Speaking we live, mute we die

„Где ја стадох — ти ћеш поћи!”
„Што не могох — ти ћеш моћи!”
„Куд ја нисам — ти ћеш доћи!”
„Што ја почех — ти продужи!”
„Још смо дужни — ти одужи!”

Jovan Jovanović Zmaj

”Where I stayed – you will continue!”
”What I couldn’t – you’ll be able to!”
”Where I didn’t go – you’ll go!”
”What I started – you will continue!”
”We are still indebted – you will pay off!”

Jovan Jovanović Zmaj was a Serbian 19th-century poet. You always told me the poem above, when I was visiting you at the nursing home. You knew it by heart, maybe you learned it from your grandmother?

Now I have heard it for the last time and never before have the words weighed heavier. I will continue what you started. Your voice is now only in memory. For speaking we live, mute we die.

It’s now somber here. But I will not forget your words. No, the words you gave to me, like a torch lowered to the one who gone astray in a dark and deep cave. With your torch as guidance, I will once again find the exit. There I know, you shine with your presence.

The grief and the snow torments me. I long for spring, light and heat. If I close my eyes I see you pick me and sister up, at the kindergarten. You take us to the stone there at the brick houses down in the valley where we once lived. On the stone stand sister and sings a song in Serbian you have taught her. The grass at that time was greener and the sun’s rays stronger. God shined with his presence.

Dear grandmother, you have all my life been at my side. Everyone wanted you to be their grandmother. For you gave them all your unconditional love. It hurts me that you are not on Earth anymore. It hurts to let go of someone you love. How could you be so full of love? How did you manage to give so much love? You were born the Serbian Christmas 1936. You were in your life through a lot. More than I can imagine.

During your life you experienced malignity. During the war, they wanted to exterminate you, they wanted to exterminate your entire people. 700,000 of you the fascists murdered in Jasenovac, a stone’s throw away from where you lived. You survived. You were a little child who hid in the forest without shoes on your feet and with an empty stomach. You were an innocent child they wanted to murder.

At night, when the soldiers were gone, you sneaked out to the village to retrieve any food you could come across. Then you saw, on the stump where they slaughter chickens, a beheaded infant. It became one of your first memories. Never did you manage to see blood after that. Even so, you remained filled with love.

Your father, whose green eyes you inherited, died in the war against the fascism that, at the time, terrorized the whole of Europe. I carry your father’s name and will remember him and what he died for.

You emigrated to Sweden, for there you had been told it had been peace for over two centuries. Though, the evil followed you. He who would protect you, he who would love you stabbed you in the back several times. Punctured both of your lungs. Once again you cheated death. Even so, you remained filled with love.

In Sweden you heard a song about peace with the lyrics:

I natt jag drömde, något som jag aldrig drömt förut
Jag drömde det var fred på jord, och alla krig var slut

Jag drömde om en jätte sal, där stadsmän satt i rad
Så skrev de på ett konvolut, och reste sig och sa:

”Det finns inga soldater mer, det finns inga gevär
Och ingen känner längre till, det ordet militär”

På gatorna gick folk omkring och drog från krog till krog
Och alla drack varandra till, och dansade och log

Cornelis Vreeswijk

Which is a Swedish version of the American Peace Song, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands end bowed their heeds
And grateful prayers were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Ed McCurdy

The song touched you deeply and became one of your favorites. Perhaps one must have been in the midst of the inferno of war in order to really understand the dream of peace.

A friend of mine loved the baguettes you bought for us when you picked us up in elementary school. Another friend loved the pancakes you made, when they were visiting. Everyone wanted to have you as their grandmother. But it was just me and my siblings who had you as our grandmother.

The last time I met you was the day I turned 21, the eighth of March. You who once had been so full of life were lying there in your bed, lean and tired. That night, on my birthday, I asked you what you were thinking about. You were too tired to answer, all you could do was to raise your right hand and point your finger at the sky. It was my worst and saddest birthday, but at the same time, I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world than there with you.

I have to believe that God is still present even in such gloomy times.

That evening, the eighth of March, the twilight made the sky dark blue and the snow had frozen like ice crystal on the window glass. Outside the window, the streetlights were shining. Their shine made the crystals glitter and a weak breeze caused the branches on the large oak tree to wobble. You slept but I think God was there with you in your room.

My last night with you, you were surrounded by flowers, photographs and things that, for you, were familiar. Because they had once been in your home. I remember when I and my siblings visited you there, and sometimes slept over. You always took us to the pizza restaurant nearby. We ate until we were full, then went home and bathed and played with the bubbles in your bathtub. Full and washed all four of us went to your, for us, huge bed. You tucked us in washed sheets. During the night you let the balcony door stand open so the room would be cool and comfortable. We fell asleep safely by the sound of the wind and people’s calm conversations down the street. If we woke up in the middle of the night, thirsty, there were bottles of cold water in the fridge. We were always safe and unconditionally loved there with you.

You wanted to build a glazed balcony. It never went off. We humans have plans that never get realized because time is short. I wish you had got one last swim in the blue Adriatic Sea, but the last sand grain of the hourglass has fallen.

At 4 o’clock in the morning, the eleventh of March, you took your last breath. When it knocked on my door at 7, I knew instantly what had happened. Never would I hear your voice again.

For speaking we live, mute we die.

I said farewell to you later that day. Three tulip bouquets I put on your lean body because you loved tulips. Grandma, you were no longer in the room, your soul had left. I felt it. Only the body that you had been trapped in for so long was left. You are now free from this world’s suffering. I hope we will meet again. You will always be in my heart.

When my heart no longer bears, I shall write. Let the tears fall down on the pages in the diary and dry together with the ink. Then turn page and think; now begins a new page, a new chapter, a new day. However, I will never forget the pages that have been written. I will let them remain. Turn to the bright ones when I need strength. And to the dark when I want to remember. Tomorrow I shall turn page.

When I myself have finished my walk through the desert of this life. I hope we meet again. Then we will be together forever. For is there a heaven, I am certain that you have been welcomed with as much love as you gave during your life to the ones who had the great honor to know you. Yes, the next time we meet, we are in a better place free from this life’s thorny paths.

Tomorrow I will try to break the grief and get up in the morning.

Твој унук,


Marcus Lagercrantz