The First Time Without You: Happy Birthday, Mother!

For years, June was one of my favorite months. June was like Friday for the working people, marking the beginning of a long-awaited break. Linden trees lining the streets in the neighborhood blossomed and their sweet smell offered the promises of long, summer days filled with adventure and hope, as another school year ended.

June 15 was Mother’s birthday that opened the season of numerous summer birthdays in the family. Today would have been her 75th birthday. But this time our living room will not be filled with her friends from the city choir harmonizing Russian ballads, Serbian town songs and French chansons. No one will have to carry trays precariously spaced with tiny porcelain cups of Turkish coffee and slender stemmed crystal glasses filled to the brim with Mother’s home-made cherry brandy. We will not have to fret if we brought the pastries right on time for she won’t be there to cast a warning glance our way.

Last year I wished Mother a happy birthday on Skype. I was in California, and she was too weak to turn her webcam on. Three weeks later the girls and I arrived to Serbia, and I managed to plant a big birthday kiss on her sunken cheek.  A few days later she left us forever, while my sister and I held her hands and my brother stood at the the foot of her bed. It was inevitable. It was a relief for her. It was a merciful end to a battle she fought valiantly until the last day.

I wish that I could click her name on Skype and hear her voice again. I wish she could have lived to see the photos of Nina’s graduation from UC Berkeley I posted on Facebook. I wish she could have heard Zoe’s Lady Macbeth monologue. I wish she could have read Anya’s most recent short story. And I wish she had left in peace, knowing that I would be fine, trusting that I was strong enough to make a new start in my life.

I miss my “Mamicken” every day. And every day I think of her. Yes, I cry sometimes, craving her words and yearning for her hug. But most of the times I smile, finding her traces in our everyday life, in my admonishing the girls, in their desire to keep all the sweaters she knitted for them, in the dishes I prepare, in the smiles I offer to neighbors… Today is her birthday and even though she is not with us any more, I know that she is hovering around, reminding me to look after myself, caressing the girls’ hair, and singing softly, with her perfect pitch, telling me that everything will be fine with the world. And I believe her.

5 Responses to The First Time Without You: Happy Birthday, Mother!

  1. sonja jovanović says:

    Hvala ti, Netjače.

  2. Valentina says:

    Lana, this is beautiful. I’m sure your mom has seen how strong you’ve been and how ahppy you are now. She knows you’re okay — I know it. (Gorgeous pictures of your family, too.)

  3. Lana, she’s looking down and is so incredibly proud of you. What you’ve accomplished in the past year is massive. :)

  4. GeezLouise! says:

    So beautiful Lana, your writing never fails to move me.

  5. joe says:

    hello. i just found your page. today is my mothers birthday. the first one without her. it is very hard. thank you and i wish you the best.

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