This last year has been a difficult one for my wife and I, both for personal and professional reasons. Even before we had a chance to take our honeymoon, I received word that my Father was seriously ill, and without really discussing it with Abby, I knew I had no choice but to fly back to Croatia to be with him.
I've been living in the States since 1999, in the time since I've only been back to see my Father twice, and even then, there were things left unsaid that I knew needed to be dealt with. As difficult as it might be for me to leave Abby and Joe, I wasn't willing to take a chance of something happening to him before we had a chance to smooth over the differences between us.
In a perfect world I would have been able to take Abby and Joe with me to see my Father. In a perfect world I would have been able to use the trip as a way to allow my family to meet them, for my Father to meet the grandson he thought he would never again have. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world and when the time came for me to leave, I went alone.
I don't think either Abby or I realized what might happen in the time I was away, I know I certainly never intended to be gone as long as I was, but, I also had forgotten how stubborn my Father was. I thought I could go back home, I could see what was wrong with him, and after talking to his doctors I could convince him to return to the States with me for treatment. Did I say that I had forgotten how stubborn my Father could be?
My Father had other plans. He knew his time on this earth was running out and he wanted to spend it among friends and family in the land he had been born on. No matter how much I pleaded with him, or how hard I argued, he refused to budge, and all that I was left was for me to stay, at least if I was there, I knew he was getting the care he needed.
It wasn't just my Father's physical needs that kept me in Croatia though, there were ghosts hanging over us, issues that we had avoided facing since I'd left Croatia for the States, and some even longer then that.
When I arrived in Zagreb and saw just how ill my Father was, I knew that I couldn't just arrange for his care and leave again. As much as I missed Abby and Joe, I knew that the time I had left with my Father was timethat I would never have again, and there were things that needed to be said, amends that needed to be made. Most importantly, was making peace with Niko, something that I knew would not come easily for either of us.
In those first months when I came home after losing my family I was lost, I wanted nothing to do with anyone from my past, and the very thought of being anywhere that I'd been with Danijela or my babies left me sick. At the time that I made the decision to leave Croatia I knew that I had to go if I had any hope for moving forward with my life, but, my brother saw it only as running away. The arguments we had in those days leading up to my departure were angry ones, we both said things we didn't mean, we both said things that even now cause pain to us. I couldn't take back what was said anymore than he could, but, by going I knew I could try and explain why I felt as I did and as hard as it was, I could listen to him as he explained why he felt as he did.
Six months. It took six months for me to reach the point where I felt that my Father's condition was stable enough for me to return to Abby and Joe. Six months. In that time there had been successes in Croatia, with my Father's health, with my relationship with Niko. In six months I had been able to do more to find peace with the ghosts of my past then I'd been able to do in almost 17 years, but, at what price?
I have to believe that my staying there with my Father was the right thing to do. I have to believe that the mistakes that Abby made, are ones I can forgive her for. I have to believe that our love is strong enough to survive all of this. Even as I try to believe all of these things, I struggle not to blame myself for not being there in those final moments of my Father's life, but, I have to believe that God had his reason's for that as well, and in the end that is the greatest change that has come over me in all this time.
So, once more I returned to Croatia, only this time I did not go alone. This time I had the support of my brother, the comfort of my son, and in time, my wife as well. We're a work in progress, but, I have to believe that given the choice to do things all over again, I would change nothing, except perhaps to have found a way for Joe and Abby to have joined me. If I have any one regret above all others, it's that my Father never had a chance to spend time with Joe, and that is the one that will haunt me, even as I know it was out of my hands to control.