Irene Vouvalides is the International Vice President of Helping Parents Heal, the Leader of the Helping Parents Heal chapter in Hilton Head and Bluffton, South Carolina, a Helping Parents Heal Caring Listener, and the Helping Parents Heal Conference Chair. She found her way to Helping Parents Heal after experiencing a tragedy everyone prays will never happen to them. On February 17, 2013, Irene’s precious only child, Carly Elizabeth Hughes, took her last breath in Irene’s arms. She was only 24, a recent college graduate, and eager to make a difference in the world.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- The ways Carly’s death began Irene’s spiritual quest to find answers.
- How Carly came through to Irene during her initial readings with world-famous mediums George Anderson and later through Suzanne Giesemann.
- The ways Helping Parents Heal opened the door to Irene’s passion and purpose in life.
- The first Helping Parents Heal Conference that featured Garth Brooks, and the plans for the next Helping Parents Heal Conference that will take place in Arizona.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE W. ASKS IRENE V.:
- What was your initial journey with Helping Parents Heal like?
- What kinds of signs do you receive from Carly to let you know that she is with you?
- What is your message about the importance of healing that you would like to share with our podcast audience?
Listen to the podcast here
Irene Vouvalides: Helping Parents Heal
I hope this finds each of you very well. In this episode, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to interview Irene Vouvalides who will be speaking to us from Hilton Head, South Carolina. As some of you know, from previous interviews, Helping Parents Heal is an inspiring nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting bereaved parents to become shining light parents by providing support and resources to aid in the healing process.
Irene is the International Vice President of Helping Parents Heal, the leader of the Helping Parents Heal chapter in Hilton Head and Bluffton, South Carolina, a Helping Parents Heal caring listener, and the Helping Parents Heal Conference Chair. She found her way to helping parents heal after experiencing a tragedy everyone prays that will never happen to them.
On February 17, 2013, Irene’s precious, only child, Carly Elizabeth Hughes, took her last breath in Irene’s arms. She was only 24, a recent college graduate, and eager to make a difference in the world. I’m looking forward to asking Irene questions about her remarkable Carly, her journey with Helping Parents Heal, and much more. Irene, a warm, heartfelt welcome to the show. Let’s begin our interview with this question. Please tell us about Carly and your relationship with her before she passed. Share how she passed and tell us what your life was like after her passing.
First, I want to say thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. My beautiful daughter, Carly Elizabeth Hughes, we were and still are best friends. We spoke multiple times during the day. She lived in Boston. She loved to tell everyone that she chose Boston College because it was the only school on the East Coast that was a five-minute cab ride to Bloomingdales, which was her favorite store she loved to shop. Carly was brilliant. She was an Education major with a secondary degree in Math. She was a graduate of Boston College and had started working. She was not working using her Education degree, but it was her goal to teach. She wanted to teach at the oldest African-American Catholic school in the Mississippi Valley.
She led service trips during her time at Boston College. Carly, a beautiful, brilliant friend to everyone, an animal lover, a funny girl, and was an absolute joy. It’s interesting because, from the moment she was born, I always had this feeling that she wasn’t going to be mine for a long period of time. I never got over that feeling. At her college graduation, my husband and I were there, Carly’s stepdad. I turned to him and said, “I spent all those years worrying about her. She graduated college. She’s fine. She’s going to start her own life.” Less than a year later, she was ill. She was diagnosed with esophageal gastric cancer. It’s unheard of in a 23-year-old. She passed less than six months after her diagnosis.
How completely heartbreaking.
It was surreal. I still have trouble wrapping my head around it, thinking of what happened, what happened to her, and how she suffered.
This must have plunged you into terrible grief.
I could not imagine the pain when you go through a tremendous loss. I truly did not want to be on this Earth. I honestly did not want to live without her. I needed to know that she was okay and wasn’t frightened. My mantra became, “Tony can’t be twice widowed,” because my husband’s first wife passed out of pancreatic cancer. I was completely lost. I did not know what to do. I would wake up and count the hours until I could go to sleep. Sleep did not come easily for me at all.
