If you only knew how much I miss you

by Emina Kahriman

It’s your birthday today. You would have been seventy-nine years old. I am standing here again in front of a birthday cake and you are not here. I am looking at it and I don’t know what to make out of my feelings. I am an emotional mess. I dreamt about you last night. You didn’t let me sleep at all which is okay; I love when you visit me even this way. We are all here, pretending, like it’s a happy occasion. We could not imagine how hard it would be without you here, though the grief has lessened with years. Celebrating your birthday as if you were still alive is our way of keeping you in our thoughts and our hearts. We blow out your candles and sing happy birthday to you, hoping you don’t mind. I can see tears in your husband’s eyes. He hurries and quickly wipes them off so others won’t see. He whispers with a choking voice, “My dear wife, I miss you so deeply.” We all sit down at the table and have a delicious piece of your birthday cake. We talk about you, how you were, what you did for this family and the forever-lasting memories that you left in our hearts.
We have all lost someone at some point in our lives; maybe you were too young to recall your emotions or just didn’t understand the concept of death. That heartache that springs at you all of a sudden and grips your throat when you hear a familiar song, reminds you of the loss. I was there myself. I was six years old, when I first experienced the loss of a loved one. Even though I was told that my grandmother was not coming back, I still did not understand why. My grandma’s house was full of people, yet so quiet. People went and came. Few words were exchanged, mostly nods, deep sighs and silent hand gestures. I was amongst my mother and my aunts, who were all slumped in one corner. My mother was being held up by her sisters so that she would not fall down. I was hiding behind her, clutching onto her skirt. Every once in a while she would run her pale, shaky hand across my hair and let out a choking sound. I would stick my head out to look at women around me. Their eyes were swollen red with tears on their ghost white faces. Some of them would whisper from time to time and they all looked like reeds in the wind, gently rocking from side to side. I felt pain, though not like the pain when I broke my leg for the third time or when I got a new doll. This pain was “quiet, deep,” somewhere inside where it has not hurt before. I saw through my eyes what many other children have seen and probably didn’t understand. Have we been scarred for life with moments like this and punished to relive those memories and moments just by losing another loved one?
            Three years ago I found myself back at this place sooner than I ever wanted to, when my other grandmother passed away. This time I fully understood what it meant that someone “is not coming back.” At first I felt disbelief, then anger, then pretty soon grief set in. The pain that throbbed in my heart fueled my anger. I would yell out, blaming others around me. Angry emotions were gushing out of me faster than I could catch my breath. I was mad at you, at your soulless body, for “leaving me here by myself and being selfish and dying.” I wanted to grab your shoulders and shake you as hard as I could, hoping that this would wake you up and bring you back to me. As the tears were pouring down my face blurring my vision, I remembered that scared little girl clutching onto her mother’s skirt. I fell down by your bed, conquered by loss. All I thought was that I will never see you again. Never hear your warm voice, or touch your smooth skin. Never again.
            It felt like a nightmare from which I could not wake. I refused to let go of you. Who gets the right to take you away? All that is left are memories and the fading smell still lingering on your favorite scarf. Is that what we are after all? A once familiar face on a photograph, unexplained smile on our faces, and never-lost memory? Over time the pain got number. It did not “blare” in my chest any longer. I learned to live with it, or that’s what I keep telling myself. I refuse to drive by the place where you took your last breath, and where I held you last. It still aches too much. It is even difficult going over to grandfather’s house. He has not moved a thing since you left. All furniture, tablecloths, curtains, dishes—they are still where you used to keep them. Even though I do not want to admit it, it does somehow feel relieving being able to touch and see something that you once loved and held. This I believe will lead me to a closure.
            I miss the days filled with your laughter and never wanting to leave your side. I could always talk to you about anything; you would listen and never judge. I loved every moment I spent with you. Silently I blame myself for not spending more time with you. That is one of my biggest regrets. Our restaurant lunches after your dialysis treatment that we kept as our secret, but somehow they all knew it. I still go there but not without a big sigh and constant thought of you. I wish I could just have one more chance. Time passes all of us very fast; we will never have enough time. We say things, do things in the heat of the moment and we never get to say sorry. How you taught me to cook your favorite cookies, taught me to respect people, and also at the same time to stand up for who I am and never forget it. Telling me that people make mistakes, people will hurt those they love the most, unknowingly, but they will. Be the first one to admit your mistakes and apologies. How you smelled of your favorite sweet perfume, wore your red lipstick, and would never apply blush on your cheeks. Instead you would smudge a dab of your red lipstick up your cheeks. How you carried yourself proudly and were proud of all of your children. Your hands were so gentle and soft like no one else’s. Your love for flowers and pearls. You loved your zinnias, chrysanthemums, peonies. My sister got your green thumb. She grows your favorite flowers in her beautiful garden and showers them with love and affection like you did once. I enjoy them all, especially when she takes me and shows them to me with a sparkle in her eye, and she says: “Remember our grandmother used to have these in her garden?” As I walk amongst them, I run my hand across the leaves, feeling for the sturdiness of zinnia leaves. I stop, bend down and inhale. Instantly, I am taken back to my childhood. I can see you standing there, holding zinnia flowers in your hand, gently turning them and saying: “Look, how pretty my girls are.”
            Any time I hear how much I resemble you, I get the biggest smile on my face and this warm feeling washes over my heart. I am sad that you will never get to meet your great-grandchildren, but they will remember you from the pictures and stories we tell of you. They will point at your pictures and say, “Nana.” I hope you are smiling right now, because I am.

My house is filled with photographs of you, us, our family. I find myself sometimes looking at them and remembering those moments before we took the photos. I smile while remembering. I will never forget that moment when you left us, the feeling and silence in the air followed by tears. The moment that made us get closer as a family. The way I will look at pearls and your favorite flowers secretly while thinking of you for the rest of my life. Keep your advices, and not giving up so easily on people that cross my path and learning to let go. Your passing has caused me to be a better and bigger person. That it’s all right to cry and show your feelings from time to time. That I will still have those moments of happiness and sadness while I am thinking about you. That it is ok if I don’t have the courage to visit your grave as much as I should have. Eventually I will get better at it. With every day passing me by, I learn to let go of things and just think of today and the happy moments. I know I can’t bring you back but you can still keep on living in my heart. After all I like to believe that this is something that you would want me to do.