Mothers of the World

I received a grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women to tell personal stories how women are affected by the loss of their mothers through a photographic exhibition and a panel. Below is my personal story and the reason to pursue this project. I owe it to my Mom, to all the Moms who took care of me, and continue to do so.

Mothers of the World

I looked through the window of a woman I had never met. She’d usually sit by it, drink her coffee while putting makeup on before going to 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 world. And knowing her son, she had to be the most beautiful, sincere, and the strongest woman.

I know, because, my Mom was the same.

But there’s a book on my shelf that reminds me, I’m a motherless daughter.

Then a cup fell from my hand, broke the silence we kept in those moments of mourning, 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, assured me that he 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.

And she told me I must go on with my life. So I worked with my best friend when I was fifteen and a half at my first job at Burger King. She didn’t let me stay at home and watch her suffer, and I try not to think how precisely they predicted seven months of living. So one day when I returned home, she was crawled up on her bed, so weak, with only twenty pounds left on her body. She was skinnier than during the war we survived when we had no food for four years. She couldn’t speak. I’d be in my room crying. Sometimes, we’d all crawl inside our bodies in fear that she’ll be gone, not realizing at the time that every minute we should have spent by her.

Then she spoke the final words.  She said to my brothers, my dad, my grandmother all the way in Bosnia, and me:

“I love you all the most in the world.”

And then, she repeated them. How? As if to make it clear to us, but the second time, she said them a little quieter and gentler, as if they’re fading, but those words became the loudest, most powerful words that will ever ring in my head.

My life.

Then she closed her eyes. And part of my soul. The spirit of our family. And I could not say her name in any kind of form. People say, speak about the loved ones who have gone..

You speak.

I can not.

At the age of 16 I learned how the evil carcinoma takes away the body, separates the soul, but later I learned, that even the disease that kills, it can never be stronger than love.

Nothing is stronger than love. Her love.

Since then, I have been battling the feelings, post-feelings, the premonition, and I do not know any more-what-kind-of-feelings. The ones I run away from. The ones that make it seem as if I’m emotionless. Lost. Even if I was sure in so many things, that little feeling of always seeking her to lead me, made me battle and ignore so many things in life. To not know how to properly say any of it. Or anything. It was easier to ignore. But sometimes I had to listen. For me, and for the sake of others.

Maybe that’s why it’s absurd to say that it even a while ago, I knew I’d never meet my friend’s Mom whose coffee cups I’d later wash.. Or when I was running to return the suitcase to Elise, I came home to Nasiha, crying, because I felt that I would never see Elise again. And I didn’t. Or the day I suddenly wanted to be taken home, an hour away, and everyone complained, but I insisted. Only so that ten years later, my friend Fikreta would write me saying that when they dropped me off that day, she stopped to see her Mom. It was the last time she saw her.

Everything connects me to her, but mostly my friend-sisters in America, Veca, Senka, Crystal, Ivana and many others who remember that 2000 year. They used to stay at my house so many times. I never thanked them. How can I? I left them because I felt I had to go through life all myself, with no strings attached. Because I felt I was deserted.

And I  left.

I do not know where exactly, yet, I exactly knew where. It just needed time, but often it translated into a lost soul, that really was discovered on that road many years ago when I left to be or to become what would reflect through my photography.

I became a photographer for myself when I had to find a feature. There were no people on the road in the small town I lived in America, like there are in my hometown in Bosnia. So, I almost gave up, when I saw a mother from Burma, with a baby wrapped in a scarf. She just stood there in the middle of a road, away from any apartments. I stopped the car, got out. I learned that she was lost, so I took her to Immigration Center.

A few years later, when I was working on a final project, I went looking for her. Because of the security reasons, the Center couldn’t give me the information where she lived. But I had to find her. So then, I used that crazy intuition:

I went into some neighborhood, got on the top floor of a building, reached for the handle of what I hoped to be her door, and it was unlocked. In front of me was a photo on the wall I took that day on the road. Later that photo was published in Nat Geo online. Since, when I look through my photos, I only see mothers.

I see Mira who was cared for me. Rosa. Milka, who always makes potato pies for me and my sister Jasna, who, unlike me, follows her intuition precisely, like when she went seven days earlier to stay with Irena, and those were the last days of Irena’s Mom..

Sammye bought me presents. In Bosnia, besides my Grandma, of course, Fatima was the one always guiding me, Mom’s best friend Nermina. Her childhood best friends, Vera and Emma. Vesna. Snjeza, and many others. Mom’s cousin Marina, who, I swear, is to me the same way as my Mom would have been. Mama’s favorite cousin, Zorica. And many other women, mothers. Who are close to me, and those who think I do not see, but I see how much they want me to be good and well. Like my friends, 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 different. They are Mothers from around the World. All so similar. And I’m ashamed to say just how enriched my life is by the knowing them, but how much, I am still just a little-big child in front of all of them. Deprecated and damaged.

In my room in America, there is still that 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. It feel as if I read it a long time ago, and that many lives have passed since, but I promise, in one of them, she really was there. She had a beautiful beauty mark on her face, and I am her daughter.

But she changed me.

Or her absence did.

She let me fly alone. To seek her.

And in my journey, I found life.

Beauty,

Friends in strangers,

And the people I’d meet just once, but who

Would leave a deep trace.

People whose spirits I would feel in their deepest depths,

And even if I wouldn’t always think of her for a moment,

She’d stop by.

I saw her at Marina’s, she was with her daughter by the water,

throwing stones.

And you can paint the walls. Close the window

But, I’d see her again.

In the form of other women. Good women.

In a million of shadows.

I would see her face.

Her smile.

A million hands touched my life..

and it felt as if it was her.

So as I was looking thought the window of a woman I had never met,

I realized how many years have passed,

since she left me to see the world, search the world,

Only to see that she never

Really left.