I was looking through the window of a woman I never met, washing the dishes from which, so many times she was sipping her coffee before leaving for work. I felt as if I washed the same amount of cups that she drank from over the years, because so many people came to her home when she left to another, better place. Knowing her son, she had to be the most beautiful, sincere, and the strongest woman.
I know, because, my Mom was.
But, there’s a book on my shelf, turned upside-down, so the title wouldn’t remind me that I am a motherless daughter.
The cup fell from my hand, broke the silence we kept in those moments of mourning, as we gathered by the round table in the little room by that window. But her son, so tall and steady, and probably the reason most of us were there, with a slight smile, knew I must have felt discomfort, “Come on… just how many times my brother and I broke something, and my Mom was never upset.”
Has anyone’s Mom ever been angry? Mine probably was, I do not remember. I only remember her.
She told me I had to go on with my life. So I went to my first job when I was 15 and a half. I worked at Burger King with my best friend, Veca. Mom did not want me to stay home and watch her get weak and how her illness takes away her power and speech. At work days were a bit easier, but at home, everybody would hide in their rooms, as if her clock was not ticking. Just how precisely, soon after we moved to Kentucky, it was decided that only seven months were left! One morning when we gathered around her, she was crawled up on her bed with probably less than forty pounds left on her body, but she said her last words to my brothers, my dad, my grandmother all the way in Bosnia, and me:
I love you all the most in the world.
Then, she repeated those exact same words. How? As if she was keeping them the whole time, making sure we heard. The second time they were much quieter, but they became the loudest and most powerful words that will ring through my life. And like the last page of her book, after the last word faded, she then closed her eyes. Part of my soul. The spirit of our family. And I could not say her name in any kind of form. Or watch other daughters with their moms. Sons with their moms. People say, speak about the loved ones who have gone..
When at the age of 16 I learned how the evil carcinoma takes away the body, separates the soul, but I also saw how even the disease that kills, can never destroy love.
Because, nothing is stronger than love!
Since then, I have been battling the feelings, post-feelings, the premonition, and I do not know anymore-what-kind-of-feelings. The ones I run away from. But sometimes listen to. For myself, for the sake of others.
That’s why it’s absurd to say that even a while ago, I was sad that I’d never meet my friend’s Mom, that I’d be washing her dishes. The feelings fly..and I run with them, to return the suitcase to Elise. And I cry to Nasiha that I’d never see Elise again. And I didn’t. I suddenly get up and insist to be taken home, an hour away, so that ten years later, Fikreta would write: when we dropped you off that day, I stopped to see my Mom, and it was the last time I saw her.
Everything connects me with her. My friend-sisters in America: Veca, Senka, Crystal, Ivana and many others, all who today are mothers themselves. But they remember the year 2000, too. Veca and her Mom, even when terrible turbulence shook their family, never excluded me from their celebrations or everyday life. Crystal still stops by the cemetery to say a prayer, or leave a flower for my Mom. I never thanked them. How can I? I left them because I felt I had to go through life all by myself.
And I did.
I do not know exactly where, except to be or to become what later reflected my photography. I became a photographer for myself when I had to find a feature. Just when I wanted to give up, I saw a mother from Burma (now Myanmar), who wrapped her baby in a scarf. They stood in the middle of a road away from any apartments. I stopped the car. Took the photo and learned that she was lost. Later, I took her to Immigration Center.
Few years after, when I was working on a final project, I went to find her. Because of the security reasons, the Center couldn’t give me the information where she lived. Then it hit me again: I’d have to find things my own way. So I went with my intuition. I went into one of the neighborhoods with immigrants and refugees, climbed the last floor of a building, reached for the handle in hopes it would at least lead me where she was. When I opened the door, a photo I took that day on the road was taped on her wall. The photo was later published in Nat Geo online.
Nothing has driven me to go on with my life, like her absence. Yet nothing made it more difficult. And when I look at my photographs, I not only see mothers from Africa, America, Myanmar, China, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. I see a mother from disappearing tribe Maya–and Maya, I used to call her. I also see other women who have helped me.
And I see a pattern in my photography, that I had no idea my subconscious would be seeing pieces of her in every single woman. In a pore, a smile, or the way mothers would hold the hands of their children. But strangely enough, the mothers I photographed, all have asked me to help them in some way. And I’d be filling out their paperwork, translating, taking their kids to school. I realized how much they depended on me. Sometimes I felt I was crossing photojournalist ethics, meaning, I shouldn’t do anything other than photograph. But if they knew, there were so many other women helping me too.
Mira cared for me. Rosa. Milka, always made potato pies for me and my friend-sister Jasna, who, follows her intuition so well. She went seven days earlier to stay with our friend Irena, and those were the last days of Irena’s Mom..I felt they would be, and I didn’t know how to tell her. Sammye, bought me presents. In Bosnia, besides my Grandma, Fatima guided me, and Mom’s best friend Nermina. Vera and Emma. Vesna. Snjeza, and many others. Mom’s cousin Zorica, and Marina, who, always awaits me with wide open arms. And many other women, mothers. Those close to me, and those who think I do not see, but I see how much they wish well. Like my friends Alma, Mersi, and an army of unselfish and strong women who stand by me.
I did not even know how many of them I have. They are all from other parts of the country. From other continents. They are all different. But all are so similar. And I’m ashamed to say how adorned and enriched I am just by the knowing them, but how much, I am just a little-big child in front of all of them. Deprecated and damaged.
It’s so easy to love me, and how hard it is to love me!
In my room in Kentucky, America, there is a book from my English professor, turned on the opposite side so I won’t see the title, Motherless Daughters. He asked me to return it. But I cannot. Yet I cannot read it. Sometimes I wish no one knew for I wouldn’t experience the pity. It is so hard to accept the the fact that she is gone. But at the same time, nothing can change that her absence is a constant feeling of seeking her, and a feeling that she has been there all along. Those close to me, who without asking too much, feel everything that I am, or am not, is because of her.
Sometimes it feels like it was some book I read long ago where, on the very last page she revealed the secret: to see through the cruelty and weakness, recognize the power of her quiet words, for they spoke of her strength, the strength within, and love in everything. And that’s my Mom. She had a little brown beauty mark by her nose, and I am her daughter.
Oh, how she changed me.
And let me fly alone.
And as I was looking through the window
of a woman I never met,
I found beauty, and the difficulty of this life again,
friends in strangers,
and people whose spirits
I’d feel in my deepest depths.
Close the window,
but, I’d see her again.
In the form of other women. Good women.
In a million shadows.
I would see her face. Smile.
And million hands would reach out,
and I wouldn’t know if she was there,
for when I don’t even think of her, she stops by Marina’s,
throwing stones in the water,
with her only daughter.
It reminds me that it’s been so long since she had gone away,
But, as you see,
she never really did.
I am Dijana Muminovic, and my duty as a photographer is to convey the truth and show moments of life. I write because of Judith Szerdahelyi.