Happy Sibling’s Day to my longest best friend, tutor, supporter, mentor, coach, comedian and one of a kind brother Balša!
I could count on him to teach me how to make and use a slingshot, how to correct my letters and answer math questions. He would run to comfort me when I cried and felt all alone in the new school.
He would teach me to play basketball so well that I was able to beat most boys in our class too. You could always find us after school playing in the school's courtyard. He was Larry Bird and I was Michael Jordan.
We sat in the same classroom together for 8 years. I loved when our Serbia-Croatian teacher would call him in the front of the class to read his poetic writings. He would write poems and stories like a young, aspiring Renaissance writer.
He was an exemplary student, all As, a class president...a perfect kid really.
I always looked up to him, even today as a researcher and an associate professor of physics at ODU.
Our paths separated in high school. He went to the best Math high school in the country and he thrived. Minus the times when he would skip school to play basketball.
We parted further when he ventured to travel to the promised land. The land of Larry Birds and Michael Jordans. I wrote him letters, complaining about parents who never seem to understand teenagers. Imagine that! I asked him if he could take me with him.
Not long after that we were together again in college in the promised land. But it did not look all that promising at first. We had no money, no family, no friends. He was my only family and friend, and also the one who refused to speak in Serbian to me for my benefit. I was mad at him. But he knew better. I did learn English faster that way.
He was there making sure I was ok, but would let me be. I tried to fit in and find my identity and pave my own way.
As the war in Yugoslavia progressed we brought our parents back with us to the US. Balša worked extra jobs to support us all. Late at night after waiting tables all evening, he would empty his pockets and give all he made to our heartbroken mom. She would cry each time she saw him place that money on a table. She felt terrible for taking the money from him. But she had to. We had to eat.
He left again to pursue graduate studies. I was proud of him. I stayed back and suffered a major breakup with my first boyfriend. He would stay on a pay phone with me almost every night comforting me. This went on for months.
A year later I found out that my university possibly wanted to honor me Miss Liberty. I did not have an escort, and he drove a bus for two days to be there. He gave me a check on $80! Everything he had saved. I was beyond myself. His support meant a lot to me.
He escorted me to the middle of the stadium during the homecoming game. When my name wasn't called until the very end he squeezed my hand so hard I thought it is going to break. I think the title meant more to him than me. He was so proud.
Our journey continues on. He was there for me throughout all my major events: wedding, births of my boys, my PhD defense, even birthdays. Recently, I had a privilege to be there for him during his cancer treatments for his stage 3 adenocarcinoma (non-smoker’s lung cancer). For six months he and his family lived with me and my family in Houston.
I can not begin to tell you how proud of him I was throughout his healing journey.
He never showed worry or concern, although I am sure he felt both. He laughed and cracked jokes with nurses and doctors, respecting and treating everyone with kindness and respect. Continuously showing gratitude and appreciation.
Right after his surgery, Nina, his daughter, seeing him still able to make her laugh, she expressed how glad she was to see that he had not lost his essence with the surgery - his humor.
My face is wet with tears just remembering this. What is life without humor and kindness even in the face of death?
To watch him exert the little energy he had left after chemo to encourage and comfort his daughter and wife, convincing them that he would be okay, brought such smile to my face. I knew right than that he would be okay. He had so much to live for.
And as if chemo was not exhausting enough, I watched him go to gym a few days a week working out hard with my partner. Josh told me that his determination and drive was awe inspiring. “No excuses” and “Take responsibility for your actions”, would be the kind of slogans he exemplifies.
Just the outpour of love that he got from his friends and family around the world asking for his wellbeing tells you what this man means to them. Yes, the world. Balša has friends in countries you can’t even find on the map!
His compassion and kindness has no boundaries. And this is not even an exaggeration. His heart is so big that his love can blanket the whole world!
I’ve learned so much from him, just by watching him. Always taking time to acknowledge everyone, making them feel like they are the only one in the room. Within seconds he finds commonality with the young and old alike. He humors them with his wit and makes them feel at ease. He gives them the kind of confidence that one feels when they believe they could achieve anything as long as they have him by their side.
His love for his beautiful girls, wife Denise and daughter Nina, is unparalleled to anything I’ve seen before. He would move the mountains for them. And rightfully so. They love him back, with every inch of their being.
His colleagues value and respect him. He rubs shoulders with nobeloriates but pays equal attention to his aspiring young mentees.
His neighbors fought over who is going to mow his lawn while he was away for 6 months. They watered his plants, took care of his home and stalked his fridge upon his return. They even organized a welcome home party for them!
I don’t need to tell you what he means to his family. I could tell you what he means to me.
Simply put-The 🌎! I love you brother.
Below is the letter I wrote him on his first day of chemotherapy treatment, as Denise,his wife and I went together with our “I am made for more“ T-shirts.
“August 20, 2019.
MDAnderson Cancer Center.
If I have learned anything over the course of my life, it’s that challenging and painful moments in our lives change us. That change is determined by our attitude. We can choose to be bitter and resentful, or we could choose to believe that in those difficult moments our characters are being shaped, are spirits are revealed, our hearts are expanded to take in more love and appreciation for life.
It’s in those vulnerable moments that our courage shines, that we gain new perspective which we could later pass on to those that need it the most.
We might not always understand, but we may always HOPE - yes, even in our darkest hour. Don’t ever lose hope. You ARE stronger than you think! And you ARE meant for more!
Beginnings are always the hardest. But I don’t need to tell you that, by now you know that well. And you know that after the steepest climb, the best views await us. So, buckle up! The ride won’t be a smooth one, but you sure can handle it. I will be here to cheer you on and yell “ижеди га зубом!”, just like when we were kids.
I love you so much and I know you will yet again, rise above.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, and not harm you. Plans to give you HOPE and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 -
the verse that carried me on.“