‘After the rain comes the rainbow,
You’ll see the rain go, never fear,
We two can wait for tomorrow,
Goodbye to sorrow, my dear.
We’ll meet again, do not know where, do not know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.’
Vera Lynn – We’ll meet again
Kaey: My grandma Sammie meant everything to me. As a child I always thought, she’s immortal, she will reach the age of 200 and then we’ll go together. Now I’ve realised that life is finite and that you should never waste your time. That’s why I am always busy right now. I just don’t want to mooch around any more.
My grandmother and I were two of a kind. I was always at ease with her. We were very cuddly, and I wasn’t ashamed about that. She always gave me a hug and a kiss when we met. Only once I did not return her kisses and she said ‘Are you ashamed of me?’ I never failed to return her love again.
Almost every day I stopped by her place. I could talk to her about everything. We liked to go to town or just sit and chat for a while and eat a sandwich together. In my mind, I still see her sitting at the table doing crossword puzzles, while I am watching a movie. If my parents were not around, she was at our place. She was very important to all of us. And if there were problems, my grandma solved them. She really spoiled me, she was the perfect grandmother.
Grandma married my grandfather and she gave birth to their first daughter in the Netherlands. My grandfather had always wanted to move to New Zealand, that was his dream. Although my grandmother was not very happy about it, they finally emigrated. Unfortunately, it was very difficult building a new life in New Zealand; Grandpa struggled to find work. On top of that, to grandmother’s great sadness their second child, a boy, died shortly after he was born. As soon as the opportunity arose, the family returned to the Netherlands, although grandma found it very difficult to leave her son’s grave behind. Back in the Netherlands two daughters were born, one of whom was my mother. When my mom was six years old, my grandfather died very suddenly and grandmother had to raise three children all by herself.
I had a very good childhood. My brother Dane is six-and-a-half years older than me, my sister Tara is ten years older. My parents are the sweetest and most caring people in the world but, nevertheless, when I was younger I tended to push at their boundaries. The funny thing is that I felt no desire whatsoever to push at my grandma’s boundaries. I enjoyed being with her and we were there for each other. For better and for worse.
My grandmother died two years ago, in the summer. She had pancreatic cancer for two years and during the last two weeks of her life we took care of her. When she still was in hospital, we took time to say goodbye because I was so afraid that she might die suddenly. She said to me I should go on with my life after her death, and these words still keep me going right now.
I had to do my school exams at the time when Grandma’s health worsened, but I felt no urge to study. She encouraged me though to do my best. I then decided to do the exams in honour of her, and worked as hard as I could. When I picked up the results from school, I ran to her with a stack of papers and threw them on her bed. She was so excited when she heard that I had passed. Two weeks later she died. I was torn to pieces when I saw her. I knew she had passed away, but didn’t really register it. I felt a great void and deep hurt. I collapsed onto the sofa – I couldn’t get my head around it.
A few days after her death I took part in a dance competition. Grandma had always come to watch my local dance contests; she was my biggest fan. I knew she did not want me to duck this one. I can danced this competition for her. I won and the cup went with her in the grave. My parents involved us children in organising the funeral. I’m glad of that, but at that time I still didn’t fully register that my grandmother was really gone.
During the funeral my grandmother’s favourite music was played. The pastor spoke and so did several family members, including me. My brother played the guitar, accompanying my sister singing Somewhere over the rainbow and We’ll meet again, her favourite songs. That was very emotional. I felt a kind of euphoria. I knew she was resting in peace and that she would always have a special place in my heart. But I also felt bad because she was no longer physically with me.
The first week after my grandmother’s death I was exhausted. I felt like I a smashed mirror. She died during the summer holidays so I could not tell anyone at school. Still, many friends and former classmates dropped by to see me because everyone knew my grandmother. Some of them even came to the funeral. They were very understanding. I am a very outgoing person, so I talked a lot about it. That was my way of coping with grief. I liked to hang around with people who had experienced the same loss – friends who also had lost a grandparent and my own family. At first we found it very difficult to be confronted with each other’s sadness, but we were there for one another. We were very close, and still are.
At first I visited the cemetery four times a week, It was something to hold on to. I took care of the flowers and sat quietly on the bench next to her grave. I wondered whether she could see us and in my mind I kept talking to her. Scientifically, it does not make any sense, but I really talked to her. I still didn’t register that she was really gone. But after a few months it suddenly dawned on me that she was gone for ever. I don’t like to visit her grave any more since then. I cannot bear the thought of Grandma’s body lying there.
I’ve often wondered why in the world it had to be my grandmother who died. I just could not understand that she was gone. I found it very annoying that I was constantly faced with her absence. She was not home after school, not during the weekend, not for Christmas – she loved Christmas and already started buying presents in August. But the thought that Grandma will not be around for my 18th birthday or when I graduate from high school really breaks my heart. That’s why I sometimes envy my brother and sister because they’ve enjoyed Grandma’s company much longer than I could.
Grandma and I saw each other as much as possible when she was alive: that’s why her death still intensely hurts me, wherever I am. Sometimes I get really stressed out about it. The fact that my grandmother is gone left a void in my heart, although I have started filling it with sweet memories. But in a way I still can’t comprehend that she’s gone, even though it is already two years ago. That sometimes makes me sad. But just suppose that I had not known her, then I would not have had all those beautiful memories. So basically I’m just glad I’ve known her.
Her death still has a big influence on me. It has made me think about what matters in life and about what choices to make. In a way it has made me more independent, more grown up. It has also made me appreciate the importance to me of my family and the friends who have supported me. Not a day goes by without thinking of Grandma Sammie. I’m doing quite well. I’m senior in High School. Life goes on and my grandmother would not have wanted otherwise. I think she is very proud of how I coped after her death. If I graduate at the end of this year, I will thank her first. I’d love to tell her how I miss her, that I will never forget her, and that she meant everything to me.
Kaey’s tips for young bereaved people
- Find distractions
- Cherish the memory
- Go forwad – don’t pull back too much from others
- Be aware that rirst times are very confrontational
- Do things that you like: take time off from grieving
- Sometimes it can be helpvul to your friends if you tell them that you need them
- You learn who your friends are
Kaey’s tips for friends of a bereaved person
- Don’t stay away
- Attend the funeral
- Don’t forget to also have fun with your friend
Kaey’s tips for schools
- Ask the student what s/he wants, e.g. how s/he wants to manage the first day back at school (after the funeral)
- Be there for him/her, but also let him/her be
- Give him/her some space
- Offer to talk about her/his loss, but don’t force it on her/him
- School is an important part of young people’s life, and grief should be something that can be talked about
Kaey’s tips for Parents of bereaved children and young people
- Being together is important
- Try to support each other as much as possible
- Don’t back away from pain and strong emotions, stay with the feelings
- Express your feelings
- Crying is natural
Kaey completed high school in 2010. He is now studying law at Utrecht University.
Note: Kaey (now aged 19) lost his grandmother Sammie in 2007, when he was 15 years old. I interviewed him in 2009. Kaey’s story was first published in Dutch, in 2010, in a collection of young people’s personal experiences of bereavement, ‘Verder zonder jou’ [Continuing without you], written by me. Publisher: VBK Media. For the book, each young person was asked to provide some words of advice to other young people facing the death of someone important to them. They were also invited to choose a piece of writing for the book. Kaey chose lines from the Vera Lynn wartime song ‘We’ll meet again’ – one of his grandma’s favourites.
The translation of Kaey’s story, also by me, was published in Bereavement Care, 31:1, 6-10.
Copyright: Daan Westerink