one of her gowns being provided to a family in need.
“I spoke with a doctor not too long ago who told me, ‘I was present, sadly, when one of your gowns was used, and it was very touching,’” says Marilou.
While there is no question the act of using the gown is tied in many ways to grief, when Marilou started making the gowns, she said she immediately felt a sense of hope connected to the work.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Isn’t that horribly sad?’” says Marilou of sewing the bereavement gowns. “And to me, the making of the gown is more like trying to give hope. The sadness has already occurred. So I always saw the gowns as things of beauty, to make the parents’ life a little less painful in what they’re doing.”
Marilou also makes every effort to use every inch possible of the donated wedding gowns.
“The smallest number I’ve made from one gown is 4 or 5, and I’ve got 15 from a gown that had a very long train,” she says. “Jan, right now in her office, probably has 50 or 60 [completed] gowns. I try to do them every couple of weeks. And there are times when I’ll make five or six in couple weeks, then take a month off, and then make another five or six, that kind of thing, because I have other charities that I try to do things for.”
As a member of Zion Episcopal Church of North Branford, Marilou lends her knitting and crocheting talent to assist a prayer shawl making group.
“I belong to a prayer shawl group that started in my church a while ago, and there are still four or five of us that make shawls for people that are ill,” says Marilou. “And we make shawls for people all over the United States—by word of mouth, [people who are ill] were heard about, and we sent them out. We send a little prayer with each shawl.”
Last year, when a cousin of Marilou’s was receiving dialysis treatment, she found another way to give others some comfort by sharing her talents.
“Some friends and myself made scarves and hats for all the dialysis patients that were in his unit where he was receiving dialysis,” says Marilou.
A North Branford resident since 1979, Marilou and her late husband, Robert, raised their kids here, often getting involved to help give back to their community along the way.
“My husband and I raised our family here. We had four daughters, so we were pretty active in the community, and our children all attended North Branford Public Schools. We really love the community and have many dear friendships here. Our life has been spent here,” says Marilou. “People know of my husband well; he also did a lot in the community. It’s just been a part of our lives forever.”
Marilou was a nurse during much of her professional career, followed by working for an attorney for many years in a practice that “combined nursing and law, in a sense,” she says.
When she retired in 2010, Marilou stepped up her efforts to volunteer her time and talent to support others.
“I just think it’s important to live a life of trying to give something to others, if you’re able,” she says.
She adds that she was greatly honored, and humbled, to be recognized by Hope After Loss during this year’s Compassionate Care Awards. Marilou was honored in addition to the award recipients, who are medical support caregivers nominated by families who have received their support during a time of unimaginable heartbreak.
“I learned so much at the event that I am anxious to be a more active member of the group,” says Marilou of Hope After Loss. “They’re doing an amazing job.”
To learn more about Hope After Loss programs, support groups, resources, and events or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.hopeafterloss.org.