I knew my return to Croatia to nurse my father would stir memories of the past I had left behind. It wasn't just that I knew my brother Niko and I would finally be forced to deal with the things we had said all those years ago when I'd left Croatia for the United States. No, as much as I knew we'd have to resolve the differences between us, or at least find a way to set them aside for our father's sake, it went far deeper then that. I think I knew coming back for more then a few days would mean I'd encounter people I hadn't seen since medical school, people who likely had last seen me while I was still consumed by grief from losing my family as well as the horrors I'd witnessed in Vukovar.
In those first weeks home, when I wasn't at my father's side, it seemed every place I went stirred some new memory of my past. How could they not? Even something as simple as a trip to the market offered reminders of times I'd spent with Danijela. It was so hard, and there were days when I questioned my decision to return even though I knew I really had no choice. While not as frequent, I was finding too that some places would call up remembrances of Jasna when she was very small and that surprised me even more then the recollections of Danijela. For so long all my memories of my daughter have centered around those final hours of her life. Out of nowhere I found myself being asked to push those memories aside and remember happier times as I was confronted by snapshots of her life that, in some cases, I'd forgotten completely. It wasn't easy, worse though was realizing how much of her memory I had lost because I chose to dwell on those final hours instead of the five years leading u to them.
I've had these images of Jasna frozen in my head, memories of those hours when I knelt next to her small body, trying to keep her alive, images that play out like a movie. They always start with me seeing Marko's hand as I entered the apartment that day. I knew he was gone, but I can't help wondering how long he survived buried under the rubble. He was such a tough little boy, but not tough enough to survive being buried alive, and even after all these years I wonder if he called out for me, if he understood that he was going to die there, that his Tata and Mama couldn't save him. It was so hard leaving him there, stepping over his body as if he were nothing but more of the debris, but, Danijela and Jasna were still alive, and I thought I could save them, that's what doctors are supposed to do.
Jasna's condition wasn't good, and she needed cpr to keep her alive, I needed to get her to a hospital, but, as I started to pick her up, I saw that Danijela was seriously injured as well. How was I supposed to chose between them? Danijela gave me no choice, I started to breathe for our daughter, if I could keep her heart beating until help came, but they never did, and I lost them both. I don't remember how many hours I stayed with my family after they were gone. I remember laying Jasna beside Danijela before finding the strength to free Marko from the prison that had taken his short life. It was only after I put him in his mother's arms that everything finally registered with me, and as I lay down beside my family, I gave into my grief and prayed they would forgive me for failing them.
The memories of that day have been my constant companion for over 16 years, to suddenly find that other memories are taking their place is something I never thought would happen. I'm not so naive as to think that they'll ever disappear completely, but, after all these years, I'm finding that it isn't the first memory that surfaces when I think of my family. Who would have thought that it would have taken something so serious in it's own right to create such a positive change in my life. How do I tell my father that the same thing that may well be taking his life has given me back a part of mine that I thought was lost forever? How do I begin to tell him how grateful I am for having my family back in a way I never thought I'd know again?