soldier’s home


My Oupa – Cas Bakkes

2016 wasn’t suppose to start out this way. I had a plan. Work hard, finish my CSC Exams, make my team proud, grow our business, buy a house, get a dog, and travel back to Africa to spend my 24th birthday with my Oupa on 91st birthday.


For the first week it simply felt like a dream. It wasn’t actually happening, because it wasn’t in the plan. People would offer their condolences and I would smile and say things like “It was his time.”, “He lived a good life” or “His quality of life was so poor, he is in a better place now.” My initial reaction kind of scared me, were these seemingly well rehearsed lines flowing out of my mouth really the way I felt?

I must have said “Good-bye” to my Oupa for the last time probably 6 or 7 times. Every time he left Canada or I left South Africa. My family would warn me, saying over and over again, “this is the last time you could see your grandfather”. It became a cry wolf situation and I was convinced I would have at least one more chance, when I said goodbye for the real last time in 2014.


The regret is starting to sink in. Why didn’t I plan to go to the funeral? Followed by, why are you asking a question that you very well know the answer to. To put it simply it would have been pure torture. 72 hours in a place that holds the biggest piece of my heart, seeing and saying goodbye yet again to my family and friends, only to come back to Canada and put all my pieces back together again. However, this answer seems to not hold up with me any more as I now start to fear the feeling of regret getting wore. I won’t be there to celebrate his life and say goodbye one last time. I am not there to offer hugs, I am not there to cry with those that I need to cry with, I am not there to share the laughs and the drinks and stories. I am not there. And not being there is turning out to the be just as hard as being there.

People have asked me what the hardest part about leaving your family and your home is. I always answer that it’s the people that I miss. However, I realize now that it’s the important days that I am continuing to miss. I’ve missed my cousins growing up, I’ve missed two weddings, I will miss my cousin’s first child being born and now I’m missing my grandpa’s funeral. Again, I spew lines that make it easier to swallow. He’s always going to be dead, I’m not religious so why do I need a funeral, I can honour him by myself. But I think at this point it’s the being by myself part that is turning out to be the hardest part.


In a couple hours my family will be waking up in South Africa. The funeral starts today. The Friday is only for immediate family. My brothers and I are not there.

As I read my desperate words from Tuesday, I find myself breathing easier tonight. Tuesday was a dark day where I was caught inside my own head. I read about the things that I continue to miss and I start to realize one very key thing that I did NOT miss out on. That thing was getting to know my Oupa Cas and Ouma Margaret. To know that my grandparents spend endless hours on long, uncomfortable flights, to come spend months at a time with my family is something that I will never forget. My Oupa embraced Canada, doing everything from Tobogganing, shoveling, house boating (and jumping in Lake LaRonge with his passport in his pocket…), to spending hours on the road with us on the way to our home in Panorama. He was always game and never complained. He did not miss out on us growing up, because him and my Ouma simple refused to. My oupa raised me and my brothers in a way only a grandpa can. Through awe inspiring stories (we would never question the that they were all fact), and through words of encouragement. Oupa Cas was a man who took great pride in his country, his faith, and his family. We did not miss out on my Oupa growing old.

And then there were the phone calls with Oupa. They were few and short, but it goes without fail that Oupa Cas would say “Jou Ma is my oog appel, en jy en cara (my cousin) is my oog appeltjies.” (Your Mom is the apple of my eye, and you and Cara are the little apples of eye). He would finish every conversation wishing me a great life and wishing for me to find a love like he had found in my Ouma Margaret. He taught me how a man should treat a woman. A gentleman until the day he didn’t open his eyes again. I wear a bracelet that he gave my ouma on her 21st birthday. He engraved “Margaret” on the outside, and his initials “CMB: with the year “’50” on the inside. It is so timeless, just like him.

Tonight I am calm, because I know I can’t be there. But I know now that he can be anywhere. He is in the kind old man telling me to bundle up because it’s cold out. My Oupa is in the Northern Lights that have so often guided me home from Edmonton. He is in the stars, in the sunsets, in the smiles from strangers. I will think of him fondly and I will think of him often. Over a good glass of wine or a lush piece of chocolate. I will always be his oog appeltjie.

It comes in waves and tonight I am riding a good one.


As the celebration of life commences today, my heart will be with my mother, my uncles, my grandma, my cousins, and my brothers.

To my mom and uncles who have lost a dad, my heart is with you. Take this time to love each other, to hug each other, to say kind things, to support, to forgive, and to love. You are all children of a great man and I believe that would be the best way to honour him. I see him in all of you, especially in your passion for life and the celebration of it. To my dad, thank you  for going with Mamma to the funeral. I know it means the absolute world to her. Oupa always told me to find a man like you one day and you continue to show me why. Nanna, Reiner, and Marcia, thank you for the love you have shown my Ouma and Oupa, and for the care you continue to give my family. You are angels and I am so lucky that we have you in our lives.

To my Ouma Margaret, who lost the love of her life, he loved everything about you. Your name (which is mine), your red hair (that we share), and your strong personality. He will continue to love you and so will we. You are so loved.

To my cousins, Marc and Cara, I miss you both so dearly. You made every visit with Oupa and Ouma in Paarl so special. I will never forget the time you gave to me to make all of my travels and visits successful. You made the memories possible. You have shown me nothing but love. The times we got to share together with our Oupa are priceless (like when we have to steal wheelchairs and when we finish full bottles of wine in one sitting). I am so lucky to have you both as my family.

And to my brothers, god we are lucky. We got to know the man that raised our amazing mother. We got to call a man Oupa that travelled a million miles just to make sure we knew him and he knew us. We are spread across the world right now, not one of us being able to make it to the funeral, like always, we are in this together. In different ways, I feel like we have supported each other through this heartache. Thank you for understanding me on all the levels that I throw at you. We really are all we have.

And to everyone else that knew my Oupa, please continue to share his stories and talk about him. He was an avid story teller himself and although he is gone, his stories should live on. Think of him and smile. I know I will.



November 3rd – Will Always be Our Day



One Reply to “soldier’s home”

  1. Karen de Beer says:

    Brautiifully written. I was fortunate to say goodbye to a special great man that I could also call my friend….

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