Motherless daughter Peru Trek

I am sitting on a balcony overlooking cobblestone streets. The streets are bustling with Peruvian woman carrying brights hues of alpaca woven scarves. The air is just so and the gentle breeze is the perfect combo of cool and hot.
I just finished getting my SIM card. A task that is not for the faint of heart.
4 stores later 2 1/2 hours and I finally figured out the secret.
If 10 people say no there is always someone who will say yes.
In this case the nicest man in a Radio Shack understood my charades enough to take on the challenge. He went to the Claro store with me helped me purchase a SIM card. No one in the city had the iPhone 5 chip. We purchase the sim he goes back to the store and cuts it just so!
Wa la peanut butter sandwich I am connected.
So I blog sitting here at a cute little cafe in Peru.
There really are not words to describe what this trip means to me as a motherless daughter and a parentless parent.
When I arrived yesterday I met author Hope Edelman for the first time.
I have to admit I was star struck. Sitting in this cozy little living room of our hotel lobby she gave me a warm welcome hug.
I was 22 when I first read her book Motherless Daughters. I had just lost my mother after 11 years of caring for her and throw the murder of my father on top of that.
I could not get out of bed. The compound grief I felt was crippling.
Her book acted as a manual for my grief. Hope took the alien out of mother loss and helped me understand from her book that what I was feeling was completely normal.
Slowly I began to feel the sun on my face again. I started to smell the flowers. But I was different.
Everything about me was different. I was an orphan.
Alone in this big world I would spend the next 2 decades of my life figuring out how to parent myself.
I would seek counseling. I would date men that I knew were not right for me. I would become like a turtle in a shell trying to go out into this big world with my head out only to tuck back into safety.
I was alone.
Sure there was help. Lots of people in my life but I learned that help came with all sorts of strings attached.
In the end all I really had was myself and at the end of the day I had to learn that I was enough.
So I joined Motherless daughter groups.
I remember so clearly the exercise the leader gave me.
She handed me a piece of paper with an empty cup.
She said,” I want you to fill this cup with all the things that make you you”.
I looked at that paper and I could not think of one thing to fill my cup with. Not one.
I hung the photo copy of the empty cup on the fridge and I made it my mission to fill it. Slowly I filled it.
Coffee with friends was one of the first things that I filled my cup with.
Each time I found that thing that was me I put it in the cup. I added a lot of color.
I went back to the motherless daughter group and this time the leader sat us in a circle. All woman, motherless daughters. She had us tell our stories. They were tragic. There were woman of all ages. As we went around the circle I saw woman twice my age. Their marriages failing, their kids caught in the middle and the common theme was they didn’t deal with the grief they felt after their loss. It was crippling them like poison seeping into their marriages and keeping them stuck like a fly on sticky tape.
Suddenly it clicked! If I didn’t deal with these losses that was the path I would be on.
I quickly dumped the guy I was dating that was not good for me and I decided I was dating myself. I read every book I could find on grief and loss. I journaled and I walked. With each step the healing came.

So 20 years later and half a lifetime I sit here alone blogging from a cafe about a journey I started so long ago. A journey of healing and learning to parent myself. A journey that has at times made me feel like no one gets me.
I was wrong these woman on this trek get me and there are so many more woman and men out there that understand what it feels like to loose your parents young. It changes everything you thought you knew about yourself. You feel deeper, you understand that life is no joke. That our time here is short. That it is so important to make it count. To give with absolutely no strings attached.
To love deeply, to laugh often and to turn your grief into service and action.
That is what this trip means to me.
There are no words to describe being with woman who completely understand this loss. There are no words needed It’s just in the room. Feeling incredible grateful for this opportunity. For these woman and for all of you who donated to help the children we plan to service!
This is my attempt to sum up this experience when it’s hard to find the words. Thank you for reading.

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What I have learned after 20 years of being a Motherless Daughter on Mother’s Day

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What I have learned on the 20th anniversary of the book, “Motherless Daughters”, by Hope Edelman

 

I was 22 when I purchased a copy of a book called, ‘” Motherless Daughters” written by Hope Edelman.
I was in my sophomore year at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
This year marks half a lifetime without my mother.

