Why I am parting with the wedding dress of my dreams ...
Lisburn woman Mandie Nickels is so grateful for the care given to her mother in her final days that she's decided to auction her bridal gown to raise funds for Newry Hospice, as Stephanie Bell finds out
It is a fairytale dress which made Mandie Nickels feel like a princess on her wedding day and she vowed never to part with it. But now the Lisburn mum of three is offering another girl the chance to enjoy the stunning bejewelled gown as she raffles it to raise money for Newry Hospice as a thank you for the care they gave her mum before she passed away in June from cancer.
Mandie's gesture, launched through Facebook, has already tugged at the heartstrings of those who have read her story, and one stranger has now even offered her own special wedding dress – another gorgeous creation – as part of the raffle.
Mandie (26), who works in a bank, is married to Matthew, an engineer, and they have three daughters, Amy (11), Hannah (9) and Billie (15 months). Mandie is also 14 weeks pregnant with their fourth child.
As she tries on her dress for the last time, she has no regrets about passing on her special gown.
"I wanted to do a sponsored walk or run, something to raise money for the hospice to show how grateful we are as a family, but three weeks after mum died I found out I was pregnant and so that wasn't an option," she said.
"I still wanted to do something but didn't know what. Then one day I was sorting through a few things of mum's and I came across my wedding dress and had the idea to raffle it."
Her beautiful gown meant the world to Mandie, who scoured Northern Ireland and tried on over 50 dresses before she found it for her big day.
"I think I must have been in every bridal shop in Northern Ireland, it was crazy," she says.
"Then by chance one day I was out walking and I passed a bridal shop and the dress was in the window.
"It is covered in jewels from top to toe which caught the light and sparkled – I fell in love with it instantly.
"I went into the shop with no appointment and asked if I could try it on and as soon as I put it on I knew it was for me. It was my dream dress and I felt like a princess in it.
"There was no way I was ever going to part with it and I even had the idea that when my daughters got a bit older I would love to get them to try it on and have their pictures taken in it."
Mandie's world was rocked last February when, after months of tests to find out why her mum, Kim Irwin, was feeling ill, it was revealed she had terminal cancer.
At the time, Mandie's young sister and brother were just 18 and 16 years old and for their sake, their brave mum was determined to fight, even though the cancer was right through her body.
"It had started with cancer of the bladder but by the time they diagnosed her, it had broken through the muscle wall and spread and there was nothing they could do," says Mandie.
"Because we were all so young, mum was determined to battle it and she went through five cycles of chemo and intensive radiotherapy but every time she was scanned the cancer was still there and in fact it was growing. She just got on with things and hid her pain and never complained, even though the treatment made her sick and very tired.
"In the end, she literally went downhill overnight and it was a terrible shock. One day she was up and about doing what she needed to do and the next she could hardly move.
"She couldn't keep food down, her pain had doubled and she wasn't mobile. She was very quickly brought into the hospice, where she spent three weeks."
Mandie has nothing but praise for the staff who helped make her mother's time in the hospice as easy and dignified as possible.
"She was still so ill in there she couldn't eat or drink," she says. "The nurses were absolutely amazing. She was in so much pain and not able to do anything for herself and they made her so comfortable.
"She was very proud and brave and her whole dignity had been taken away from her but the hospice staff made her feel so at ease. They were great to us as well and when we left at night we didn't have to worry about mum because we knew she was being so well cared for.
"Mum loved it and there was such a warm feeling about it."
The treatment Mandie's mother received meant so much to the family, especially as she was then able to be taken home for her final few days.
"She wanted to die at home and she must have known the end was near because she asked to be brought home," says Mandie.
"We got her home on the Thursday and she passed away on the Sunday morning."
e Mandie's dress, a size 10-12, and that of her fellow auctioneer, a size 16-18 (never worn), will be up for offer for just £2 a ticket
e The draw will be held on September 14 at Newry Hospice where two nurses will draw the winning tickets
e Pictures of the dresses and full details on how to buy tickets are available on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/events/-195214620647093