Mother Tongue


Grandmother Smilja

Written: 15th April 2021 by Dajana Heremic 

I felt something coming. On the 7th of April my grandmother Smilja – named after the wild helychrisum Everlasting – died. It was jently snowing that morning, but it was a hurricane within. Thanks to Thomas I managed to do the necessery tests and travel the same day from the Netherlands to Bosnia to be on time for her funeral. And to gently stroke her hair and her cheek one last time.

My grandmother Smilja to her grandchildren was turly a grand Mother: we would live with her throughout our childhood. She raised us. She made sure we were fed, red cheacked healthy, comforted, safe. You know someone loves you when they bless the morning and sing to the fire to warm her children while starting it in the stove at the break of dawn, and when they sing to you. She gave me my bear paws and my cheek bones, taught me to spin and knit from the age of 5 or 6, to recognise and use plant allies, to do old slavic folk divination. She helped me write my first letters, then my first stories. And she gave me so many beautiful and profoundly important stories of her life and of lives of many others. But what I’m most gratful for is that she made my Mother – and also me – in her womb. I love everything and everyone that she has made. And I’m so blessed to be her offspring. What a wonderful word, ‘offspring’ – the season of Spring, to spring forth, to leap, originate or arise from. Source.

Born 25th of February 1930,  as a girl Smilja survived WWII with her family: they survived military attacks on their village and even emprisonment, hey fled for miles on foot to safety – her mother carrying her youngest sister on back, and Smilja with her sister Sofija following right behind, never letting go of each others hands. They rebuilt their burned down house from the ground up. She met and merried a young, blonde Partizan lad and became a young mother herself, with three children before her 24th – the oldest of whom is my mama. Grandma moved to the city and worked at the police force. I grew up with my grandma and grandpa right there beside me every day, as they had retired by then and my parents worked full time. When the last war in Bosnia broke out we fled to the north, to my aunts house, where we fled back to several times and lived for many years.

I remember my grandmas teeth ratling out of fear when we first tried to cross this newly created border between enemy lines, now guarded by armed souldiers who raided our car and luggage filled with diapers – she could not stop shaking, thinking these soldiers would kill us all. Ah, when a woman has to deal with not one, but two wars in her lifetime.. Her strong, big hands would pull me from my bed when sirens cried to warn for airattack danger and we had to run to the basement. These hands stroked my hair during the war when my father did not return to us for many years and when my mother was absent for weeks while she went looking for him with my grandfather, barely making it back home alive. 

Just the feeling of grandma’s hands pleating my braids, cradling me or holding mine. Loving strokes on my cheeks with her big bear paws had my face covered entirely and dragged down, before bouncing back into place. Her love was so enourmous, so complete. Her voice, when worried, was so clear. Her eyes would guard me as a child while playing outside, in between her dayly work, peering down from her balcony. The knowledge that never in this life will I meet her again on the doorway of my aunts house, or sit by her to hold her hand and listen, is a relentless ache. I know her Spirit lives on, but I feel so attached to her physical being, I am in need of her blue eyes still. I always have, ever since we left to the Netherlands. I don’t know if that feeling will ever leave me. I hear her voice in my head during the day, I know exactly what she would say to me in that moment, hów she would say it, the intonation and warmth of her words.. Her laugh.. 

She had a superb sense of humor, she would even surpise herself with her cheekyness. Within the family she was also famous for her sixth sense, knowing all secrets, sensing when company was coming, intuitively knowing when someone was hurt even when miles away. She would visit me in dreams and regularly foretell the future. She didn’t like to be called a Witch, but that’s what she naturally was, a Hedgerider. Crossing all possible hedges and boundaries: from man made and ever changing borders of our home land, many boudaries between peace and war, ordinary state of consciousness to the otherworld, from village girl to educated and emancipated city woman, from maiden to (great great) mother and crone, and now from the living into Death.


Could writing down stories mean anything, could it truly make any difference? I have been collecting and writing down our family stories for years now. She has always been a muse to me, showing up everywhere in my paintings and illustrations. To me it is not a vanity, but a meaningful process and at the same time it’s just the way it is. It is life, it is grief and it is how things go and I deal with it: I fulfill this deep need of writing and sharing and if you read it, may it bless and enrich your heart as it has mine.

The stories someone dear leaves behind, in their absence are suddenly more pervasive then ever and the need to catch them seems a last chance for something magical and significant. Before, the sories were still evolving, unfolding, new memories were still being created. Now the stories have become a great Map! The void my grandmother left, is a space all the stories and memories that surounded her are all of a sudden freely floating in. And as I’m observing both my pain and the mythology of her, I see the dance: it all is a piece of a puzzel forming a new meaning, a new life. Even when she was alive, her tales to me were already clearly the weft of my great, ancestral weaving and I heard them eagerly, treasured them accordingly. Now even more so, the threads are unfolding before my eyes into this great, intricate tapestry so bright and alive with pattern, colour, feeling and symbolism. And thus her name unfolds into it’s true meaning: Everlasting, ‘nomen est omen’. The pain of her loss is just one of the many expressions of the love I feel for her. As Stephen Jenkinson in ‘Die Wise’ says: “Grief is the midwife of your capacity to be immensly grateful for being born.” These stories bear witness to how rich our lives have been, and therefore I am. For these great loves, now veiled in grief, are what true riches are.

She looked smaller than the last time I saw her and she was cold. The earth that so decisively covered her first shocked me, then gave me peace. As did the birds that sang in the cold Spring air, and the white blooming forests that surround her now. The mountains that encircle the graveyard with me are witness to the return of this wonderful body that was her souls home, back into Mother Earths embrace. Thank you bako for the life and love I have, I love you too Smiljo, to the Sun and back.

“One for the lineage of my mother
Two for the courage to discover
the strength to walk through the night.
Three for frogs and starlight.
Four for the riders three
Five for the strength not to flee,
when I heard Baba Yaga’s loud Thump!
Six for my doll’s subtle jump
As I passed test after test
And learned how to weave work and rest.
Seven for shelter in fear,
to face death and claim “I am here.”
Eight for the skull that I carried
Eight for the shame that I buried
And nine for the wisdom that came
with the witch’s healing flame.”

– Ember Andrews


Terug Naar Het Begin

Terug Naar Het Begin

Als kind heb ik de oorlog in Bosnië meegemaakt, en ben ik na de oorlog met mijn moeder, broertje en zus naar Nederland gekomen. We hebben mijn grootouders en familie achtergelaten en ik heb me vele jaren ontworteld gevoeld.

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