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