I can relate. In what ways did Carly’s death open your eyes to spirituality and begin your quest to find answers?
I knew that the love that I had for my daughter and the love we had for each other couldn’t disappear just because her body was no longer on this Earth. That love could not die. I knew I had to find her, and I knew she was there.
What led you to find Helping Parents Heal, an organization that encourages grieving parents to share the spiritual experiences of their children in the afterlife? What was your initial journey with Helping Parents Heal like? How did it open the door to what you’re doing now, which is your passionate purpose in life?
I became obsessed with reading books about the afterlife and looking for videos about the afterlife. The first book that I read was Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof Of Heaven. That book led me to the Eternea website. On the Eternea website, I found out about Mark Ireland and read his book, which I found in his book that he was the Cofounder of Helping Parents Heal. I found Helping Parents Heal. I knew this was an organization for me. I had gone to one other grief support group for parents that had children transition, and I knew it wasn’t for me. There were people in that meeting that were ten years into their journey, and they were in a terrible place. I thought, “I don’t want to be that person. I want to find joy. I want to heal. I want to find happiness again,” even though at that point I couldn’t imagine it.
I can relate because after my husband died, I went to some grief counseling groups. I was stronger even though I was lost also looking and dealing with messages, talking to people, and trying to connect a soul. They wanted me to help the other people who were grieving. I was like, “This is not the right fit for me and all that.” I had a similar experience. I also want everyone to know that both Eben Alexander and Mark Ireland have interviews on Helping Parents Heal on the show every Wednesday. You can check them out. Since Carly’s passing, you’ve spoken with spiritual mediums who have provided what you believe to be absolute evidence of the afterlife, which brought you comfort and helped to lighten your grief. Please tell us about your first reading with Medium George Anderson.
I spent a long time researching mediums because I wanted to make sure I went to a medium that had been tested and scientifically tested. I found Dr. Gary Schwartz’s HBO documentary. George Anderson was one of the mediums he tested. John Edward was also a part of that. My sister and I made an appointment at the time. I lived in New Jersey. No name. You pay when you get there. We went to a hotel in Long Island. It was about eight months after Carly had passed.
I set my intention to know that she was okay and wasn’t frightened when she passed. Any parent wants to know that their children are okay. My sister and I sat with George Anderson. Within five minutes of sitting with him, he told me that I had a child that passed. She was present, and she wanted me to stop obsessing about her passing. It was as easy as walking through a doorway. Her grandmother, my mother, was present for her when she crossed the threshold.
You must have cried.
It changed everything. We all talk about shifts on our grief journey, and that was a major shift for me.
I had the same experience when my husband came through it. It’s a tremendous relief. You’re still grieving, but there’s a piece that’s different.
Grief is a lifelong journey. It was David Kessler that said, “Suffering is optional.” We can find our way and we don’t have to suffer. It’s been a long journey. It’s been many years and much has happened in those years. It was hearing George say that it was as if Carly was in the room with me and she wanted me to know, “I’m fine.”
You also have a touching story about Medium Suzanne Giesemann. She was also on the show. Why don’t you tell us about your interview or experience with her?
It’s incredible. I think about it now years later, and it still amazes me. After seeing George Anderson, I had a copy of his Walking In The Garden Of Souls book. He autographed the book for me. On the left side, he wrote about Carly in the hereafter, and on the opposite side, on the right side, he wrote the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. George is very Catholic. I carried that book with me all the time, and I called it my Bible. It was my security blanket. No matter where I went, I would take that book. I had a reading with Suzanne Giesemann. I didn’t know at the time because now I do know that you’re not supposed to put conditions on any reading with a medium.
I asked Carly if she was going to be present at that meeting, the reading, would she please mention the book. I sat and held my book. This was a phone reading. This was not a Zoom or Skype. We were talking on the phone. She brought Carly through immediately, and many validations in that reading. She said to me, “I don’t quite understand this, but I see you with a book. It’s a Bible, but it isn’t a Bible. It’s an autographed book. As an author, I can tell you that when you autograph a book, you autograph the right side, but in this book, the left and the right are autographed.” That’s validation.
