Sudden Shade


Anniversaries creep up on you, like a cloud you didn’t see coming.

It can be a relief, that sudden shade.

A time for the mind to rest, or for the heart to feel.

As the years pass, it becomes harder and harder to explain to others that there is this day or week once a year when your skin feels stretched tight and your eyes lose focus just a little bit. Maybe there are families that come together with great, empathetic waves of grief and wisdom and sober celebration…but mine isn’t one of them.

So you wander around a bit aimlessly. Maybe you light a candle. Go to the park, perhaps. Maybe you bake a pie. You’ll talk to friends.

And you wonder odd things, like, has the grief made me a better person? You hope that it gave you the gift of compassion, more awareness of the sharp, unjust edges of the world you live in. You try never to walk by a busker without putting money in the guitar case, that’s for sure. But the remorse is always there, a living thing.


You wonder where he’d be if he was still alive. Probably doing what he always did, playing his bandura at the bus stop on Granville Street, near Pender (except that the city is being rebuilt for the 2010 Olympics, and that bus stop no longer exists). He wanted to put out another CD, a “roots” collection as he called it. You put it out for him, a year-long labour of grief and love. Now, you cannot play it, but you know that others do. He wanted to make amends with his mother. In a way, after his death, he did.

More than anything – you can’t help it – you wish he was still alive. You try, most days, to appreciate those around you, who are.


The last two summers I spent in Vancouver. On July 5 I’d gather with a few friends in the kind of beerhall my brother loved, dim and cavernous, with walls and carpets that have known their share of grace and disgrace. My friends would peer around, wide-eyed, somewhat distressed. The Downtown Eastside looks different from the inside of a scuzzy bar. Sadder. Tougher. More human. People doing what they can to survive, self-medicate, or just be with other people. But the cheap beers and whiskeys would have their soporific effect and before we knew it we were toasting to my brother Roman‘s memory with great heartiness and a kind of determined cheer.

Nothing takes the ache away, but it’s still important to honour it, and the memory it marks.

Big, stumpy fingers plucking an instrument with uncommon gentleness. A rough, brusque manner. A painful innocence. A daily street performance. Music aching with longing. Casual poverty. A community of buskers. Trauma. Joy. The strange persistent tie of blood. Love, deeply, sometimes viciously, disguised. A tweed jacket. Always a chapeau. Art, above all.

The rain ticks all day. The leaves weep.

Vichnaya pamyat.

Eternal memory.



  1. Thank you, Marusya for your tribute to Roman. We share this day of grief and remembering — for me, this year was the first time I was not in Toronto with my family. I put all of Dad’s things, his Meerschaum pipe, one of his private stock Havana cigars with his name on it, photos, his last birthday card to me in one place, and lit some candles (not a yartzeit candle, didn’t want to risk burning down the house – he wouldn’t have been impressed), played the cd of him playing the piano, read some poetry… missed him in a concentrated way for an evening …

    And earlier in the day, as I aways do, put some money in a busker’s hat in memory of Roman …

  2. Aza,
    I was thinking of your dad, too. I like the shrine you created. It’s hard, but important, to find ways to memorialize our loved, lost ones. Somehow, for me, it happened by walking in the rain, taking pictures, and writing.

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