*Warning: some strong language ahead.
Today you would be 33.
I remember the day we met. My heart was beating so fast. I was afraid, and thought, “Why did you come to me? How am I going to do this? How am I going to be a good mother? How will I protect you? Teach you? Guide you?”
You taught me to be brave. It was so easy to love you and take care of you—all my doubts went away the second you took my finger. I knew that I’d found a home for my heart. I found strength in mysterious places and the courage to not allow anything to stand in your way.
I’m a mom. I’m a parent. That’s what I do, that’s the job description—goes with the territory.
All I wanted was more time…more time with you. I was supposed to grow old and pamper your children.
There is not enough medicine to fix a broken heart. There is not a doctor that can scrape off the pain that comes from a decomposing body. I haven’t found an article, book, or movie that can teach you to understand how to deal with the pain of losing your child.
This is not something we’re taught, and there’s no one to help you—at least not in the way you want or need. You just want your child back, even for five minutes. You want a teenage hug with rolling eyes. You want to give a kiss on the forehead. You even want to shout to her, “Turn down the damn music!”
But that’s not going to happen and the awareness of this hurts. It hurts more than a broken bone.
I once broke my leg, and it was awful. I was in so much pain. The nurse was preparing me to be fixed, and as an experienced nurse she saw the condition I was in and we both knew it was not a nice picture. She asked me kindly, but with a firm voice, “Miss, given a scale from 1 to 10, what is the level of your pain?“ I whispered “9.” The nurse gave me a surprised glance and this time softly said, “Miss, it’s okay. I see this every day, and you can say 10. It is okay to say 10.”
My answer to her: “No, I am going to keep my 10 for some real pain in my life.” Little did I know that you, Anita, would be my number 10.
When you get pregnant, during your pregnancy, at the time of birth, and after the pregnancy—through kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and university—you can get support from all relevant institutions. There are doctors, and regular checkups. You get more than you need from friends and family. In fact, everyone has a fucking opinion about every step of the way!
It’s a boy. It’s a girl.
I do this when she doesn’t sleep.
I use these diapers.
If a mother is lucky, she gets one whole year with her child to be at home. There’s coffee with friends and more checkups. And the stress:
The baby didn’t even get 750 grams this month!
She’s two years old and still isn’t potty trained? Mine knew when she was six months.
You don’t recycle the diapers?!
Did you read this article?
Did you check out this school?
Mine is taking German, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, plus tennis and dance lessons! What about yours?
All these expectations of other people to fulfill. Everybody has an opinion, so you can panic or just casually say (like I did), “My Anita likes to splash barefoot in puddles, we watch puffy clouds, make homemade cookies, and she makes the best sandwiches for her sister. My children are bilingual and I speak to them in English.”
But who teaches you how to deal with living life when your 24-year-old child dies?
And what if you’re a single mom?
Wait a minute, I’m the professional here. Of course people think that, by default, I can do it by myself. Some people are so damn curious. Others are jealous. Some feed off you, like vultures. Some avoid you. Some even pretend nothing happened. And some just don’t know what to say and it’s easier for them not to mention.
You understand them, though. You understand all of them. You forgive them. You give them comfort. They cry, and you stay strong.
But who gives you one or two or three years off to get back on track? Who pays your bills if you cannot work anymore? Who makes and brings a cooked meal to your other child who has to function, go to school, and be normal? Who teaches your other child how to drive a car? Who cleans your house? Who cleans you? Who washes your long, shiny, beautiful, thick hair? Who takes you to the hairdresser to fix the mess you made by yourself? Who holds your hand when they shave off that same hair? Who wipes your tears?! Who tells you what time of the day it is? Who tells you gently, “You need to get out of the shower…” because you lost track of the time?
You go to a psychologist—she cries to you (not with you). You find another one, but he can’t handle it and hands you off to another colleague due to who knows what the fuck! That one also cries to you. Another one says you need to see a psychiatrist. You see one, and another, and then a fourth and an eighth…and this specialist and that…and then a load of sickness arrives. Everyone treats their diagnosis—of course, they are professionals and have good intentions. But you get damn tired of it. You get tired of treating the consequences and not the cause.
How do you cure a mother’s broken heart?