It was 1993, I had just lost my mom and I was struggling, my grief was compound because I realized that I never really grieved the murder of my father when I was 16.
I had been caring for my mother from the time I was 11. She was always sick.
I had become her mother, her caretaker over the years and I had no idea what to do with myself when she was gone.

I couldn’t get out of bed, I kept the curtains closed and would often sleep for days.
My room mates would try to drag me out of bed and do everything in their power to help save me.

I was an adult orphan.
My grief felt like a giant wave that pounded me to the floor twisting, turning and pulling every part of my being. Everything went dark, the sky had no light, the candles I lit did nothing to brighten my spirit. I tried everything.

It’s been 20 years and I still remember opening the book,”Motherless Daughters”, by Hope Edelman for the first time.
I read and read and read, I did not put it down. I missed my classes the next day and I continued to read this book turning page after page as my tears of grief acted as a bookmark. The language in the book was written to me a motherless daughter and I entered on that day into a Motherless Daughters Club that I never signed up for but I would forever be a part of.

I brought the book in my backpack, I read it again and again every chance I had between my elementary education classes. Slowly I realized that I was not alone and this was so helpful.

I would not know then how Hope’s Book would change my life but reflecting back over half a lifetime without my mother, here are some ways in which her book helped me survive.

1. I walked with my Grief.
I began to walk, I put on my walking shoes and I went for miles. I didn’t stop. With each step I walked off the grief that I was harboring inside. With each step and each passing day I could begin to feel the sun again.

2. I joined a Motherless Daughter group,
I saw so many women who never dealt with their grief and because of this they were making choices in their lives that were a wake up call for my 25 year old self. I wanted a healthy relationship and a family someday and I could see clearly how not dealing with this pain could lead me to a life of heart ache and pain that I wanted to try and avoid.

3. I finished college.
My mother always wanted for me was an education. She believed that I could do anything and she was right.

4. I found a good therapist.
I learned that I would rather go without coffee and food then not have a therapist. After years of dealing with grief and loss therapy to me was like brushing my teeth. It was preventative it kept the tarter away. I learned about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and how to deal with the grief and anxiety that comes with loosing a parent to murder and loosing your parents at such a young age. I learned to parent myself. To know who I was after living with so many families and feeling like an orphan. For once it was time to figure out me.
That was priceless. I learned how important it is to deal with your emotional stuff. My mother never did this and I know it was part of the reason she struggled with her mental health.

5. I joined a victims advocate group for victims of violent crime.
I heard story after story of people losing their loved ones to murder and violent crime. I saw first hand how grief can keep you stuck. I began to understand how my grief was necessary and it would be a lifetime of healing but I had the power to decide how my story would end.
I didn’t want to be the victim I wanted to make my life count. I learned grief is like a fingerprint everyone does it different. I wanted to live a life that my parents would of wanted me to live and to make my life count.

There are so many milestones absent of my mother and father’s presence. They are painful and there are still days I cry for my mother and father. Here are a few of them that come to mind.

Anniversaries of their deaths
Graduation from College
My wedding day ( I light candles in their honor but I still missed them like crazy)
My first teaching job
My first teaching job overseas in Shanghai, China
Living in Saudi Arabia
The birth of my Twin boys( left me feeling so happy yet at the same time, filled with the deepest grief imaginable that my mom and dad would never meet my beautiful boys.
Opening of my retail stores
Moving overseas again to China.

