Eulogies for Roman Bociurkiw - Delivered at his funeral, Friday July 12, St Josaphat’s Cathedral, Edmonton

By: Marusia Bociurkiw

In the past few difficult days, memories of Roman  - as brother, son, nephew, uncle, friend, and musician have been playing in our memories like the colourful flicker of a Super 8 film. Roman as a kid, taking off on his tricycle to go across town to Baba’s house.  Roman always subverting the family photo, in constant motion, a blur in the lens of a camera. Roman discovering music, his life-long love: playing in a bandura ensemble in Ottawa; leading the family in song on Sviat Vechir; busking on Sparks Street Mall or in Byward Market in Ottawa. Playing in cities across Canada; settling, finally, in Vancouver over ten years ago, and becoming a landmark – the sound of his bandura trickling like water, like something light-filled, luminous, otherworldly – on Granville Street, on Robson; at the Skytrain Station.

 We all knew different parts of Roman; we tried our best to weather his overcast moods, savour moments when his particular brand of innocence and wonder broke through the clouds. Some of us thought the road he had chosen was a harsh one; some of us found it hard to find a way to be part of that life. I regret that I didn’t respect his life so much lately. I know he sensed that.  However in the past week Mikhailo had the privilege to learn about the last years of Roman’s life in Vancouver. We met people like Stan and Rosemary, who lived at the Marble Arch Hotel, and Kevin, the manager, all of whom cared about Roman, admired his music, and talked to him almost every day. I ran into Jeff, a street musician, who looks a little bit like Roman, who knew him for many years. Jeff mused on their interconnectedness: “Roman and I shared the same karma. If I got into trouble, Roman would get heck, and vice versa”.  I got a phonecall from Zonya, a Ukrainian woman who also plays bandura and said Roman was her mentor. For over 10 years she visited him and had coffee with him every few weeks. Roman was a public figure in Vancouver – well known and well-loved. Hundreds of people had their own special connection to Roman’s music and character. My friend Penny, who is Jewish, recalls how, after she’d stopped and chatted with him, he’d always play a rousing round of Ha-va-na-gi-lah, or something from “Fiddler on the Roof”, as she left.  A few weeks ago, my friend Haida took her one-year-old grandson Liam downtown, and they stood for a few moments to listen to Roman play Pachelbel Canon – his favourite piece. As they quietly started to walk away, Roman muttered, philosophically of Liam: “he’ll always remember Bach with the sound of traffic in the background”.

Roman had a big heart, a great sense of humour, and a flair for the unexpected. We never knew if he’d just dismiss us with a brusque hello when we saw him on the street, or offer to pack up and go for a coffee or a beer. When Sonya was visiting me in Vancouver, Roman took a day off busking –something he rarely did -and took her for a tour of his beloved Downtown Eastside so she could see how the other half live, onto the Seabus to North Van, for a nice Italian meal and then a tour of Lynn Canyon. Roman valued family but like everything else, he wanted it on his own terms. He loved his mother, and shared with her a deep spirituality. But Roman’s spirituality was his own: eclectic, mystical, democratic. He was as comfortable discussing theology with Vancouver’s Bishop Yakimyshyn, whom he often visited, as he was with his friends in the bar. His was a sharp and generous intellect – much like his father’s perhaps. He read hungrily, widely.Some of the books on his bedside table: Thomas Merton’s “Contemplative Prayer”, Salman Rushdie’s “Fury” and Jean Swanson’s “Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion”

Roman spent his life trying to do exactly what he wanted, no matter how difficult. He saw himself as a travelling musician in the tradition of the Ukrainian kobzar, who, in the pre-modern era, travelled the steppes of Ukraine bringing news, poetry and music to the common person. This is not the easiest lifestyle to imitate. But, up until his last day, Roman was earning money doing what he loved best – playing his bandura  He often spoke passionately of his chosen  community – the Downtown Eastside, and of the friendships he experienced there.

I dearly wish I could say I had been present in Roman’s life this past year. You get tired of being rejected; you get busy. You think there’s more time. I suppose I did what I could, which will never seem like enough.  I respect his life now. Maybe respect is all any of us really need. Today, I want to celebrate Roman’s life, a play of dark and light, a life which was lived and felt very deeply, with determination and anger and dignity. I want to pay tribute to the community that was with him through thick and thin. I want and hope that his death will teach us something about life: about accepting and respecting those who live in poverty, or who suffer from addiction, or depression. Roman watched life on the streets get tougher as more conservative municipal and provincial governments came into power,  cutting back social services  and healthcare. In the last five years, he had to move from hotel to hotel as gentrification spread through his neighbourhood, eliminating affordable housing. So I want us to consider living our lives as Roman would have wanted us to: with a sense of social justice and of respect and appreciation for those who are different from ourselves – whether they are in our families, or on our streets.  Let’s honour  Roman with our deep respect, with irreverence and humour – and, always, with music. Roman, you now live in your music. You’ve moved into the light. Vichnaya Pamyat.

 

 

In Memory of my brother, Roman Bociurkiw

By Michael Bociurkiw

  THE UNIQUE THING ABOUT ROMAN’S MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT STYLE IS THAT IT ATTRACTED PASSERS-BY FROM A BREATHTAKINGLY WIDE SWATH OF SOCIETY.

  FROM THE CLEANING WOMAN AT VANCOUVER’S WESTIN HOTEL TO THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR – WHO WHILE IN OTTAWA DURING AND OFFICIAL VISIT – TOSSED ROMAN A FIVE-DOLLAR NOTE.

  THOSE WHO STOPPED TO LISTEN THE HAUNTING STRAINS OF HIS MUSIC – EVEN FOR JUST A FEW MINUTES – NEVER FORGOT HIS MUSIC OR HIS SHOWMANSHIP.

  MAYBE HE DIDN’T HAVE THE GREATEST VOICE IN THE WORLD, MAYBE HE CRACKED OFF COLOUR JOKES AT INNAPROPRIATE TIMES, MAYBE HE THREW OUT THE OCCASIONAL OBSCENITY… BUT HE ALWAYS LEFT A COLOURFUL AND LASTING IMPRESSION ON THOSE WHO CROSSED HIS PATH.

  SOME OF MY FONDEST MEMORIES OF ROMAN WAS WHEN HE TRAVELLED THE MAIN STREETS OF CANADA EACH SUMMER, ENTERTAINING CROWDS FROM VANCOUVER TO MONTREAL. LOCAL NEWSPAPERS WOULD FREQUENTLY FEATURE THIS UNIQUE BUSKER – CLAD IN UKRAINIAN GARMENTS – ENTERTAINING LUNCHTIME CROWDS.

  WHILE AN ENTERPRISING BUSKER, HE OFTEN SHUNNED INVITATIONS TO PERFORM ON A LARGER STAGE. ON MANY OCCASIONS HE WOULD RECEIVE TANTILIZING OFFERS TO PLAY AT STORE OPENINGS OR LARGE CONCERTS…BUT THE STREETS WERE HIS STAGE AND PASSERS-BY HIS GREATEST FANS.

  HE SOMETIMES REMINDED ME OF A LATTER DAY ROBIN HOOD….MUCH OF THE MONEY HE EARNED ENDED UP IN THE POCKETS OF DESTITUTE PEOPLE OR FELLOW MUSCIANS.

  DESPITE HIS NOMADIC LIFESTYLE, ROMAN STILL MANAGED TO PRODUCE THREE RECORDINGS – INCLUDING THE AVE MARIA AND MAGICAL STRINGS CDS. EARLIER HE ACCOMPANIED MONTREAL’S WAVERCHUK SISTERS FOR AN ALBUM OF UKRAINIAN FOLK SONGS. HIS MOST RECENT CD’S HELP SUSTAIN HIM THESE PAST YEARS.

  FOR ME, LESS THAN TWO YEARS DIFFERENCE THAN ROMAN, I SHARED AN INTIMATE – AT TIMES TUMULTUOUS - LINK WITH MY OLDER BROTHER… SHARING THE SAME BED ROOM, HAVING TO ACCEPT HAND-ME-DOWN CLOTHING FROM HIM, AND OF COURSE, GETTING INTO THE INEVITABLE SCRAP  – WHETHER OVER UNAUTHORIZED USE OF HIS BYCICLE OR STEALING ONE OF HIS RECORD ALBUMS. HE WOULD OFTEN BE CALLED “THE LITTLE PROFESSOR” – FOR THE THICK, DARK GLASSES THAT HE WORE AS A KID.

  FOR ONE VERY MEMORABLE SCHOOL YEAR, WE ATTENDED THE SAME MINOR SEMINARY IN ROBLIN MANITOBA.

  FOR MY GRADE TEN YEAR AT ST VLADIMIR’S COLLEGE, ROMAN KEPT A DETATCHED EYE OVER ME, BUT HE ALSO HAPPILY EXPOSED TO THE HARSH REALITIES OF BORDING SCHOOL LIFE – ALLOWING ME TO ABSORB THE OCCASIONAL KNOCK OR PUNCH FROM FELLOW CLASSMATES.

  IT WAS AT ROBLIN THAT ROMAN TRULY BEGAN TO FLOURISH....WHERE HE HONED HIS BANDURA SKILLS, PERFORMED IN THE UKRAINIAN DANCE TROUPE AND CHOIR, AND PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN ORGANIZING STUDENT LIFE.

  AFTER ROBLIN HE STAYED FOR MANY YEARS IN UKRAINIAN MONASTARIES IN OTTAWA, TORONTO, CHICAGO, NEW YORK AND ELSEWHERE BUT EVENTUALLY DECIDED THAT THE HONOURABLE BUT CLOISTERED LIFE OF THE PRIESTHOOD WAS NOT FOR HIM…AND TURNED TO WHAT HE LOVED AND KNEW BEST: ENTERTAINING CROWDS ON AN INSTRUMENT MOST NON UKRAINIANS HAVE TROUBLE PRONOUNCING.

  I SUPPOSE ONE CAN SUCCUMB TO THE TEMPTATION TO CRITISIZE THE MONASTIC SYSTEM ROMAN WENT THROUGH – FOR NOT ENDOWING HIM WITH THE BASIC LIFE SKILLS THAT ONE NEEDS TO MAKE IT ON YOUR OWN.  HE SOMETIMES YEARNED TO KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A CAR, DO HIS OWN LAUNDRY OR COOK A PROPER MEAL.

  MADDENING CHURCH POLITICS AND ROME’S RELUCTANCE TO BE FLEXIBLE ON ISSUES SUCH AS MARRIED PRIESTS, I THINK, BOTHERED HIM GREATLY.

  WRITES A FRIEND FROM THE PHILIPPINES WHO MET AND ADMIRED ROMAN: “HE LIVED THE LIFE HE CHOSE TO LIVE: MUSIC AND VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY. HE LED A LIFE UNCLUTTERED AND UNENCUMBERED WITH WORLDLY POSESSIONS AND CARES. SOMEHOW I THINK HE GOT IT RIGHT.”

  INDEED, TURNING HIS BACK ON CONVENTION WAS SOMETHING ROMAN DID EXTREMELY WELL…WITH PANACHE.

  I THINK THE LIFESTYLE HE CHOSE TO LIVE – NO MORTGAGE, KEEPING RESPONSIBILITIES TO A MINIMUM AND LIMITING HIS COMMUNITY COMMITMENTS – STIRRED ENVY IN OTHERS. HOW MANY OF US CAN TRULY SAY THAT WE CAN GET UP EVERY MORNING AND TRULY LOVE THE WORK WE DO.

  ALLOW ME TO SHARE WITH YOU THE WARM AND INCITEFUL WORDS OF MY GOOD FRIEND, YURKO ZARYCKY, WHO WRITES FROM KIEV THE FOLLOWING:

  ROMAN LIVED LIFE TOTALLY ON HIS OWN TERMS AND THE DICTATES OF HIS CONSCIENCE, HIS AESTHETICS, AND HIS WORLD VIEW.

HIS LACK OF COMPROMISE – THOUGH MADDENING INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO SOME – WAS RARE, DARING AND PURE.

OUR WORLD IS SKEWED, STACKED AGAINST INNOCENTS LIKE ROMAN.

BUT EVEN AS SOME MAY LOOK ASKANCE AT A STREET MUSICIAN, A PIECE OF ALL OF US - - OVERBURDENED AND STRESSED-OUT TOILERS, SWIRLING IN THE CURRENTS OF THE MAINSTREAM - IS JEALOUS OF THE FREEDOM AND PRICE PEOPLE LIKE ROMAN – WHO ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR THE FREEDOM.

WE QUIETLY ENVY AND RESPECT THE INTEGRITY. THEN WE “GET A GRIP” – MOVE ALONG TO SOMEBODY ELSE’S TUNE AS THE MINSTREL’S MUSIC FOLOWS US AROUND THE CORNER AND FADES AWAY.

  SO NO ONE OUGHT TO SECOND GUESS ROMAN’S DECISIONS, HIS LIFE…WITHIN THE RIGID FRAMEWORK OF CONVENTION AND CONFORMITY THAT GIRDS OUR SOCIETY LIKE A STRAIGHT JACKET. PITY, FEELING SORRY WOULD BE MISPLACED AND MISS THE POINT. HE LIVED BY DIFFERENT RULES…AND THE DIFFICULT LIFE ON VANCOUVER STREETS WAS THE PRICE HE PAID FOR LIBERATION. SO IT WAS.

BUT HIS MUSIC BROUGHT JOY AND WONDER AND POSSIBILITIES TO THE COUNTLESS WHO HEARD IT.

  NOW ROMAN IS AT PEACE…AN OUTLAWED ANGEL WITH A SHOWMAN’S SOUL.

  A TRUE KOBZAR!

  AS FAMILY AND FRIENDS WE MAY FEEL ROBBED – PERHAPS CHEATED – THAT ROMAN LEFT US AT SUCH AN EARLY AGE, STILL BURDENED BY A CHARIOT OF UNREALIZED DREAMS. YET, AMONG HIS FAVORITE COLLECTION OF PRAYERS AND POEMS, WE FIND AN INCREDIBLE STRONG LINK TO HIS CREATOR AND WE FIND HIM AT PEACE WITH WHAT IS TO COME….

A WRITING BY CHARLES DE FAUCALD IN HIS BOOK….

  “FATHER, I ABANDON MYSELF INTO YOUR HANDS,

DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL.

WHATEVER YOU MAY DO, I THANK YOU

I AM READY FOR ALL, I ACCEPT ALL

LET ONLY YOUR WILL BE DONE IN ME,

AND IN ALL YOUR CREATURES.

INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT.

I OFFER IT TO YOU WITH ALL THE LOVE THAT IS IN MY HEART.

FOR I LOVE YOU LORD, AND SO WANT TO GIVE MYSELF,

TO SURRENDER MYSELF INTO YOUR HANDS,

WITHOUT RESERVE AND WITH BOUNDLESS CONFIDENCE

FOR YOU ARE MT FATHER. AMEN

ROMAN IS WITH HIS FATHER NOW. THE BANDURA STRINGS, WHICH HE SO PASSIONATELY PLUCKED, HAVE FALLEN SILENT. THE STREETS OF VANCOUVER ARE CRYING OUT IN PAINFUL AGONY FOR HIS MUSIC. HIS FANS MISS HIM AND HIS FAMILY HERE TODAY IS DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF A SON AND SIBLING AND SUCH AN EARLY AGE.

DIFFICULT AS IT IS, LET US TRY TO CELEBRATE HIS LIFE AND CARRY WITH US FOREVER THE LESSONS AND EXAMPLES THAT HE PROVIDED TO US.

THE WORDS FROM THIS OLD GAELIC BLESSING, ALSO FOUND IN ROMAN’S BOOK, MAY BRING US SOME COMFORT….

MAY THE ROAD RISE TO MEET YOU

MAY THE WIND BE ALWAYS AT YOUR BACK

MAY THE SUN SHINE WARM UPON YOUR FACE

MAY THE RAINS FALL SOFTLY UPON YOUR FIELDS UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

MAY GOD HOLD YOU IN THE HOLLOW OF HIS HAND

VICHNA YOMU PAMIAT!!

 

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