Lina Sergie Attar writes: “Where am I going to die?” That was the first question my grandmother asked me last August in New York City after fleeing her home in Aleppo. I didn’t know how to respond. Over the last 16 months, this uncertain question burdened her as she crossed from state to state, from one of her four children’s homes to another.
My grandmother, Maliha Zuhdi Serjieh, was born in Istanbul in 1923, raised in Beirut, married in Aleppo, and died last week in Michigan. Almost all of her 90 years were spent across a once-porous Levant, but her last year and a half was spent in exile just like thousands of fellow Syrians now scattered across the globe.
In Syria, the political is always personal. For the past two weeks, regime planes have launched hundreds of barrel bombs over Aleppo, destroying buildings and taking hundreds of innocent lives. In Syria, collective pain often intersects with personal loss — like when you mourn a city and a grandmother at the same time.
My grandmother died on Tuesday, Dec. 17, thousands of miles away from her home. Our ultimate dreams of return to Syria were slashed with her death. There will forever be an absence in the apartment in the Sabil neighborhood where my father was born and an absence in the cemetery where my grandfather is buried. There will forever be an inconsolable loss in our family that marks us as Syrians. For there is no family without loss in this terrible war.
The last time I saw my grandmother, only two weeks before she died, she asked me, “Is it true there is a revolution in Syria?” Family members had been trying to shield her from the bloody reality for many months but I just responded calmly, “Yes, Nana.” Then she asked, “So people are killing each other?” Again, I answered, “Yes, Nana.” She stared at me with her pale blue eyes for a few long moments and said, “History is all the same. And the people are always the ones who suffer.” [Continue reading…]