April 28, 2010


Posted in Children, Family, Health tagged , , , , , , at 7:56 am by Liliana

Nena (one month old) with her grandmother and her mother

Nena (one month old) with her grandmother and her mother

My mother’s illness was difficult for our entire family. The last year of her life, grandma (or ‘baba’ as everyone called her) had to stay in a nursing home. She was too sick to live with us.

My sister and I (sometimes alone and sometimes with our husbands and children) visited baba almost every day. We took her for walks in the sunshine, we sat with her, we fed her, we washed her and cleaned her room. We got to know all the residents of the home and became friends with the nurses. The children would entertain the patients with piano recitals, various games and cupcakes with afternoon teas.

My daughter Nena remembers her baba’s last year in this poem:


For the last year of her life she only walked:

back and forth across the north wing

of the nursing home, so fast she had to wear

a helmet for the times she fell. Her spine

had bent into a curve, a comma or a question

mark, her teeth would clench and sometimes

spit, the skin peeling away from her lips.

My mother wants to know what I remember

about the time before this—New Year’s

parties, pink hair curlers, mink-fur coats.

And my mother and hers and her sister,

down in the laundry, dying their hair

dark colors in turns. My mother would

sing her old songs until she seemed

to sing along, then, scared, my mother

would stop—what I remember

is how she seemed to lose a way to walk

in this world, how her eyes purpled

with the weight of some other.

They said her feet turned blue days before

she died, that she saw faces pale and white

as asphodel in the space around her.

Poem by Natalia Holtzman


  1. Jelena said,

    These last two posts have been so hard to read, and also so beautiful. I remember that period of all our lives very well. Neither the good memories nor the the horrific ones fade easily. But more than anything else, I’m impressed by the courage and ability (imperative?) to go forward theys show. You’ll aways be my Mrs. Ramsay.

    Nena, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful poem. I love it.

    • Liliana said,

      You were with us every step of the way. Your kindness to our mother and your friendship with her, made it all bearable. Thank you, dear sister.

  2. Anna Jekich Pullinger said,

    Your daughter is certainly a chip off the old block! Vrlo dirljivo. Thank you for letting us read it.

    • Liliana said,

      She got her charm and her beauty from her baba. Also, her love of poetry. Best.

  3. Anna Jekich Pullinger said,

    I’ll take you at your word, but she got her writing ability from her mother. 😉 Good writers seem to be becoming much rarer and I am heartened when I come across one. In this case, it’s a double pleasure as some of what you write about takes me back to both recent and distant times, both here and in Serbia. It’s so generous that you are sharing your writing about your life with family, friends and the rest of us — a gift!

  4. pmdello said,

    Such a beautiful poem…

    • Liliana said,

      Thanks John, my daughter is a jewel. Takes after her grandmother. Best to you!

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