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.

20140730-140844-50924890.jpg

Advertisements

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

Image

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…