Today my 21st Mothers Day without my mother. I am here in Chiang Mai, Thailand thinking and writing about half a lifetime without my mother.
I wipe a tear from the keyboard but mostly I am filled with gratitude for my life.
I can tell you that my mother and father are nowhere and everywhere all at the same time.
I find them in places I least expect. A song on the radio, in a random coffee shop in Thailand. A stranger holding up a frog and turtle, missing his teeth but so happy to have caught his dinner. I can hear my mother snorting with laughter as I give him a thumbs up and say,”good job”.
I can hear my father saying,” Speak up Angela, even if your voice shakes” Fight for stricter laws to make access to guns more difficult so other families don’t have to experience what mine did when loosing someone you love to gun violence.
A simple flower, the unconditional love of my pug Fred, my children’s laughter, the sunshine on my face, exercising with the broom.
I am so thankful for Hope’s book and over the last 20 years I have referred to it more times then I can count. I have learned that when the grief comes, I sit down pull up a chair and welcome it like an old friend. Thinking about how I am not alone and this loss will be forever but it doesn’t have to keep me stuck, it inspires me to live, tell my story and give back what my parents and so many people gave to me along the way.
So this year I will honor my mother and surviving half a lifetime without her. I will be Trekking in Peru with Hope Edelman and a group of Motherless Daughters and parentless parents to honor our mothers and fathers.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!
I will always love you!
Thank you Hope Edelman for writing your beautiful book Motherless Daughters 20 years ago. It forever changed my life.
Angela Nelson-Schellenberg

 

 

Rude French Lady at Foot Massage…

At our sunday evening foot massage last night a French lady walks by. Nose high up in the air, her hair in up dew, big silver earrings, bright red lipstick, white pants, tunic, high heels( in Chiang Mai). The only thing missing was her poodle.
She turns to all of us and says,”Does anyone know where the French restaurant is?” as she muttered the name in French.

My massage lady hit me on the leg.
Don’t help her”, she says. Making a terrible face.
After the lady leaves she tells me what happened. 
She says,” This lady comes in and my boss tell me to massage her. She looked at me pointed to my face( which is broken out with acne) and said,”I don’t want her she is dirty”.
My heart sank for her having struggled with my skin my whole life.
“I’m so sorry, you are beautiful and what she said was not okay”.
Then she pulls out an empty bag from her doctor. 
On the front was the name in English of the medicine I recommended for her. 
“Thank you, my skin is getting better.
I’m so happy.” she says with a huge smile.

I walked away feeling sad and happy at the same time. Sad that the French lady would judge her because of her skin, sad because I know how bad it feels to have broken out skin.
Happy because I know that when we have things about our appearance that we don’t like, I think it builds character. It deepens our personality and ability to show empathy to others. If I had never struggled with my skin I wouldn’t of been able to find the words to comfort her. To let her know that she mattered. To see the beautiful person she is. 
You never know how your little interactions with people can change lives. I am thankful for so many people who changed mine. Words are so powerful use them for good…

Coffee With Elephants

Coffee With Elephants

I am sitting on the open-air deck at the Doi Chiang Coffee Shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is February the beginning of hot season. Leaves cover the ground reminding me of the fall in Seattle, Washington where I grew up. The air is cool this morning offering a reprieve from the hot Northern Thailand sun. The blue sky is everywhere framing rolling hills filled with lush tropical jungle. Fuchsia and white Bougainvillea trees line the hillside. Lavender flowered trees and bright orange tube flowers drape over fences. The sun peaks over the mountains. The rays reach out and gently touch my face. A flowerpot filled with lily pads and a purple lotus flower blooms up facing the morning sun. The little frog in the pot lets his voice be heard. The Lotus is my favorite flower because I know its story. The Lotus seed is planted and it has to travel through mud and silt to grow. It breaks through the surface reaching toward the light and blooms it’s beautiful purple flower showing its strength and beauty. A journey many of us know well.

In the middle of the coffee shop a chubby monk stands chanting his morning prayer. He has wrinkled brown skin around his neck and carries a golden offering bowl. The Monk is barefoot, he has thick skin on his feet from walking with no shoes and his robe is bright orange. Three slender Thai men kneel in prayer in front of the monk. The workers at the Doi Chiang are quickly preparing food and a café latte for the monk. He blesses the coffee shop this morning and I realize I have entered into a room of transcending tranquility.
The entire space is filled with teak wood furniture and carved wooden lanterns. Orchids take root in the middle of the large trees their fuchsia and white speckled flowers twist upward. A German tourist sits across the shop enjoying a 9:00 am beer. A motorcycle with a squeaky wheel and a homemade sidecar passes by the shop.

