We buried my Uncle John yesterday.
He died a week ago, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. I haven’t been able to write about his death. I think it’s because it still doesn’t seem real. Even standing with family and friends, watching as his grave was filled with dirt, it was still so hard to believe.
John Chychula married my aunt, Hanusia Dudycz, when I was just 8. I think that theirs was my first real example of courtship as I watched him become a part of our family. Growing up, we have those examples in films, in books, or in life, of couples who have the kind of magic we hope to someday find. I never told Hanusia or John, but for the little girl version of Valya with her head full of dreams, they were that couple for me. He serenaded her! They would dance together. They were in love. They were my fairy tale.
I was just old enough and they were just young enough, that I remember seeing them together before they got married. I loved seeing them dressed up–in costume from the Halloween Maskarada or dressed up in fancy clothes for Malanka. They always looked like they were having such fun together.
However, if I had to point to one thing though that stood out to me, to the little romantic kid watching from the corners—more than the singing or the dancing, more than the way he would put his arm around her—it was the way that John looked at Hanusia, like she was the most remarkable woman in the world. You can see it in their photos, but in life, it was even more powerful. It was magic.
For me, John and Hanusia were better than any movie prince or princess, because they were real, and he was a prince who took the time to play with us—the gaggle of little kids in the Dudycz family. I was always delighted when he was at Baba’s house, because he got down to our level. In one moment, he would be silly and do tricks with his fingers or his eyelids, making us laugh. Then in the next moment, he would ask us questions about our lives and really listen to the answers. It was easy to read on his face that he genuinely cared. Again, it was something in Uncle John’s eyes—they were so kind and gentle.
When I was older, I worked for a few summers downtown in the Department of Human Services, which was in the same building as Drivers Services where Uncle John worked. I would see him at work, and he always treated me like an adult, like an individual, not just his teenaged niece. But that’s how I saw John treat everyone. He took the time to listen to people, to really pay attention. He cared about people. That made an impression on me—the way he moved through the world with such a generosity of spirit.
My oldest daughter is only a few years younger than John and Hanusia’s twin girls. So again the wheel turned, and my relationship with them evolved as we found ourselves parents of young children around the same time. I watched the way he adored his girls, and the way he was once again a doting uncle, this time to my kids and the children of my cousins. I am so grateful that they had the opportunity to know and love him.
Some people have a way of caring about you that makes you feel accepted no matter what. It’s rare, and it’s special. Uncle John was like that—openhearted.
That is the best word I can find to describe John Chychula. If you knew him, if you ever had the pleasure to spend time with him, if you were blessed to be his friend or family, you know.
Uncle John, you will never be forgotten. Вічная пам’ять.