What kinds of signs do you receive from Carly to let you know that she’s well and with you?
I will tell you that I received signs all the time, but for those that are new on the journey, I was deep in my grief for a few years that if a sign came at me and hit me in the head, I wouldn’t know it was a sign. As my grief has lessened and as my journey has changed, I get signs all the time. I get signs from Carly through rainbows. I love rainbows. The song Somewhere Over The Rainbow by the Hawaiian Singer has always been a song that whenever either one of us would hear the song, we would call each other up. She’d say, “The song’s playing.” I would call her. I can ask her, “I need to know that you’re there. I’ll be in the house. Turn on Pandora’s radio,” and the song will play within seconds.
She will show me signs whenever I need them. Here in South Carolina about five years ago. We had a snowstorm in the winter, which snowstorm is not like what we got in New Jersey, but we did have a dusting of snow. I have Carly’s dog. We got the dog when Carly was ill. It’s a beautiful golden Doodle named Linus. He looks like a retriever. When she was sick, she was in the hospital and she said, “I have cancer. I want a dog. You can’t say no.” We got Linus and she said to my sister, “Aunt Judy, you have to get one in the litter as well.” My sister and I have these brothers.
We’re in South Carolina. Linus is outside playing in the snow. One of Carly’s childhood good friends moved to South Carolina also, and Kayla was outside playing with Linus in the snow. I looked out the window and thought, “Carly would love this.” A car stopped in front of our house. We live in a private gated community. A woman got out with a little boy and said to Kayla, “Would it be all right if my son played with your dog in the snow?” Kayla said, “Sure.” The woman said, “Please let me introduce myself. My name is Carly.” I know she’s here.
What a wonderful story is that. Irene mentioned her sister, Judy. Her name is Judith Hancox. She was also interviewed on the show. She is a wonderful healer. I recommend all of you to check out her interview. You often connect others with resources to help them on their grieving journey. Could you give us some examples of this?
Since I’ve become involved with Helping Parents Heal, you meet the most amazing people like yourself. It’s like a connect the dots in the spiritual community. We have 163 YouTube videos for meetings. I also have a chat with another mom. When we talk with other moms and they have a question or a need, we can go to one of those resources of someone that has spoken to our group, whether it be a healer, a trauma specialist, a medium, or an energy worker. It becomes a matter of connecting the dots, and it works out beautifully.
You are famous for the conference you organized in April 2018. I’ve heard so much about that conference. It was the first National Helping Parents Heal Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and it opened with an incredible video by Garth Brooks. Do you want to tell us about it? Do you have plans for another Helping Parents Heal Conference after this pandemic is behind us?
We have plans for the next conference, which should have happened this past April. You were going to be a part of that as well in Charleston, South Carolina, but that has been postponed. As soon as states start opening up and allowing large gatherings and people get vaccinated, we will be planning the conference, but it does take about a year to plan a conference. When I became involved with Helping Parents Heal, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Elizabeth Boisson, the President and Founder of Helping Parents Heal.
She was also interviewed.
She was lovely to me and spent so much time talking and encouraging me. After my husband and I moved to South Carolina, we moved with one other couple, our dear friends. I knew no one here. Elizabeth encouraged me to start a support group here in South Carolina, which I did about a year after we moved here. The group has grown. It’s just an incredible group. I said to Elizabeth, “I’ve been to some great conferences where I’ve met other parents who have had children pass, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to be in the presence of others that have experienced this. Why don’t we have a conference for helping parents heal?” She kindly said, “Do you have any idea what goes into scheduling and creating a conference?”
I thought, “How hard could it be? I’m a retired dental hygienist. I don’t know. I think I could do it.” Little did I know, it went into a conference, but it all worked out perfectly, smoothly, and wonderfully. Almost immediately, we had almost 500 parents that attended. All of the speakers volunteered their time. It was pure magic.
The signs, synchronicities, and wonderful stories that happened at that conference three years later, I still get the chills when I think about it. I can’t wait for the next conference. We had a lot of parents that weren’t sure if they wanted to go and what it was going to be like. One mom told me that when she went back home, she and her husband’s friends ask them, “Did you go to a conference or did you join a cult? You’re like different people.” That is what it was like.
