The phone rings in the middle of the night. Bad news never waits for the morning. Ten days after the surgery to remove the tumour, Neda' mom passed away in the night. Her body was too weak and exhausted to recover. The family was devastated. After getting a surgery date and having the procedure performed successfully, we had made plans to move Neda's mom to an assisted living facility and start her rehabilitation. We had not planned on making funeral arrangements.
Neda's mom, Mirjana as a small child
It took a long time to get over the grief and start the task of cleaning out Mirjana's apartment. We looked through some old pictures that Neda's mom had kept and I wondered at the life of a person who I mostly knew through stories told through Neda's eyes. The pictures and the stories that came out because of it revealed a bit more of the person that I never got to know very well.
Mirjana was born 1949 in Montenegro, which back then was a part of former Yugoslavia. The family stayed there a few years before moving to Istria. Her dad was the chief mechanical engineer aboard a ship that sailed all over the world, only coming back to be with the family for a month out of every year.
Nona, Mirjana and her brother outside the Hotel Riviera in Pula
Mirjana as a young woman aboard her dad's ship
Nona told us that Mirjana was a quiet girl growing up, and that she always had her head buried in a book somewhere. Neda nodded her head at this and added that not much had changed throughout the years.
As a young bride
Mirjana and her two girls, Goga and Neda
One of my favorite stories that Neda told me about her childhood was of her playing in the garden outside the apartment. When she got hungry, instead of coming back inside, she would yell to her mom up in the kitchen, "Mama, I'm hungry!" Mirjana would then make sandwiches and drop them through the window down to Neda so she could continue playing! That story always makes me smile.
Mirjana and Goga
Outside in the garden of the apartment
Neda's birthday surrounded by her mom and grandparents
We looked through a lot of old birthday pictures and slides of Neda and Goga throughout the years. I noted that as the sisters grew older, the exact same chocolate cake appeared in front of them in every photo. Neda explained that that was the only birthday cake her mom knew how to make! :) I thought that was funny, like seeing the same family member in photos that never seems to age over the years. Dorian Gray cake!
Goga's wedding day.
Mirjana liked to call them all "The Three Muskeeters"
While in Pula, Goga found an old memory book from her elementary school years. It's an album that all your friends and family write messages or doodle in to capture a point in time, kind of like a yearbook. She showed me one of the pages that her mom had free-hand copied a picture of a Sarah Kay drawing. She had totally forgotten about it. It was very artistic and even as a copy, showed a lot of talent. Goga is an artist herself and it was nice confirmation seeing where she got her talent from.
Attending Tea's annual birthday party at Goga's in-laws place
After moving to Canada, Neda would visit her mom in Pula every couple of years
Mirjana in her favorite chair buried in a book
Mirjana couldn't attend our wedding in Toronto,
so we held a reception in Croatia as well
Because Neda's mom didn't speak English, whenever she would call us in Toronto to speak to Neda, our conversations were very short. I learned how to say "Hello" and "Neda's not at home right now" in Croatian to make our calls easier for her. While staying in Neda's mom's apartment the last couple of months, I saw all the How-To-Speak-English books and dictionaries on the shelf. She had been trying to learn English just so that she could communicate to me. That was very touching!
Lunch with the girls
As always, the girl and her book
It was nice sharing stories with all of Mirjana's family, and hearing how she touched each one of their lives in ways small and large. She was very much loved by her family. She will be missed greatly.