When Jillian Danton, 17, stepped into her Arlington, Massachusetts, prom on Friday she wore a long, shimmering blue gown. She felt like the belle of the ball.
But unlike most of her peers, her dress didn’t come from hours of scouring local department stores for the perfect look. Danton’s dress came from a place much closer to her heart—it belonged to her deceased friend Catherine Malatesta.
According to The Boston Globe, when Malatesta passed away in August 2015, her mother, Jennifer Goodwin, invited friends to go through her things and take what they wanted. Goodwin told paper, “Her prom dress was still hanging on her closet door, and her friends started trying it on. They said, ‘We should all wear Catherine’s dress.’”
Four of her friends, each from different schools, drew inspiration from the popular Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books and films, and formed their own take on the series to honor their friend. This spring, they are each taking turns wearing her dress to their respective proms.
In December 2014, Malatesta received a devastating diagnosis of Stage IV epithelioid sarcoma. Yet despite the grim news, she continued to attend school whenever possible and ran for student council. She was also very determined to go to her junior prom.
Two weeks before the prom, however, Malatesta was hospitalized with fluid in her lungs. She was discharged at 7 p.m. the night before the dance. Prom pictures of Malatesta show a smiling, confident young woman, and her mother recalls how happy she was on that night.
Goodwin told Today, “She turned to me and said, ‘Mom, for the first time in a long time, I actually feel beautiful.'”
Danton, the first to wear the dress, grew up with Malatesta in Arlington, and thinks of her as an older sister. “l definitely felt her with me the whole time and it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world,” Danton told Today. “It’s an extra memory of her that I have to hold on to.”
“For a parent who has lost a child, the hardest part is you think people are going to forget about them,” Goodwin added. “It’s important for the parent to keep that spirit alive. The fact that this group of girls wants to do this on their own just helps me to grieve and helps me to move forward.”
The gown will next be worn by Emma Schambers to the East Greenwich High School senior prom in Rhode Island on May 13, followed by Lauren Hourican, who will wear it to Arlington’s senior prom on May 20. Carly Blau is to wear it to the Beverly High School senior prom on June 2.
Goodwin has also created a scholarship in her daughter’s memory on GoFundMe. Much like her daughter, Goodwin is not letting tragedy darken her world. And she’s grateful that friends are rallying to keep Catherine’s spirit alive.
“For these girls, it means more to them to have their friend with them than it does to have the latest dress,” Goodwin told Today. “It symbolizes their strong friendships, and the sisterhood. Catherine was part of the sisterhood. They loved her dearly.”