Why Garth Brooks and who would you be bringing back this time?
Carly and I both loved Garth Brooks. We would drive around in New Jersey in one of our cars, and we would sing Garth Brooks songs. The song The Dance, if you’re familiar with it from Garth Brooks, is a very touching song. A lot of parents have used that song in their children’s memorial services. I knew that I wanted to have Garth Brooks at the conference. I knew that was probably going to be difficult to get that to happen, but I set my goal to have Garth Brooks.
I wrote to him, his manager, and to anyone who I thought could possibly have known him. The conference was in April. It got to be September, and I said, “I guess this isn’t going to happen. I know you’ve been able to do so much, but I think you have to let this go.” The next day, our niece who lived in Colorado called up and said, “Guess what?” I said, “What, Ariana?” She said, “I’m going to a wedding in Nashville, and you’re never going to believe whose house the wedding is at.” I said, “Whose house is the wedding at?” She said, “Garth Brooks.”
She and her husband are chiropractors, a patient happened to be Garth Brooks’ publicist or someone in the camp. I said, “Ariana, I have a task for you. Please get this letter to Garth Brooks.” Through knowing someone, we got the letter. We put the request in. I didn’t hear back, and I thought, “We’ll see.” In the next day in my email, I had this beautiful tribute that Garth Brooks had taped to play at the conference. That’s it. More magic happened.
Are you thinking of someone special for the next conference?
We are. I’m putting it out there to a couple of famous, shining light musicians, and we’ll see. Hopefully, we will connect with someone. The kids have it all under control. Elizabeth and I say that all the time. They are the helpers.
Following Carly’s transition, you establish Carly’s Kids, which is a foundation for education as well as for esophageal cancer research. Would you like to tell us about Carly’s Kids? I’m sure people will be touched and might want to donate. Let them know how they can donate to this worthy cause.
After Carly passed, you want to do something. You want to make sure that your child is remembered. You want to do something in honor. Carly led service trips to this school in Mississippi, which was having a lot of financial trouble. I thought it was fitting. It’s a Catholic school. I was brought up Catholic, and I call myself elapsed Catholic now. Here my daughter was staying at the school doing these service trips. She came home once and said, “I know what I want to do. I want to teach at this school one day.”
With her friend and her boyfriend’s help, we started this foundation. We have been keeping the school alive for the past years. The school is going to be closing with the pandemic, and it’s hard to keep these small schools alive. We’ve supported the school. I’ve visited the school a few times. Carly was treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and this Dr. Julian Abrams is doing groundbreaking research in esophageal and gastric cancers. We raised money for his research as well. In the eight years since she’s passed, they’ve made amazing strides in the prevention of esophageal cancer. It’s a cancer that by the time it is discovered, it’s a fatal disease.
In a way, Carly’s passing was a blessing that will help many other people.
It is. We chose colors for her foundation. I like to say Crayola colors, bold blue and bold green. This was before I knew anything about Helping Parents Heal. That’s the colors that Elizabeth had chosen for Helping Parents Heal. It’s the same colors. You can get more information about the foundation. It’s CarlysKidsFoundation.com.
Of all people, what is your message about the importance of healing that you would like to share with our audience?
It is possible to heal. Once I realized that I would always be a mother and that my child resides in spirit where she’s no longer walking this Earth, that doesn’t mean I do not continue to have the relationship with her. That made all the difference in the world. I think about what would she want me to do, and what if I was no longer walking this Earth, what would I want for her?
I know she wants me to be happy, and she wants me to help others. I tell everyone, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I wake up every day, I put my feet on the ground, and I say, “What can I do to honor my daughter today? What can I do to make a difference in someone else’s life?” That’s how I live my life. When you live your life with those foundations, it changes everything. How could you not heal?
I can relate. I have had a similar experience. You wake up and you go to sleep with so much gratitude. This has become a blessing in your life in a weird way. It’s life-changing.
