The holiday can be harrowing for children whose mother has died. EmpowerHER founder Cara Belvin is on a mission to make it easier.
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When Cara Belvin was in fourth grade, she lost her mother, Kit, to breast cancer. Despite living in an idyllic Connecticut suburb with a loving father, a protective big brother, and plenty of friends, Belvin felt alone. “It was like I had a one-ton brick on my chest,” she remembers. “The pictures of my mother came off the walls, and we never talked about her.”

Belvin’s father, a gym teacher, made dinner every night and never missed her tennis matches. Her mother’s large family stopped by often. “From the outside, everything seemed fine,” says Belvin. “But at every milestone, I was acutely aware that my mom wasn’t there.” And she didn’t know a single other girl in the same situation.

The worst time? Mother’s Day. “It was fraught with anxiety, loneliness, and sadness for my loss and my mother’s,” she says. Not until Belvin became a mom to Murphy, now 11, and Ava, 8, did the day take on a happier meaning. “It’s like color came back into my world,” she says.

Yet she knew there were plenty of young girls “powering through” grief the way she once did. Then in 2013, one of Belvin’s best friends shared a vivid dream she’d had. In it, Belvin started a nonprofit to help girls who’d lost their mother. The name: empowerHER. Belvin got chills.

So in 2014, with the help of her husband, Shane, and friends, Belvin organized a Mother’s Day retreat near her town of Scituate, Massachusetts, for seven girls who’d lost their mother. None of the girls knew each other, so just showing up took courage. “Their bravery told me how much they needed this,” says Belvin.

Today, empowerHER helps girls ages 5 and up in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut and is expanding across the country. Besides attending events, girls can be matched with an adult mentor who in many cases also lost her mom. And now, every Mother’s Day weekend, Belvin and dozens of volunteers host motherless daughters on a retreat. “It’s the most fulfilling work I could do,” she says.

If you know a motherless child or woman, adds Belvin, don’t be afraid to ask how she’s doing on Mother’s Day. Reassure her that if she wants to talk, you’re there. Throughout Belvin’s life, people didn’t speak about her mom’s death. “They were afraid of ‘reminding’ me about my loss, but I never stopped thinking about it,” she says. “So long as you’re speaking from a place of love, you can’t say anything ‘wrong.’ ”

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This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine as 'Reclaiming Mother's Day After Loss.'

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