The elephant sanctuary sits below the coffee shop. I watch the elephants swing their trunks back and forth. An elephant lifts his trunk up high, blows from his belly as he is calling to his friends across the park. The elephant across the park answers his call, puts his trunk up and blows back.
The birds sing, some low, some high, tweets & whistles.

Swadeeka”, the waitress greets me with her million-dollar smile. Her teeth white, she places her hands together in prayer position, bows her head with a wai. A wai is Thailand’s way of greeting each other. I smile back over my hot pink covered MacBook, my blonde hair is pulled back in a short pony tail. I copy her, put my hands together and wai back mimicking her contagious Thai smile that comes from my toes. I point to the basil chicken and Thai Coffee. A strange thing to have for breakfast, I think to myself, but when I am here on this mountain I am all Thai. Thai people, Thai language, Thai music, Thai sunshine, Thai Buddhist monk, Thai bikers, Thai golden temples, Thai stray dogs, Thai flowers, Thai elephants, and Thai coffee.
Thai coffee is made with coffee beans from Northern Thailand. I take a sip of the iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and my taste buds sing at the flavor. Every cup they give me is topped with a cream-colored orchid with hue of yellow and pink.
I look around and notice temple in the corner where oranges and coffee are placed as an offering to the gods. On most days instrumental Thai music plays at the shop, but on this day a song I recognize pours through the speakers. The words ring through my head,” A whole new world, a new dazzling place I never knew. But when I’m way up here it’s crystal clear I’m in a whole new world with you.” Written by Alan Menken, Linda Ronstadt.
Tears start to fall down my face as I remember this song was played at my mother’s funeral. As I listen to the music and think of my mother, an elephant calling below echo’s across valley and fills the air. I see a momma elephant caressing her baby. The baby reaches up taking in her mothers love with her tiny trunk. It is as if time stands still.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and trust this is my mother’s way of letting me know she is here. The song, the sunshine and the mother elephant loving on her baby are no coincidence.

To this day it amazes me that I ended up here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Twelve years ago my husband Greg and I visited this beautiful land of smiles, it was during that trip, my love affair with elephants first began.
We arrived at an Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There were many elephants doing tricks. Some played soccer, some painted pictures on canvas with a paintbrush in their snout. Tourist fed them bananas and squealed in delight when the elephants reached their scaly trunks in search for more bananas.
I secluded myself from a large group of tourist, as I reloaded my camera I looked up and saw a medium sized elephant standing before me.
She was tied to the low wooden fence between us. She had tears running down her face. I reached out and gently touched her face.
Her skin was dry and soft, with wiry hairs that did nothing to absorb her tears.
Her keeper was a small Thai man with broken English and when he saw me he came running over.
“ She cry for one year, she lose mother”.
He shook his head with his gaze turned down, then hurried back to the crowd of tourist who watched the elephants do tricks.
His broken words pierced through my heart and tears began to stream down my face. I reached up and wiped the elephant’s tears with my fingertips.
I looked deep into her greyish blue eyes and I could see an ocean of grief I knew all to well. She cried, I cried, she cried, I cried and the words, ”lost her mother she cry for 1 year” speaks to that empty place where I longed for my mother.
Together we cried.
Across species, our hearts connected, we are both motherless daughters.

At that moment when I cried with that elephant I connected to this animal in a way I never thought possible.
On this morning as I watch the elephants from afar. I feel compelled to be near them. I walk across the street as the mother elephant makes her morning call to her Mahout,. A Mahout is the elephant’s keeper they are with the elephant almost 24 hours a day. They sleep in a bamboo hut nearby. The elephant is gently rocks in excitement as she prepares for her morning munch on bamboo leaves.
A mom with 20-day-old twins passes by and dad is slowing walking behind her. The dad has large white tusks and his tail is outlined with wiry hair that swishes the flies away as he swooshes his tail back and forth.
The twin elephants run under their mother’s legs, she walks toward the fresh bundle of bamboo leaves her mahout has gathered.
I smile and think about my own 9 twin sons. I wish I could speak elephant so I could reach out and let her know she is in for the best journey of her life.
Motherhood, especially motherhood of twins.
I stand in awe in this sanctuary full of elephants. I watch Mothers and babies, Fathers and toddlers and everything in between. They are all there.
Their stories are not unlike our own. They are stories of survival. Abuse. Neglect. Loss. Physical Anguish. If they could talk I know their stories would not stop there.
It is here at this park at time in this moment where the elephants come to recover. It is here at this park at this time in this moment where I come to recover.
Taking this year to write the story of my life.

