About my life in Armenia, about being a mom and an activist, working for women's rights.
The challenges and benefits of raising a family in a post-soviet republic.
Finding a place, my place and calling it HOME.


Mima is gone, but not entirely

Finally back to Canada, with the entire family.  When we leave a place, we never really leave it completely; we just grab some parts of it and take it with us everywhere, then add some parts to it over time. We collect fragments of life through our journey across borders and lifestyles. Sometimes we let go of some parts, we hold on desperately to others. We rarely let go completely. So each return starts with a feeling of unease.

On the 4th morning after my arrival to Montreal, Mima passed away. The nurse at the elderly home said it was a beautiful death. I am not sure what that meant. Sometimes people need to say those things to comfort the family. I guess she meant that she died peacefully in her sleep without bothering anyone. I am happy for her, since she was looking forward to this day, especially after the death of her husband, my grandfather over 15 years ago. She never managed to find a meaning to her life after that. She was one of those women who devoted all their life to their family. She opened her first bank account at 70, after my grandfather’s death, to receive her pension. I don’t remember her having any kind of hobby or interest in life other than what was going on in the kitchen and in the house. Dado (my grandfather) used to take her everywhere, entertain her and decide for her well-being. When he died, her life collapsed. She relied heavily on my mom afterwards, but it wasn’t the same. After 50 years with my grandfather she never thought that she’d one day be left alone to manage her own life. 

During my first maternity leave, I spent a lot of time with Mima: drinking coffee, playing poker, while listening to her regrets and complaints about her lonely life, reminiscing her interrupted past in Lebanon. She was a chain smoker and would sit on her balcony for hours with her pack and the coffee jazveh. I would sit on the other side of the window breastfeeding and nodding to her stories.

Four Generations - Mima, mom, me and Amassia

When I left for Armenia, she was devastated. She was losing the only person who listened to her while making fun and jokes that lightened her mood. Every time I called her from Yerevan, she would always ask, “when will you come back hokis, I miss you so much, I miss our Wednesdays…”

I always remember her cooking and cleaning. It was a tragedy to see that at the end of her life she often refused to clean after herself or even take a shower. She would hesitantly given in to my mom’s weekly showers. She didn’t want anyone to touch her body, except for my mom. She hid her clothes under her bed so no one would wash them, in fear of losing them. It was difficult for us to watch her go from being a clean freak to an apathetic, careless person.

So early this morning on Saint Jean Baptiste day, when we got the call, I knew deep inside that she had left us. I had just arrived a couple of days ago and didn’t get a chance to visit her yet. So I put on my jeans very quickly and left with my parents for the Residence Sauriol.  The ambulance was in front of the door.  Once inside, my brother and his wife, already in tears, greeted us. Mima was gone, silently, in her sleep. The nurse said it must have happened probably around 5 in the morning. Her glasses were on her side. She looked so serene, so peaceful. I touched her cold forehead. Her fingers were a little blue. She had pink manicure on her nails and a green fake ring on her finger.

I felt happy for her. She finally rested and had long lasting wish come true. I wondered what her last thoughts were. Did she have any fears? Did she experience pain? I felt sad for myself. Grandmothers are a symbol of unconditional love. Even though she didn’t know how to express her love, how to hug or kiss, she was an essential part of my growing up as a healthy and sane adult. Something died inside me with her. A feeling of emptiness surrounded me in this room of a Laval residence for elderly. I grabbed her glasses, a couple of handicrafts that she probably prepared over the past weeks during the art workshops offered by the residence to entertain her.

“She had a beautiful death…” I repeated silently without understanding what it meant really. Feeling guilty of not being there earlier, I tucked some of her stuff in my bag; a family album, my wedding photo, two little swans that she took with her everywhere and a wall souvenir photo of Paris.

Mima and her sister
Mima died a peaceful death after living a long and harsh life at times. She fled Turkey with her mom and sister when she was only 10 years old. She worked hard all her life. She married and had 3 beautiful children and 8 grand children. After experiencing fear and persecution in Turkey, she lived through civil war in Lebanon and finally settled in a completely new country. She never liked Montreal. It was too big for her, and lonely. People were always busy and rarely had time to do Sobhiyas (morning Arabic breakfast) in their houses or take numerous coffee breaks during the day. The culture was so different. TV was in French. Cigarettes were too expensive and the cold weather unbearable for her bones used to the Mediterranean sun.    

Relatives, cousins from Boston and my uncle from Paris will arrive soon for her funeral. I wish I had more time with her. I guess we always say that. We are never prepared to lose grandmothers and it always hurts no matter how old they are. We always think they will live forever. They do in a way. Both my grandmothers relive in my cooking; whenever I bake manti, suboreg or choregs for Easter. They are there in my kitchen, watching over kids and I, making sure that we don’t forget ingredients, extending their love eternally, through the kneaded dough and the smell of Mahlab.

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