You try to explain to all of them you are not depressed. You are sick and decomposing because you are just terribly sad—deeply sad—with physical pain and the medication does not work. It only makes you rotten and numb. No one hears your scream, and you cannot function as a human being if you are not allowed to feel. Even though it is pain, I need to feel it because it reminds me of you.
It will pass with time they say—well, I will tell you something: the pain does not ease and it does not find its own comfort. In time, the pain is not less and time doesn’t make it go away! I’ve only learned how to live with it, accept it, take small steps, and create work through it. I read a lot. I research. I am constantly educating myself. I work. I create. I do something. I created a product that helps children and people. You are in it—you, my Anita, are the essence of it. People feel my love of you through it.
Love does heal. Love gives hope.
And now, after only eight years? Sometimes I have good moments, sometimes I have ordinary moments, and sometimes I have bad moments. How do I deal with them? I always had meaning in my life. I know my why. I understand my core. I’m an old soul probably.
At the worst time in my life, a man decided to pick me up and not give up on me. He wasn’t intimidated by my previous accomplishments and independence. He has accepted my pain and lets me breathe, even though most of the time, I feel like a wounded soldier that has a lost, sharp object somewhere inside myself, and that sharp object twists around my heart and my gut. Sometimes I feel it deeply; sometimes it’s just like a bad tooth ache or even a stupid mosquito bite.
Every time I see puffy, pure white clouds, I think of you with a sad smile. We loved lying on the grass and watching the clouds go by. Giving them images and faces. Laughing till our tummies hurt.
Every time I see a child with a big smile holding her mother’s hand, I think of you.
Every time I see a teenager with a piercing or Converse sneakers, I think of you.
Every time I see young people raise their voice for a noble cause, I think of you.
Every time I help someone, I think of you.
Every time I hear “our music,” I think of you.
I have some gray in my hair now and wrinkles on my face, especially around my eyes. They are from the deep ocean of tears that still come along, after all these years. One would think—how much can a person cry? Thinking of it, I do cry less now. But with this letter came too many tears. Oh my, too many. Why am I writing all this in one heap of a moment? I’ve never done something like this before.
Ahh, because life doesn’t always happen as we planned—and I certainly didn’t ask for this, nor deserve it. Shit happens to good people and we just figure out how to deal with it. I experienced the hard way that death is a part of life. Nothing anyone can say or do can bring you back to me.
I still can smell you and hear your voice, even though it is fading. But I do hear your blue wind chain. The most painful and realistic thing is feeling you. Literally. You come suddenly from the left, and I feel a summer breeze and this gentle pressure on my heart. I feel you throw yourself into my arms and nestle onto my lap, and I am supposed to stroke your hair like I did 1,001 times before. You go on and on, telling me about your day, and every time this happens, I gasp for air, my lips tremble, and soft tears appear—tears of a mother who deeply misses her angel.
Do you see what I have seen?
Do you see the sorrow behind my smile?
Do you feel the love behind my anger?
Do you feel my pain?
Do you see that I am sometimes tired of fighting for faith?
Do you understand the reason behind my silence?
All I needed was time—time with you. I wish I could put time in a bottle, like that song…
I will not wash you from my mind and certainly not from my heart, because you know how my heart sounds from the inside. The memory of you lives through my work. I see you in your sister sometimes: the way she laughs and how she fixes her hair, how she talks about a series she’s watching or about her job or her next trip. You would be so proud of her. We did good with her, you and I. She is truly a treasure. Thank you.
I imagine that you have returned from Africa, finishing your mission with Doctors without Borders.
I imagine you cooking in your perfect kitchen.
I imagine you lip singing, holding your brush and dancing to your favorite music.
I imagine you surrounded by all your books.
I imagine you painting your clouds and water, and of course, forgetting about the time.
I imagine you as a doctor on a Croatian island, as you once said you would love to do.
I imagine you planning your next adventure.
I imagine you helping people, like you always had.
Today, I started smiling and then suddenly felt this fulfillment of hope because I had the perfect image of you. You were next to Saint Peter, showing him the petition you created because you think everyone should get a chance at heaven. I can hear you considerately telling him, “Soften up, Pete. Let the people in.”
Yep, that’s you, my dearest Anita. That is you.
See you when the stars go blue.
With eternal love,
Your Mother Danijela