A lot of things have been going on since the beginning of the year but all that is just dwarfed by another major and extremely sad event: on Wednesday 29th February my nephew Keanu passed away at the way too young age of 17 years old.
I had just landed 24 hours earlier in the Maldives to visit my elder brother Björn, Keanu’s father, when he was called with the news. It was night in the Maldives and morning in New York where Keanu lived with his mother; thinking back on that night it still feels completely unreal and the whole thing unfair.
We flew to France early the following morning to be with our family, support each other, and prepare for his funeral. I didn’t really sleep that night and just before taking my flight I had a quick look online and noticed messages from his friends starting to pour in on Keanu’s Facebook timeline. It was mind blowing and something that turned out to be very important for us, to be able to see so many extremely moving and well crafted messages from his friends over the following few days, as well as many photos and videos of him we hadn’t seen before. Really in teenage years, your friends usually know you better than any family members and it felt very precious to be sharing strong emotions as well as private messages with some of his best friends via Facebook. I hadn’t really ever considered I’d be in that situation and looking to the use of social media in such tragic circumstances, and even then the support and comfort it provided to be exchanging and sharing with his friends was incredible.
I’ve read quite a few posts and articles questioning the quality of relationships via social media channels, whether they are often more superficial or whether social media services bring us close together, etc. I would’ve usually been all for thinking they tend towards the superficial and that it’s a fantastic way to casually keep in touch with a larger circle of people than you would usually be able to before. I also thought somehow that there might be more to it than the superficial at least in some circumstances, and now I’ve experienced it. The question can of course still be debated, though now I certainly have a whole new respect for what sharing with other people on Facebook can be about.
In the days before and after the funeral, our whole family pulled together to support each other and my brother, we flew from the Maldives with Björn and his wife Justine, my little brother Morgan arrived from Laos, my sister Saskia from Burgundy, our parents from Perpignan, my cousins from Spain and from Holland came, all our family in Toulouse, close family friends from Paris and elsewhere also came. We spent a lot of time grieving, crying, and also a lot of time talking, telling stories, arguing, looking at photos and laughing. All the while we ate lots of food and drinking lots of wine. That’s our way of doing things and I think it’s pretty healthy.
I love my little nephew who was almost a man, he was about to turn 18 in May. I spent time taking care of him as a baby the summer of my 16th birthday when he was only about 3 months old. We spent some time together when he a little child, and I remember going on the Cyclone roller coaster with him at Coney Island in New York. A few years ago we visited Cambridge with his father, and I remember the conversations we had talking about his future and how whatever he would do he was determined not be a working drone in some office. He was a really talented musician and I only realised now how popular he was at his high school, he inspired loads of friends and schoolmates. A ceremony in Brookly took place before the funeral and over 500 of his friends attended. I’m really proud of Keanu, he accomplished more than many other kids at his age – at least probably more than me at his age. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time and we were planning a big holiday adventure for this summer, to celebrate his birthday and his father’s who is turning 40 this year. Whatever happens for this summer and all the time to come, he will be with me anyways and I will keep honouring his life my living mine to the fullest as well as supporting those around me to do the same.
I’d like to finish this post by sharing what Björn read during the funeral and then posted on Facebook for Keanu’s friends to read:
Dear All of Keanu’s friends and loved ones,
Today at 16:00 hours GMT+1 was Keanu’s burial service. The Rabbi Matusov presided.
I am not a person of faith but the service was nice and the words said were beautiful. His uncle Michael gave us all a good impression of your amazing energy at the service in Brooklyn.
I will share with all of you what I recited as a eulogy and will ask you all, his friends to honor it. You are all so talented and I believe that perhaps the very best way to keep his spirit alive would be to make this song into something very special.
Keanu, little breeze…
Like a breeze you came into our lives…
You brought along with your breeze a lot of emotions…
You left us too quickly…
Keanu was gifted… that we know… Amongst the letters that we shared and exchanged over the years I fell upon the beginning of a song that Keanu had written along with the music score. It was in september 2008 during a hurricane…”Gustave” in NYC. he was 14.
“Livin on the edge of a hurricane….
Nature unleashed I can feel the rain….
I don’t wanna hide….no not at all….
I wanna hear the thunder call….
I wanna feel the rain fall…..
I wanna be at the edge of the storm right now….
Heaven and hell and mother earth….
All showing up…for what it’s worth….
A spiritual rebirth….
Roar of the ocean….losing control….
Lightning so strong it’ll burn your soul…..
Barrage of water whipping my face….
The wind and the rain are in a race….
I wanna stay here…I don’t wanna go…..no….
I wanna feel the wind blow……”
Keanu van der Horst Sept 2008
May his spirit live on in your love for him….
I dare all of you to make a ht out of this one.
I love you all as I know he did…..
Two hours later one of his best friends posted this in return:
Rest in peace, Keanu.