On April 8th, 2019, my grandfather, Dragan Ćopić/Драган Ћопић (Drago), died at the age of 85. He was a gentle giant whose life was as painful as it was long.
He loved cowboy movies and tinkering with tools and watches. A master craftsmen and builder, he is the type of man I’ve hoped to be for as long as I can remember: a man who has left behind something tangible and worthwhile.
Whether his legacy be the homes and buildings he built during his prime (the structures of which are still standing even after the Balkan Wars), or the selfless daughters he helped bring into this world, Dragan has done a lot to leave behind something worth remembering.
Dragan’s life both started and ended painfully. His father was a freedom fighter during WWII fighting against fascists. He did not survive, nor was his body ever found. Dragan would be responsible for raising the rest of his large family from then on.
Grandpa Dragan was only one of two children to survive a massacre at his school in Donja Suvaja, Croatia in 1941. As the story goes, his teacher was involved with a Croatian fascist soldier. She invited the children to school one day promising them that there would be candy and other sweets.
Given that it was during wartime and that the children were already starving and desperate, the children excitedly showed up to their school. Feeling that there was something definitely wrong, the oldest student in the school tried to convince the children to flee. They would not listen.
Only my grandfather and this older child were able to escape as the Croatian fascists started firing at the children. My grandfather was shot in the leg while fleeing. This left a scar on his leg that was there until the day he died.
Grandpa Drago would go on to marry my grandma Jovanka and start a family of his own. His life took another turn for the worse in 1980 when he got sick. Initially doctors in Zagreb misdiagnosed him and subjected him to what any reasonable person would consider torture. From then on he developed a great fear of needles, hospitals, and doctors.
Doctors in Belgrade would later properly diagnose him with Parkinson’s Disease and set him up with the proper treatment and management schedule.
In 1995 new Croatian fascists would force Dragan and his family and friends out of their homes in a pogrom under the guise of “independence”. Dragan would then spend the rest of his life in Apatin, Serbia, under the care of his selfless daughter Gordana.
Early in 2019 he would be taken to hospital in Sombor, Serbia for an infection. His physician would then proceed to inaccurately prescribe a treatment that would only make his condition worse. It is sad to say, but he suffered until his passing earlier today.
He died in the company of his wife Jovanka and daughter Gordana. The last coherent words he told my aunt Gordana were that his deceased brother had appeared to him asking what was taking him so long to join him.
He was not a perfect man. In fact, he was very difficult all the way up until his passing. Still, he was a kind and gentle man who was as personable as he was trying.
Thank you to my aunt Gordana for taking care of him for as long as she did. Thank you to the health professionals who took care of him during the most painful moments of his life.
I will never forget forget how my sister and I gathered around you as children and listened to your fantastical stories.
I will never forget you. I will continue to drink rakija and fight fascists in your memory.