Years ago back in 1990.s I met this Iranian woman who was living with enormous emotional pain.
I was working as a Social Worker in a Government Social Assistance office. Upon my own interest, most Iranian clients would be refereed to me, not only due to the client’s language barriers but also due to the cultural challenges in which most of what clients said would be lost in translation.
Since the first moment I met this lady, I saw a deep sorrow in her kind eyes. She seemed to be simple, quite, tired, elegant yet chronically hopeless. She had come to apply for some financial assistance that most low income families had the right to ask for.
This lady presented herself with few words. She made it clear that although she was in need of social assistance still she was not a “beggar”.
She briefly explained that her small amount of social pension she had, was not enough for her expenses. She would manage her finances somehow magically every month, however this month she was behind her electricity and phone bills. She feared the most. Her tone of voice was low, toneless, and joyless. She showed me all her documents that showed her phone bills were really high. I enquired about her usual habit of keeping her low economy together and she kindly explained the ways in which she managed everything. Basically she would buy cheap food to manage her low budget. About family members she told me that her three daughters were all grown up and they lived with their families elsewhere. She lived all by herself as a new immigrant while not speaking the language. She was about 60 years old then.
Through her broken sentences I learned that her husband had died a couple of years ago. She manage to come to Sweden after her daughters had their refugee status and permanent residents accepted. After some small talk, we did take care of her application and the process in which she needed to get help.
She told me that I was the first Iranian she had spoken to in a long time. I was stunned to hear that, since there were many of us in that city, so how come she was that isolated? After that visit, this lady called me another day to tell me how much she felt good to talk in her own language with me and she asked me to go see her if I could. As making home visits were part of my job, I agreed to visit her in the coming week. That day, we were quite busy in our office and I was in a mood to cancel that home visit, yet I had a feeling that I have to go. I managed to get out of the office in that cold winter day and in no time I was in front of her simple apartment in a neighbourhood most immigrants lived.
I rang the bell. She opened the door and welcomed me warmly by hugging me. She had made a good Persian tea that was irresistible. She showed me to her small and neat kitchen table. I could smell a motherly home, a place I could feel a mixture of energies I was not sure about. I could sense sadness and low mood in that home, a silent that had a killing effect. Something was very sad.
She poured tea in a cute little glass type tea cup. I liked to well fuse tea that could only found in mother’s home. We started a conversation that came to be memorable for me.
She was a teacher back home. One day, like millions of other Iranians she had a life, she had a home and a lovely family. After year 1980, all the turbulence started. She had two sons and three daughters who were all brought to be caring young people. In those early months of 1982, when the regime started to kill hundreds of young boys and girl who had a sympathy for any right or left political party, this lady’s life turned upside down. The horrible phone call came after a week of her two sons age 20 and 18 had gone missing. She and her husband had searched all hospitals, morgues, and jails. No answer! While that horrible person on the other side of the line told her that her two sons were arrested and executed. She was told that her sons had gone to “hell” and she was not allowed to grief because they were not worth it. Soon, she learned that a part of the big scary cemetery out of Tehran, the “behesht Zahra” was the place many bodies would be dumped in the middle of the nights. Families started to go out there to find the place where their loved ones were buried. Families would be threatened and intimidated by the God’s Army, having any ceremonies for those killed children would cause more trouble. Here my host could not help her tears while explaining how much pain she and her family were left to live with. After her sons were killed (murdered or executed), she was laid off as a teacher, with the false accusations that were nonsense to her anyways.
She knew back then that there is no way they could ask for any justice, when the government was the main offender. Life became harder for her three daughters ages 28, 26, 23, who had all gone separate ways. None of her daughters would ever be able to attend university in Iran because her family was labelled as whatever that regime did call people for names. She was receiving threatening calls if she tells someone about her sons, the rest of family would be in danger. She took the threats seriously and she knew no one was safe anyways in her home country, she knew it and she feared that still the worst was still waiting for her.
A year after losing her two lovely sons, her husband died of a heart attack. She was sure that husband died due to broken heart after the tragedies they had to live with. This grieving lady knew no way out of this enormous pain. Her life had been turned upside down.
Year 1986, her three daughters had left Iran, one way or another. She lived in a constant physical and emotional pain, knowing that life was never to be the same. Years after with the perseverance of her daughter, she managed to arrive in Stockholm to find a refuge, a place of peace, while no peace were to be found anywhere for her. Being immigrant, not knowing the language, not having energy to learn the language, not having the peace of mind to integrate with the host society, and thousands other small concerns that she had, were all the reasons for her living a lonely life now. Her daughters lived in different places far from one another, each one having their own issues, according to her.
After a long pause, she started talking again. This lady believed that now she is on her own and she has to deal with many memories that are unbearable. She said that she keeps blaming herself with all the unfolding. She had lost hope. On a daily basis she would look at herself in a mirror to tell herself that she was a bad mother. She believed that if she had been a tougher mother, then all these tragedies would not happen. As she decried her daily life struggles, I could understand that she was living in the circle of many psychotic breakdowns, yet she had no help or support network.
I ended that home visit with a load of questions and emotions: what could I possibly do for her?
After weeks and months of sporadic contacts I refereed her to a psychologist, yet she refused to take that referral. Certainly, I had a sense of appreciation for her struggles in relations to her reality. She denied having any mental health issues while agreeing that she was heartbroken. I guess this is a terminating disorder that we Iranian have and always have known of since we always refer to it as being the reason for someone’s death. She meant that no one in the world would give her family back to her. She just waited to die soon as there was nothing left for her anymore. Her daughters were living harder life themselves therefore she would not even bother them talking about her own miserable life. I could not disagree, she was right; she and her whole family had become victims for crimes and traumas. I just wished that she would be able to find support somewhere. My comments would not be heard anyways as this lady’s reality was much more complex.
I never heard of her again as life had another plans for me and I guess for her. However, I have kept this lady in mind and still thinking about what happened to this mother with broken heart.