Girls pay tribute to late best friend by wearing her prom dress

Posted April 30, 2016

BOSTON — When you’re in high school, selecting a prom dress can feel like one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. But for one group of friends, the blue dress they’ll wear symbolizes much more than just an iconic teenage experience.

Catherine Malatesta — the first girl to wear the dress — rowed crew, sang in her high school choir, served as president of her student council, played field hockey and was generally loved by all who knew her, according to the Boston Globe. At just 16 years old, Catherine noticed a sharp pain in her shoulder. That pain turned out to be a symptom of a rare, aggressive form of cancer that had spread to her lungs and spine.

Even though her prognosis was grim, Catherine refused to lose hope. Throughout her brutal treatments, which included chemotherapy and radiation, Catherine passed her AP tests, acted in the school play, donated her hair to Locks of Love and toured colleges, Today reports.

The high school junior was thrilled when she was asked to prom, and she and her mother ordered a sleeveless dark blue dress while sitting in the emergency room in the middle of the night, according to Today. For one special night, she was able to trade her hospital gown for a fancy one and danced the night away, surrounded by friends who loved her.

“She turned to me and said, ‘Mom, for the first time in a long time, I actually feel beautiful,’” Jennifer Goodwin, Catherine’s mother, told Today. “It was such a lovely moment and I was so happy that she felt like that for one day. It was a special, special night for all of us.”

Just a few days later, Catherine was back in the hospital, where she stayed until she passed away Aug. 2, 2015, less than a year after her initial diagnosis.

“The last time most of her friends saw her was at prom,” Goodwin told the Globe. “The last thing they saw her in was her dress.”

After Catherine passed, Goodwin invited her daughter’s four best friends to go through her things and take what they wanted. The prom dress was still hanging on the back of her door, and when the girls saw it, they came up with an idea.

Each of them would take a turn wearing their friend’s dress to their own proms — an effort Goodwin has nicknamed, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress.”

“For these girls, it means more to them to have their friend with them than it does to have the latest dress,” Goodwin said. “It symbolizes their strong friendships, and the sisterhood — Catherine was part of the sisterhood. They loved her dearly.”

Two of the girls were friends from summer camp, while the other two are friends from school. They say the dress helps them feel closer to the girl they adored.

“I think prom was a very special time for Catherine last year, with everything she was going through,” said Carly Blau, who met Catherine at camp. “By wearing her dress, it’s a way to connect with her and have some closure and shine as bright as she did at prom.”

Since the girls have different builds, they have a tailor on hand to make necessary adjustments to the dress. Goodwin told the Globe she’s deeply touched by the girls’ tribute to her daughter and thinks Catherine would have loved the idea.

“I know my daughter would be overjoyed that her friends wanted to honor her memory in this way,” she said. “She will be with them at their prom.”

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.


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