As I stand across my coffee shop, among the elephants, in this sanctuary
I am reminded of how much these elephants have taught me about love, loss and a lifetime of grief and healing. About taking in this moment.
About family and how when we loose someone we love they are never really gone. They are with us in the love we get from each other, the tears of an elephant, a song in the coffee shop. An elephant mothering her babies, the warmth of the sun on your face, the kindness of a stranger, a flower in your coffee. They are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
All we have to do is sit in this moment, in this time, find a place that inspires you to take in this moment and live.

coffee with elephants photo

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A Motherless Daughter’s Mother’s Day

A Motherless Daughter's Mother's Day

It’s that time of the year again and if you are a Motherless Daughter you feel it in every bone in your body even if you are trying not to. Mother’s Day, for most is a joyous time to celebrate your mother. However for so many motherless daughters it is a time of deep sadness and it reminds us of a relationship we long for every single day. It brings us back to that moment when we learned our mothers were about to die.

It’s been 20 years since I lost my mother. I was 22 when she died but 11 when I lost her emotionally. My mother was ill, she had encephalitis an inflammation of the brain that left her brain damaged and she was never the same.

I was a Sophomore in college at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and I am about 5″5. It is my first year at a four year university and my dream of becoming an elementary teacher is well on it’s way. My life has not been easy my mother has been sick since I was 11. My father murdered when I was 16 leaving me to care for my mom and younger brother. I have lived with many families but I was determined to create a better life for myself in spite of all I had been through. Making the decision to go to college was difficult, my mom was young 47 and living in a group home. I always felt the responsibility of caring for her and the emotional responsibility of her happiness. Many days she sat in the old folks home creating crafts and calling me on the phone to let me know she wanted out. I envisioned finishing college and getting an apartment of my own where I could have her move in with me but I knew I had to finish college first.

The phone rang and it was my cousin on the line. She asked to talk to my college roommate and best friend who shared the same name as me. “I need you to put Angela on the phone”, she said. I did what I was told and handed the phone to my friend Angela.

Angela is like me she wears her heart and emotions on her sleeve. Angela and I met in Olympia, Washington while working at Nordstrom. Ang is strong, beautiful and always inspires me to be better. She has long lightly highlighted golden brown hair she is about 5″7 with long runners legs. She always jokes about having a shelf booty she claims she can put a tray on her booty and serve food. Angela is silly and she is in perfect shape the kind of shape that makes every guys head turn at WSU. We exercise together every morning, share stories and laugh about silly things like college girls do. We finish each others sentences, we both hate test, and school is something we do because we know we have to. We are both way better at being social then we are about being students. We host the dorm popcorn nights, we play the same song over and over again hitting repeat a million times and sing and dance like no one is looking. We are the Angela’s.

Angela put the receiver up to her ear and she listened intensely to my cousin, her eyes began to well up and I could tell something was really wrong. ” Ok, ok, ok, un ha, I understand” Angela said. Our dorm room was pink and covered in stripes and flowers. We had just won an award from Washington State University for the best decorated dorm. Our two lamps by our bedside where almost always on. Our mothers helped us set up our dorm rooms in the late summer before school. Angela sat in the right corner at my desk and nervously played with the telephone cord while listening to my cousin.

The room was still and a chill from the January morning Palouse air creeped though the cracks in the window seal not even the cosy lights by our bed could provide warmth for what was coming. Angela wasn’t looking at me she was focused on her fingernails and she began twisting the phone cord staring with intensity at my desk. “Ok”, she said as she handed the phone to me.

” Your mother has suffered a stroke and I need you to pack up a suitcase. I have arranged for your plane ticket and Angela is going to help you get ready she will bring you to the airport in Lewiston, Idaho in time for your flight”, my cousin said.

