empowerHER Uses Togetherness To Lift Up Girls Who Have Lost Their Mother

By Robin Chan Wicked Local South/Mariner, Marshfield, Mass.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) EmpowerHER's goal is to provide the support girls needs to be strong confident women who will stand tall in the face of adversity.

Wicked Local South/Mariner, Marshfield, Mass.

Until recently, Mother's Day has been a painful reminder of loss for many young girls who no longer have their moms.

Since 2014, however, empowerHER has reclaimed the day for these girls by instilling in them the belief that they are not alone.

It does this by bring each girl together with another female who "gets it," and by carving out time for the girls to both celebrate their mothers and to give life to their mother's legacy.

For Scituate's Cara Belvin, founder of empowerHER, the message that she wants to tell these girls experiencing loss is a message that she herself wanted to hear when her mother died 30 years ago.

"I'm here to tell her it's survivable and that was what I desperately needed to hear," Belvin said. "I needed someone to say, 'I don't have the answer for you right now, but you're going to survive this.'"

The grief, Belvin said, can feel isolating, but empowerHER aims to change that.

Empowering all year long Throughout the year, empowerHER hosts six group events, inviting girls who have lost their mothers to come together, share their experiences and enjoy time together during a beach bash or over cooking classes.

The Mother's Day retreat is filled with workshops at which the girls can do Zumba, be pampered, or have real talks. Scattered throughout the hotel floor where the retreat is held are inspirational quotes and messages meant to empower the girls. Most importantly, they are there together to help and support each other during a tough holiday.

Over time, Belvin realized these girls needed year-round support, so empowerHER copied the Big Brother and Big Sister model, with that organization's support. Under this system, empowerHER now matches girls up to age 24 with a positive role model from the community.

A friendship formed Maddie Eikinas of Hingham lost her mother Ingrid to breast cancer when she was 7 years old. The 15-year-old joined empowerHER about 4 1/2 years ago and knew right away that her

"Mentor," Kristie Edelman of Norwell, was a good fit.

It was Edelman's sense of humor that allowed Maddie to trust her and help her feel at ease, she said. That trust, nurtured over time, has allowed Maddie to open up to Edelman and to have the hard conversations that allow her to confront her grief.

Edelman lost her mother, Mary, when she was 11 and growing up in Syracuse, New York, so she knows what Maddie is dealing with.

"When I was Maddie's age and recovering from my mother the first year after her death, I would go to a locker room in my school and cry and then go back to class to finish my day because I couldn't hold it together anymore.

It got better for Edelman, and she now has a family of her own. Having a role model who is successful and who has had the same experiences they've had is key for the Mentees.

"I think it's important for me to see a woman who has gone through such a tragedy like that and how she moves on," Maddie said. "It's proof that it's survivable."

The connection between Maddie Eikinas and Kristie Edelman is easily apparent.

Edelman points out the two women act more like friends than as if they had a traditional adult/child dynamic.

Edelman admires Maddie's sense of adventure and most of all, her "deep joy for living."

"And that's a huge role model for all of us is to see a joy of life in everybody and the spirit of adventure, laughter, and sense of humor," Edelman said.

Maddie is comfortable teasing Edelman about their time rock climbing together, and they also have a code word if Maddie needs to be picked up because she's having a rough day. They laugh while trying on fun hats during shopping adventures and can appreciate the beauty of nature while sitting by the water with the picnic they packed.

Those times together cultivate their relationship.

'No longer alone' Edelman said one of her most memorable times with Maddie is a time when they just sat in the car together in Maddie's driveway in the stillness of the night, not wanting the day to end.

Maddie started to share deeper feelings about her mother, and then she shared a quote from an author that stuck with Edelman: "you die two deaths; the first one is a physical death when you are put in the ground, the second is when the last person mentions your name."

"And when she brought that up in the car I just felt like I wanted there to be some sort of pact that we would not let that happen for Ingrid," Edelman said. "We would continue to talk about her and not let her name die. And that moment in the car... it felt really sacred. It felt really special, and I didn't want the night to end."

Edelman said she did not want the day to end in part because she was afraid to leave Maddie alone with her thoughts. But Maddie reassured her that wasn't the case.

"It felt different after we sat in the car," she said. "It felt like I wasn't alone. Which is good because usually it feels like I'm alone but it wasn't that time."

Grief is ever present for those who have lost a parent at a young age. A car pulling into a driveway or major milestones, like graduations and weddings, can be reminders of their loss. But empowerHER and her Mentor have helped Maddie feel less alone.

The program has been important to her because, "more than anything else, it's important to know that [Kristie]'s there and feel like I'm supported in anything, no matter what."

Strength in being together It is this unconditional love the Mentor offers which lifts up the Mentee and gives her the strength she needs. That unconditional love is also felt among the other empowerHER Mentees.

McKayla Murphy, 21, of Pembroke has been with empowerHER for the past five years. Her mother, Lynn Murphy, died of a heart attack in 2009.

Losing her mother has been hard, but the sisterhood she has developed at empowerHER has helped her in those times.

"There's been times where I have broken down or been sad and everyone just comes to the rescue like EMTs," Murphy said. "It's just a big support cushion right exactly when you need it, with the exact attention you are looking for to make you feel better."

For those dealing with grief, it takes a team of support because "it's the greatest trauma. It's the most painful thing hopefully she ever experiences" according to Belvin.

Edelman believes dads need support networks as well.

"[My] message for the dads is you don't have to go through this alone... this could be a life-long friendship."

EmpowerHER's goal is to provide the support girls needs to be strong confident girls who will stand tall in the face of adversity.

Murphy said she wants to show the other girls in the program the growth that she has experienced and show that they too can do it. Despite the grief they deal with, Murphy said, "together, you can rise up from it."

That is what empowerHER taught Murphy: she survived and others can too.

"Something I have always said to myself, without your struggle you wouldn't stumble upon your strengths," Murphy said.

"Sometimes you need to struggle until you figure out where your true strength is."

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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