Fashion, Advocacy and Community: How a Gown Stole a JDRF Gala Show

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Shortly after I received the incredible news that my husband and I would be honored at the 2016 JDRF One Night Gala in Boston this year, I got a message from fellow D-mom, Darlene, a talented seamstress. “I am making you an original gown for this event,” she said. “And… it’s my gift to you.”

Three years ago Darlene had worked on my mother of the bride gown, and slayed it. But I’ll be honest with you: I was having trouble embracing the whole “honoree” thing. Who was I to be honored? I’m a diabetes mom. Sure, I’ve raised a lot and done a lot but … who hasn’t?  And then almost immediately, I thought to myself “Oh I should just say thank you to Darlene, but it’s not necessary, and forget it.”  I’d find a gown on sale at Lord and Taylor and cross that off the list.”

Then I met with Darlene and she showed me her plan.

A gown in the rich JDRF blue I love, with an open slit in front and a skirt beneath. “You have great legs, Moira. The dress will be so flattering. And, it’s also going to have…” Darlene flipped to a sketch that – and I don’t say this lightly – blew my mind.

“See? The long skirt will open and the lining will be embroidered with names. Names of all the people you care about and have helped with diabetes. Because Moira: They are part of the fabric of your life.”

I burst into tears. (Did I mention we were in the middle of a Panera?) In an instant, just like that, I felt like I could accept, enjoy, and deeply appreciate this honoree thing.

I went home and posted a simple question on Facebook: “If I have ever helped you or your child in your diabetes life, say something here. Or name someone I have helped for you.” . Within two hours, there were over 600 names posted. Darlene was going to have some sewing to do.

And she did. This wonderful woman who works full time spent her nights and weekends slaving over this gown. I had a few fittings, and I teased it on Facebook, claiming it was going to be the best gown ever. I think I even said Lady Gaga would be impressed. No one knew about the names, though. I kept the secret close.

And then I started worrying: was I overselling it? Maybe it was not as meaningful to the diabetes world as it was to me. One of the last fittings, my husband (who was in on it) came along. I put the gown on and walked into the room, hoping he would like it.

Moira McCarthy and Sean Stanford“Holy sh**, Moira. Holy sh**,” he said. “People are going to lose it over this.”

Darlene kept stitching and stitching names up until the last moment. She did not get to all 600+ (yet). But she has offered to take it back and continue.

Gala night came. I’d used the social media hashtag #galazilla and built a little suspense around it. As promised, at 6:05 p.m. (the start of the gala), I posted a photo to social media and then never looked at my phone again that night. At the gala, folks looked, and then looked again. They cried. They found the names of people they love. They took photos with the gown. They stared in awe.

In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, my gown was indeed breaking the diabetes internet. Stories were being shared about how I’d met folks who saw their or their child’s name on the gown. Strangers posted the photo and said how much they loved it. Darlene’s magnificent creation (which by the way was also incredibly comfortable!) was taking action. It was inspiring people. It was sharing the JDRF story. It was connection the community.

I, on the stage as honoree, felt somehow fueled by the gown, like it was giving me superpowers.

Then I realized: that’s because it was designed with the spirit and courage of so many. Those names? They are the true honorees that night. They are representative of the millions who do all they have to do to stay healthy and happy and secure with diabetes and yet still find a way, every day, to just plain shine. I may raise money and fund research and speak at events and deliver bags of hope and whatever else has to be done, but I do all of that standing on the shoulders of the true heroes out there. The boys and girls, men and women, all like my own daughter, who do umpteen more things that me every single day just to be alive and on this earth.

In the end, I absolultely loved being the honoree I so didn’t believe I should be, and so did my husband. About $1.9 million was raised in the room that night.

My gown is in the closet. I might bring it back to Darlene to add more names. I don’t know that I’ll ever find the chance to wear it again. But I realize now that I’ve kind of been wearing it all along.

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