We talk about collateral beauty. There is collateral beauty in loss and grief. Something else I’d love to mention is that Elizabeth and I are trying to change the language of loss. Helping Parents Heal originally was the journey from being bereaved to shining light. I don’t want the name bereaved attached to me forever. It has such heaviness to it. I don’t like to say dead or death, but transition. It’s a death of a physical body. No question about that, but the spirit doesn’t die. It lives forever. We are trying to help people and show them that words have so much power. Choose your words.
What word are you using instead of bereaved?
Shining light. We are shining light parents. At first, our children are the shining lights guiding us and helping us. As we heal, we become the shining lights for others.
That’s beautiful and wonderful. Thank you for adding that. What are the best ways for people to connect with you?
Our website is a wealth of information, and that is HelpingParentsHeal.org. I am a Caring Listener. As a Caring Listener, my phone number is listed on the Helping Parents Heal website.
As a Caring Listener, you want to tell everyone what that’s about? Do they choose you where you share your experience so that people can share, “If this is the person for me because I’m grieving hard, I need to talk with someone?”
We have over twenty Caring Listeners. We are parents who are a little further down the road on our journey. We reach back a hand to those who need help, and we call them the newbies. We’ve come up with our list of Caring Listeners, and we have a brief description of our story. I talk about Carly’s passing from cancer. We have moms that have children transitioned from a drug overdose, suicide, accidents, or eating disorders. You could look on the website. Sometimes when you know someone has had the same experiences you have, you relate to them.
They could find us on the website. We have a large Facebook group. We are over 16,000 members. We’ve doubled the membership in three years. If you join the Facebook group as a shining light parent, grandparent, sibling, or aunt or uncle, you can join our almost nightly meeting Zoom meetings that Elizabeth and I host. My sister does a monthly healing for parents. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do. This is all volunteer.
It’s such a blessing for people to have you as a resource and the fact that you’re connected to the spiritual part of it. A lot of grieving groups are not.
There are some groups that don’t allow you to talk about it. Who doesn’t want to talk about a sign? Who doesn’t want to talk about their connection with their child from the other side?
Having your child on the other side is non-denominational. I know there are some people who have different belief systems and all of that. I hear over and over from people what a tremendous comfort it is for them. What is your tip for finding joy in life?
It’s interesting because when I thought about finding joy and started reading about what joy is, one of the definitions I found was it’s the feeling you experience when you do something good for someone else. Isn’t that beautiful? That is where I find my joy in doing for others because when I do for others, a little piece of me continues to heal. When I do for others, I connect. It’s all about the connection. I feel like I am tapped into the world and the universe where I never felt that way before.
It’s because you are. I can still relate to what you’re saying because it’s another Irene. I feel the same exact way with what is going on here with the show and all. Thank goodness that we have this and we can pass it forward.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her every second of every day and that I don’t wish that she was still here, but there’s nothing I can do to bring her back to this Earth. What do I do? I continue the relationship I have with her in the way that I can.
I can completely identify it. I’ve interviewed numerous people associated with Helping Parents Heal, and they all speak about you in glowing terms. Now I can add myself to that list. In addition, how many people on this planet get to share the name Irene, which comes from the Greek language and it means peace?
Therefore, Irene is surely a very fitting name for you because knowing for sure that consciousness transcends physical death and knowing for sure that Carly is always with you has not only brushed you tremendous comfort and peace, but you are now passing it forward to many grieving others. Your life is filled with passion, purpose, and service. What a true blessing. I’m already looking forward to meeting you in person at the next Helping Parents Heal Conference finally. Save that hug for me. Thank you from my heart for this wonderful interview.
Thank you for all you do. It’s wonderful.
Thank you. We’re a healing society with love. Here’s a reminder to make sure to follow and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings and bye for now.
- Irene Vouvalides’s Website
- Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof Of Heaven referenced in this episode
- George Anderson’s Walking In The Garden Of Souls referenced in this episode
- Connect with Helping Parents Heal’s YouTube and Facebook Group
- Irene’s Foundation: CarlysKidsFoundation.com
- Past Episode: Medium Suzanne Giesemann
- Past Episode: Judith Hancox
- Past Episode: Elizabeth Boisson
- @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Twitter
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube