Lessons From Uncle Borys: You Only Die Once


My only memory of my Uncle Borys was when he was staying with my family for his mom’s (my grandmother) funeral. I do not recall one single conversation with him: my only memory is sneaking into the room he was staying in (which was mine), to get something. While my memories of interacting with Borys in person is limited to but a distant memory, he is of course a figure that has been prevalent my whole life. Borys is my father’s oldest brother, and one of the few of our lineage to still be alive after World War II.

While Uncle Borys remained in Ohio, the place where my grandparents’ immigrated to, the rest of the Bochniak clan went elsewhere. My family moved to midwest, and the other Bochniak brother settled in the northwest. Thus, the Bochniak clan has always been geographically far apart from each other.

From what I’ve been told, Borys lived what was considered to be a long life for a schizophrenic, dying in his 60s. He was a simple man, even on his deathbed, never requesting anything more than candy and cigarettes. It was therefore appropriate that his funeral was small and simple, complete with an eloquent eulogy written by my father and uncle. Borys was laid to rest in an old black suit formerly belonging to my father, and with a pair of shoes donated by my uncle. However, had we not had any clothes for Borys, the funeral director politely told us, “Oh I keep plenty extra clothes in the back of the church, just in case.”

It is said that there are many disturbing similarities between funerals and weddings: both (typically) only happen once, both take place at a church, and you’ll find friends, family, and friends coming together at both. My father, not failing to keep in the tradition of documenting a once-in-a-deathtime event, was perhaps the most attentive funeral photographer in history. Picture after picture, he captured every moment that day. He even documented us awkwardly looking at the casket while we were in the church. As we looked at Borys laying peacefully in his casket, my father motioned to me to scoot inwards towards the other onlookers. I mouthed, “what the f’ dad?” To which he replied, “oh just do it, dammit!”

The non-stop photo blitz brought upon by my father, continued at the gravesite service. As an aside, with 500 friends on facebook, I like to think that I am somewhat of a celebrity (in my own little world, at least). However, the non-stop clicks and flashes of the camera that day made me realize that should I ever be in a position to increase my celebrity status, I best think twice. I digress.

So my father could participate in the funeral festivities, he asked his former co-workers to take charge of photography. This resulted in some beautiful pictures. One of my favorites includes me, my sister and brother, uncle, father, and pastor carrying the casket to the gravesite. The other favorite is featured in this story: it’s my sister and me in sunglasses, a hearse in the background, and other characteristics I’m certain that could only happen at an American-Ukrainian funeral.

They say, “You Only Live Once- YOLO!” However, Uncle Borys taught me that, after all, You Only Die Once.

So live up now post-grads.