My stomach started turning as I listened to her words. I knew this had to be bad for her to book a ticket for me to Seattle which was a 5 hour drive over the mountains. ” Is she going to die?” I asked as my bottom lip started trembling up and down, my voice cracked and the tears instantly welling up.

” I don’t know”, but I need to you remain strong and get here as fast as you can”, my cousin replied.
Then from somewhere deep in the depths of soul I let out the most horrible sound imaginable. I wailed from the bottom of my toes and yelled,”Noooooo”. I hung up the phone ran down the hall to the dorm bathrooms on floor 4, opened the blue stall door and threw up until there was nothing left to do but gut wrench. My friend Angela followed me placing her hand on my back, holding my long blonde hair back making sure no puke or toilet water got on me. Tears streamed down her face we both knew this was it.

My Mother died January 11th, 1993 she was 47 I was 22. Since this time I have had children of my own, joined Motherless Daughters Groups, Motherless Mother Groups, had lots of therapy and I have learned how to mother myself. I am honoring her and myself by writing a Memoir a journey that is not easy balancing the emotions opening stuff I thought I found a place for.

On Mothers Day, when I walk past the card isle at target I can’t help but think of the moment I learned of the end of my moms life. I miss her, I long to hold her wrinkled hand and I imagine her snorting laughter as she watches her twin 8 year old grandsons. I watch interactions between my friends and their mothers and I imagine what it would be like to see her again. I know that she is with me, I can feel her presence in so many areas of my life. So this one goes out to all the Motherless Daughter on Mother’s Day! May you let your tears flow and know that you are not alone.
Things we have to let go

The Night My Father Was Gunned Down

I was 16 years old sitting in my living room when the television news flashed to a crime scene with my dad’s blue station wagon in the picture. The newscaster said.” Two men have been shot and killed in a South Hill area home. The names of the victims have not yet been released due to notification of the kin.”

Little did I know when I hugged my father goodbye that morning on his way to take my disabled mother to her first day of rehab at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Washington.

It would be the last time I ever saw him.

He was murdered.

The next few days felt like an atomic bomb was dropped in my life. Multitudes of family, friends, and neighbors were continually dropping by with food, flowers cards and an awkward search for words of comfort when there were none. I distinctly remember going to the funeral home to pick out my father’s coffin. I wanted him to be cozy so I picked a coffin with a blue silk lining to match his sparkling blue eyes, I stuffed it with my childhood blanket and I wrote a note to him that I placed in his pocket on his funeral day.

I laid myself on his closed coffin and wailed like a baby. I so badly wanted him to wake up and this nightmare to be over. The letter read:

Dear Dad,

I don’t know who would have done such a horrible thing to you and our family. I feel like someone has ripped my heart out and I am expected to go on living. I have so many questions. Did it hurt when you were shot? Did you try to run when he shot you the first time? Did you think of us? Who will walk me down the aisle? What am I going to do with Mom (my disabled mother who had recently almost died from encephalitis) and my younger brother Rollie (13 at the time). You always said that God doesn’t give you more then you can handle but I can’t handle this dad.

You loved us well and you did such a good job trying to create a better life for us that you didn’t have.

I don’t know how I am going to make it through this but I promise you I will take care of Mom and Rollie. I will be strong for them and you. I promise I will make you proud.

I love you dad and I always will. You are forever in my heart.

Love Always,
Your daughter Angela

It has been 25 years since his murder. My brother and I lived with a variety of family and friends, my mom went into state care and died 5 years after my dad.

Murder trials, death sentence, appeals, retrial, and life without possibility of parole. Fifteen years of wondering when the next court date would be or if my dad’s killer would be released.

For me gun violence and murder have taken a lifetime to heal. I am 41 years old, an elementary teacher, business owner, mom of 8-year-old twins and wife of a High School Principal. I am currently working on a memoir to share my story about surviving gun violence. The ripple effect of gun violence rips a hole in your life that can never be filled.

As I look at my beautiful twin boys and I think of my murdered father. I owe it to them to fight against gun violence, help develop stricter laws and create the best life I can for my children and their future.

— Angela Nelson-Schellenberg

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