orest stelmach orest stelmach orest stelmach


I delivered the following eulogy on December 30, 2013, at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Colchester, Connecticut.

The Kind of Man You Apply to a Wound

Bohdan Kachorowsky was my godfather and uncle. My most vivid image of him was captured on the day my father was buried, in November, 1982. A car drove our family from the cemetery in Glastonbury to the Ukrainian National Home in Hartford. The driver pulled behind the building to let us out, and promptly became ensnarled in gridlock. Half a dozen cars had converged on the same parking spot from various directions. For a moment the situation appeared hopeless. In the finest Ukrainian tradition, no man was willing to yield to another. But then, a ray of hope. A man materialized amidst all the cars. He was a compact ball of energy. He whipped into action, pointing, waving and motioning at cars like a seasoned police officer. Thirty seconds later order was restored and our path was cleared. "Look," I said to my mother. "It's Uncle Bohdan."

On this, my mother's second darkest day, she managed to glance out the window and almost smiled. "Of course it's Bohdan," she said. The literal translation of what she then said in Ukrainian was "He's the kind of man you apply to a wound." The figurative translation was "Of course it's Bohdan. He solves problems. He is a healer." Those words were spoken by my mother more than thirty-one years ago, yet I remember them verbatim. "He's the kind of man you apply to a wound." For me they defined my uncle and godfather more than any other description.

Among my earliest recollections of Uncle Bohdan was the help he bestowed on our family with our home in Glastonbury. The first time I saw him work was when he finished a room in our basement. It was an awe-inspiring experience. Uncle Bohdan didn't approach a project with the relaxed demeanor of one friend helping another during his off-hours. He attacked it as though his fate depended upon the project's immediate completion. He didn't utilize all his skills to complete the project, he unleashed them. He became a whirling dervish of muscle, craft and determination. To be a child by his side and hope to lend him a helping hand, was to be an impediment to his mission. So I had no choice but to get out of the way and watch my uncle's generosity spring to life.

He was a resilient and resourceful man, with an enormous heart, a love for America and his ancestral homeland of Ukraine, and an extraordinary work ethic. He was a man of class and integrity. I dare you to find an instance where he made a disparaging comment about any one. He built a family, constructed homes with his bare hands, and crafted solutions to friends' and families' problems in his spare time. No project was too complex, no request for assistance was to be denied.

When my Uncle Bohdan saw a friend or family member in need, he seemed to promise assistance first, and contemplate the magnitude of the responsibility he'd assumed later, or more likely, never. Such was the case when my mother suffered a stroke earlier this year. He traveled from Colchester to Hartford with my Aunt Sonia to visit her in the hospital almost daily. And when my mother had recovered sufficiently to return home, he volunteered to install safety equipment to make her stairs and bathroom more user-friendly.

I was thrilled at this development. Some forty-years after the aforementioned room was finished in what is now my mother's basement, I would have a second chance. I would be able to assist my uncle instead of watching him. Let me make the following observation perfectly clear: age had not slowed the man one bit. Perhaps his breathing was a bit more labored, but that was the only difference I could detect, four decades later. He launched into the project, practically bouncing off the walls of the bathroom as he attached the safety grips. This time I was one step ahead of him, knowing precisely what tool, what screw, what wall anchor he would need. It was a simple job and yet it was a joy. During the installation, my uncle Bohdan taught me a trick, and the wisdom associated with it.

We were searching for a wooden stud behind a wall. I offered him the stud-finder I'd brought for the job. He wasn't interested. Instead he reached into his bag and produced the world's thinnest nail. It was no wider than a sewing needle. I had to put my glasses on to even see it. He proceeded to gently tap the nail through the wallpaper at unobtrusive spots until he hit pay dirt and found the stud. Later, when the job was gloriously completed in record time, my wife asked me if I'd learned anything. Yes, I said.

"I learned that sometimes you have to poke holes in a wall for the greater good, and that a man of experience can render such holes invisible."

The greatest good in my uncle's life was his family. His great-grandchild, his grandchildren, his children, and his wife. They were the light in his eyes. No doubt his family will remember those eyes flickering, his body exuding a palpable pent-up energy just before saying whatever he had on his mind. The words would burst from his lips in the same warp speed with which he worked. It was as though he were in a constant hurry because there was so much more for him to do. For strangers, for friends, and especially for his family. No doubt his family will remember him at Christmas celebrations, directing carols and spreading joy, studying the various generations around his table and wondering, "who is in need? Whom can I help and how?" No doubt his family will remember him as a man who provided, sheltered, nurtured and encouraged them. They will remember him as a man of kindness, compassion and good-nature. A man who carried himself with a manifest zest for life, a zest he wished for all of them.

I, myself, will remember him differently. For me, he was and always will be, the kind of man you apply to a wound.

© Orest Stelmach

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