By Nicole-Anne Boyer
Sts. Peter & Paul, Vancouver BC | March 9, 2013 at 11am.
On behalf of my parents, David and Eltie Boyer, and our families
• Thank you very much for coming today. It means so much to us seeing so many people here.
• Thank you Fathers for such a beautiful service
• And thanks to everyone who helped make this service happen, too many to name right now
For those who do not know me, I’m Nicole Boyer, David’s big sister, and delivering this eulogy is one of those honours no one hopes to ever get. But it’s nonetheless an honour I couldn’t refuse, and I found, strangely, that as I started to put the words together in my head and heart, this became a healing process. I hope some of these reflections are healing for you as well. Please give me the grace to do David justice here. And please laugh at the funny bits.
As many of you know, the high level biography of David’s life goes something like this:
• He joined our family shortly after his birth on September 26, 1974 at what was Grace Hospital in Vancouver.
• My parents’ chosen baby, he was the missing piece of our family, a much-desired son and a brother. He fit so seamlessly, was such a compliment in his nature and looks and mannerisms that most people didn’t believe that he was adopted. It seemed self-evident to them that David was like my mom —a Blondie and quieter —and I was like my Dad —dark haired and well, less quiet. A perfect fit.
• In schools, he was lucky to be at the very best. David went to Vancouver College for 8 years, where he was well loved by his teachers. But then he discovered rowing, and together with the prospect of girls, he decided that Brentwood College was more his ticket. He gradated in 1992 and left with some life-long friends— in particular a group called the “three amigos,” who are all here today. Thanks guys.
• After graduating, he became an avid biker — biking up north to Prince George and back, was a triathlete for a while, until a serious accident shattered his leg. Though undiagnosed at the time, he most likely had some brain trauma as well, which no doubt contributed to his troubles later on in life. As we’re learning with the debates around concussions in sport and hockey in particular, mental illness can often be triggered by these accidents. In any event, he was never quite the same after this experience.
• David also attended UBC for a brief while, studied forestry because of his love of the outdoors. But switched gears and learned the trade of his grandfather—which made Papa Boyer so proud— and became an air conditioning & refrigeration specialist. He then played an important role working within the family company, and was well loved by his colleagues.
Words Associated with David
I could go on, but these biographical facts just scratch the surface of who my brother was in all his splendid dimensions. So let's get to the essence of him instead. In preparing for this, I drew strength from a little crowd-sourcing experiment. I asked the crowd — a group of David’s friends, family, and the postings on the memorial website (which is listed at the below of the obituary http://www.respectance.com/DRBJr/ )— their top 10 words they would use in describing him.
Here is a just a small curated selection of these words and phrases:
• David was generous, gentle, a gentleman, so polite and considerate (words my mother proudly used)— with delightful old school manners like standing up for a women at the dinner table
• Eager to please, always ready to help you move, solve a problem, lend an extra hand, or give you a big hug
• Quiet and introverted, sensitive and observant, he defined the phrase still waters run deep.
And when you got to know him… more dimensions emerged:
• He had a dry wit, a bright intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge
• And his fair share of strong views. Some a little zany, like magnetic polar shifts and medieval shields. But always interesting. He made you think.
• Not afraid to follow his own path, he didn’t need to fit into conventional norms, and had the courage to do things like camp out in the bush and write a science fiction novel, something I always admired
• Handsome, well-groomed, with an ear-to-ear grin and great laugh, he was positively charming. The cutest baby ever, many of my girlfriends were quietly in love with him for years— the penchant for older women definitely started young
• Fun loving, David loved a good party, was a great cook and great host
• Practical, competent, thrifty, and skilled in many technical ways our family was not — he was the perfect counter-part to my father when he got into what David called “power puttering” mode, which he confided in me was on the edge of being dangerous
• Kind hearted, compassionate, loving and loyal—loyal at times to a fault— the kind of loyalty that you read about in great literature or see in movies, the kind that did not waver even during his darkest of times for the people he loved even when he felt they didn’t love him
• On less serious note, this loyalty and commitment applied to everyday products and services as well. Because when he liked something or someone— whether it’s his favorite sushi restaurant on Lonsdale or hiking gear— you’d think he was on commission given how passionately he would sell them to you.
Kahil Gibran, the poet wrote:
"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."
Indeed, looking at this composite list of just a few of our collective words, tells us there was so much that delighted us about David and that David delighted in giving to the people around him.
As a family, some of the happiest memories were our winter vacations, many in Mexico, where we’d spend the sun-soaked days doing simple things, like reading together or listening to CBC’s on the radio at night, or cooking together. In fact, we would spend perhaps an unusual amount of time discussing our next meal or culinary adventure— for cooking and food were a key way we communicated and cared for each other in our family. And David was a great cook, his last meal he cooked for me in January was the amazing lamb dinner with his signature mushroom & onion sauce, his way of saying sister, I love you.
One year, our family converged in Bali for Christmas after the Bali Bombings, where we got this amazing villa with a pool and staff of five. David was winding up his grand tour of Southeast Asia. While we thought he was roughing it, we quickly learned it was more like 5 star backpacking. For instance, in Burma, he had rented a car, driver, and tour guide for two weeks to take him around the entire county in style—from Yangon, to Mandalay, Began, to Maymo, the hill station where my grandmother Amah or Joan grew up. So when he got to Bali, he had no problem settling into these cushy digs. Yet just as good as he was indulging in creature comforts, he was also equally down to earth and could connect with people from all walks of life. Just one example of this: picture David in a sarong, cocktail in hand, waltzing into the kitchen to our cook Desak’s utter bewilderment— because it was not the social norm to have men in kitchens in Bali. But with is disarming signature smile, just rolled his sleeves, helped her clean up, and then started teaching her how to make pizza. Dave was so good a putting people at ease.
