Monday, May 2, 2011

A Mother's Parting Gift

The Christening Gown - a Mother's Final Gift and a Family Heirloom

My beautiful mother, Alwynne Jean MacDade [Reece-Hoyes] was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease at a very young age. She was only in her early forties when we first noticed signs that something was wrong. As the disease progressed, she continued to be cared for at home for as long as was possible however, sadly at the age of 52 had to be placed reluctantly by my sisters and myself, into a nursing home to prevent her from wandering and endangering herself. My sisters and I all had young babies and as the disease was far advanced by then, we could no longer care for her. It broke our hearts each time we visited her and watched, as we faded from her memory.

My mother was well admired for many things, among them her great generosity, but she was especially known for her beautiful sewing. In 1982 after the birth of my daughter, Rhiannon Sarah Sharne, my mother set about to design and to sew a christening gown. She was 51 years of age, and with well progressed Alzheimers, no one expected that she would accomplish the task. But against all odds, she selected the delicate fabric, lace and made up her own design for a Christening Gown which she was able to tell me that she wished to be passed down in the family. It was obvious that this was an important gift which she wanted to give.

The gown was truly a labour of love, for many times during the three months in which she crafted the gown, she telephoned me in tears to say that she was having difficulty with the delicate tasks of pin tucking and hand picoting. As we were having a double christening for our three year old son and three month old daughter I bought outfits for both of them but I did not buy another Christening Gown. Somehow, I knew that my mother would not fail to present this gift that she was so determined to give.

Several days before the Christening, my mother was flown to Sydney from Brisbane and when she arrived she presented me with a most exquisite and beautifully sewn gown for my daughter to wear. I was simply speechless. How this amazing lady who could no longer take care of herself and who had difficulty in speaking, had achieved this truly magnificent act of kindness and perseverance was beyond comprehension. The Christening Gown was finished in time for the Christening, but my mother was extremely distressed, because no matter how hard she tried, she could not complete the matching Christening Bonnet. She no longer remembered how to sew a simple stitch. The most difficult part for her was that she could not understand why. In the two months before the Christening, my mother had designed, made and finished sewing the beautiful Christening dress, and this feat was nothing short of a miracle.

Determined that my daughter would wear both the dress and bonnet, I sewed quickly a tacking thread through the front of the bonnet (I did not inherit my mother's sewing talent or the patience for it). My poor mother's frown when she saw my effort with the christening bonnet said everything! But my daughter wore our new family heirloom and I was perhaps the proudest mother at a baby's Christening ever!

The Christening Gown was the last thing that my mother ever sewed for me. She was unable to remember how to sew at all immediately after completing her final labour of love for our family. Dementia took the mother we had known very rapidly away from us after the Christening, and less than a year later, tragically, she did not recognise anyone in our family at all.

Pictured right, is my beautiful mother, Alwynne Jean MacDade holding baby Rhiannon in the Christening Gown which was an amazing and very special gift from my mother to myself and my children. It is our most treasured possession and will undoubtedly become our most precious family heirloom.

Right: The beautiful Christening Gown worn by Rhiannon in October 1982 and big brother Hamish being Christened in his navy velvet knickerbockers.

The Christening Gown was worn again in October, 1986 by our third child, daughter, Siobhan Kaitlyn Jemima. The bonnet was too small for her to wear, but she looked beautiful in her grandmother's very special gift. My mother did not see her little grand daughter looking angelic in the very special Christening Gown, but we were all thinking of her as we witnessed our baby being christened in the beautiful dress she had sewn.

Right: Myself proudly holding Siobhan in the Christening Gown, October, 1986.

Our fourth child, daughter, Briallen Sian Hannah was the last baby to wear my mother's Christening Gown, in October, 1990. By now, my mother was very ill and I was even more proud to have the Christening Gown she had sewn for Briallen to wear.

I have carefully packed away the Christening Dress to be passed on to my children and hopefully to their children. My mother, her kindness and her wonderful talent will live on through the beautiful gown which she sewed and gave to me as a final gift before she succumbed to the complete loss of memory caused by Alzheimer's Disease, aged, in her fifties.

Right: Briallen's Christening, where she is wearing the Christening Gown my mother made; now our special family heirloom.



  1. Sharn,

    What a beautiful post and tribute to your mother. Thanks you for sharing the story.

  2. What a beautiful christening gown to treasure.

  3. Hi Sharn. So sad she was so young with the disease. Beautiful christening dress and oh so special because she made it. My daughter wore my dress and my granddaughter has now worn it also.

    I need to thank you for the award you gave me several weeks back. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get to it, but I was very involved in "My Great Swedish Adventure" at the time. There should be no excuse, but that was truly it. Thank you!

  4. Thankyou for the lovely comments about this post, both here and on facebook. This was my tribute to my mother for mother's day, 2011. I am very pleased that others took the time to read it.

  5. So beautiful, Sharn... what a wonderful gift from your darling mother... as you know, my Dad has the same illness, but we are fortunate in that he is almost 90.Mum died at 51 of cancer, so I can truly understand your pain. Thank you for sharing this again with us this year...

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