Irene Vouvalides

Love, Hope and Healing

December 2018 IssueIrene
by Jane Kendall
Photography by Christian Lee

Everyone prays it will never happen to them. On February 17, 2013, Carly Elizabeth Hughes took her last breath in her mother Irene’s arms, as her spirit floated into the light. She was only 24, a recent college graduate, and eager to make a difference in the world.

Although a rare form of gastro-esophageal cancer took her life after a short four-month battle, Carly’s dreams were destined to manifest through her mom. It was unimaginable for Irene Vouvalides to think about a life without Carly, her only child. Carly’s death initiated Irene’s spiritual quest to find answers and opened the door to her own passion and purpose in life. After months of deep grieving, Irene found an online support group. Helping Parents Heal is a non-profit organization that offers bereaved parents the opportunity to attend group meetings, along with resources to support them through the healing process. The organization also encourages grieving parents to share the spiritual experiences of their children in the afterlife.

Irene started a local chapter of Helping Parents Heal in 2015, and she recently became the Vice President of the international Helping Parents Heal organization. Since Carly’s passing, Irene has spoken with spiritual mediums who have provided what Irene believes to be absolute evidence of the afterlife, which has brought her comfort and helped to lighten her grief. “I truly believe that consciousness survives death of the physical body, and if consciousness survives, there must be a place that we go,” Irene explained. “What if you thought of death, instead of being an ending, as stepping through a doorway into the afterlife?” Personally, Irene believes she has proof positive that consciousness transcends physical death, and that Carly is well and with her always.

In April of 2017, Irene organized the first national Helping Parents Heal conference in Phoenix, Arizona. She arranged for experts in the field of grief, healing, and the afterlife to volunteer and share their gifts. She anticipated an attendance of 150. Instead, there were 500 participants! An opening appearance, via video, by Garth Brooks—one of Carly and Irene’s all-time favorite singers—was a highlight. While his hit song, The Dance, played, a slideshow of photos provided by the attending parents of the children they were grieving flashed across the screen. Tears and embraces filled the room. Irene is planning a much larger event for 2020 in Charleston, SC, and she has already recruited internationally renowned authors and speakers in the fields of near death experiences, mediumship, and the afterlife.

Carly’s dream was to work at the oldest African-American Catholic School in the country, Holy Family School in Natchez, Mississippi, after she graduated college. She fell in love with the children at the school when she’d participated in two service trips while a student at Boston College. The school was – and still is – struggling financially, and Carly was dedicated to helping the children. Following Carly’s transition, Irene, together with Carly’s boyfriend Mike, established Carly’s Kids —A Foundation for Education. Carly’s Kids supports Holy Family School, as well as esophageal cancer research at Columbia University Medical Center, where Carly received treatment. A trust was set up through the Community Foundation of New Jersey, which transferred to the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry when Irene and her husband moved to Hilton Head. The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry is dedicated to helping donors, nonprofit organizations and other community members make a difference in people’s lives by bringing together financial resources, knowledge and collaborative networks to serve community needs.

Irene has now become a healer in her own right, connecting others with resources to help them on their journey. “I’m just looking to be able to help other people and to offer hope. To say: Yeah, we got dealt the worst possible deal. There’s nothing worse that can happen to a parent than losing a child, but maybe if we open our hearts, we can help others heal.”



Helping Parents Heal: Meets from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second Sunday each month at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bluffton

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See the Video:
International Helping Parents Heal video featuring Garth Brooks:

Check Out Community Foundation of the Lowcountry:
4 Northridge Drive, Suite A, Hilton Head, SC 29926  

Donate to Carly’s Kids:
Call the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry at 843-681-9100