David was clearly a softy inside, and there was no better evidence of this when you saw him dote on his beloved cats, Bilbo and Frodo, lavishing them with plush beds, treats, attention and towards the end of their lives a well-financed healthcare plan that would rival any of ours.
As his sister though, I can’t help but share some of his less endearing traits. He was stubborn and had a temper, matching mine toe for toe. The first time I remember pushing him too far was at my grandparents’ house, 3937 Laurier, and he must have been around 3-4 years old. The relevant fact is that he had a full set of teeth. This was also his little lord Fauntleroy era, and there is a famous picture of him sitting in a little chair looking like a prince. Anyway, I must have been tormenting him more than usual, because he bit into my baby finger and to my astonishment, he would not let go. No matter how much I yelled and tried to pull my hand, like a pit bull, he tenaciously held on, teeth firmly clenched, with a glint of triumph in his eyes. Eventually someone came to my rescue but not before he made such a deep gash that I still have a scar on my finger to this day—something I will treasure now, a little physical mark of his indelible imprint on my life.
His darker days and depression
I know eulogies are supposed to be upbeat and positive, but David would also want me to be real and true. We always spoke straight to each other, unvarnished, and I see no reason to change that now.
So we should also talk about his struggles with depression, which steadily became a more dominant feature of his life—acerbated by bad luck like his bike accident and some very bad choices.
We need to talk about this because the highest possibility of David’s legacy is to reduce the stigma and taboo we have around mental health. It’s not as bad as it was. But the current reality is that over 1/5 people suffer from some mental health issues. And in Vancouver, well, in the winter it’s more like 3/4s of the population. Anyway, for something so common place, so endemic— an epidemic even— still we allocate so few societal resources to deal with this.
For something so big, we’re still woefully uneducated, unable to either read the signs or cope when a friend or family member succumbs. The most outdated view that has to change is that mental health issues are other people’s problems— and something that happens to weird, weak or the lesser minded—when we know that many brilliant people have always suffered from depression. Winston Churchill called his the Black Dog, the Victorian poets called it melancholia, even venerating it as a source of divine insight and inspiration. No, mental health is all of our problems, and we need to start reframing it in these terms. David’s passing demands it.
What if to What Now
Another thing I know David would be concerned about right now is how we’re feeling. So let’s talk about that too. Many of us, including myself, are feeling guilt, anger, remorse, sadness, heartbreak, confusion, wondering what went wrong, and asking “what’ if? a million times over— “what if?” I did this, what if I did that— questions we will never get full answer to. Despite all they did for David, which included many heroic acts of love and more, my parents in particular will be tormented by these “what ifs?” All of this is part of the grieving process, I’m learning.
But David would not want us to dwell too long here. David would want us to be future facing, to ask not “what if?” but “what now?! What next.”
So what now? What next? A few reflections here to make David’s life and legacy count. And to help him move on in peace wherever he may be right now.
1. Firstly, be compassionate with yourself and with each other, and I’m speaking especially to the people closest to David. Playing the blame game serves no good purpose in the end. Instead, let’s just notice, and let’s just celebrate how David’s passing has brought so many of us together, as a family and community — perhaps as he had hoped we would— how he has triggered such a incredible outpouring of love for which we are so grateful for. David would want us to be happy. And I have this on good authority by my Auntie Suzie via a Peruvian holy man. Yes, you heard it right, a Peruvian holy man. Isn’t that SO Dave, such his dry sense of humor at play? I can hear him chucking now.
2. Secondly, being compassionate however does not mean being complacent. It means justice should be done, and it will be. This also means we need to change our thinking and our individual & collective responses to mental health. I invite you to join me to achieve this, in small or large ways: from a donation to a key charity or volunteering your time. Or educating yourselves a little more. Or making the extra effort in reaching out to a friend or loved one who might be struggling. Suspending your judgment. In your families, reach out to your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, cousins and have a conversation of the heart, or simply tell them that you love them. Unconditionally. Avoid taking them for granted, and the kind of regret that comes with unfinished business, unsaid things, conversations that you wished you had, but didn’t.
3. Thirdly, we as a family and community would like to create a physical place in memory of David, a place we can visit and feel David’s presence, a place others can enjoy and find peace. An early idea of my father’s is to connect a portion of the Baden Powell Trail on the Woodlands Road not far from our house. Another project David was passionate about was helping to finish an ambitious ridge-to-ridge trail circumscribing Indian Arm. So stay tuned about our plans for these projects, and would welcome all of your help in making them happen.
So what now? In sum, be compassionate, but not complacent, and help us create a special outdoor place, and lastly find ways to connect with David in your own way, a clue to which is found in traditional Native American Hoppi prayer:
Don't stand by my grave and weep,
For I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint of snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning, hush.
For I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circle flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
David will not die because he lives with us in our memories, hearts, and in the beautiful places and spaces he loved. We just need to find a different way to connect and communicate with him in this life and the next.
But I know exactly where I’ll find his spirit, where I’ll take his baby niece, somewhere beneath the snowy caps of Indian Arm’s coastal mountains, where the inlet narrows and bends, somewhere to the lee of Crocker Island, to the river rock bed by the creek mouth were we used to play and camp, and where he is now totally at peace and finally fully free.