This is an excerpt from Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Sibling Grief, which is available

Chapter 10: Blessings in the Lessons

Sisters Yvon Stokkink and Marissa Kerkdijk: interviewed in June 2015, Holland

Mattijs Kerkdijk: 5/17/82-9/7/14

Cause of death: Suicide

The day before his mother’s birthday, Mattijs received a text from his sister Yvon, who offered to pick him up the following day and bring him to his mother’s birthday party.

My back is killing me, he texted back.

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, and I hope you feel better, Yvon wrote. I assume you’re going to tell Mom yourself that you can’t come.

Yvon never received a reply and never expected one. The next day, Yvon, her husband, Hans, her sister, Marissa, and brother-in-law, Marlo, went to their mother’s home to celebrate her special day.

“Where’s Mattijs?” Yvon’s mother asked.

“Didn’t he contact you?” Yvon said.

“No.” Her mother cried because they both understood his silence meant he had slipped into the darkness of depression.

The following morning, Yvon awoke, riddled with anxiety and worry about her brother’s mental health, given his history of depression. She wanted to reach out to him, ask if there was anything at all she could do to help lift his spirits, but chose not to because she feared he’d clam up and not respond, which would have increased her anxiety even more.

Yvon decided she would watch a movie he downloaded for her. She could text him and tell him how much she enjoyed it, giving her a light, breezy reason to check in on him. She’d gauge what next steps to take based on his response. Maybe she’d invite him over, and they could hang out together. If she had to, Yvon would go to his apartment and start banging on his door.

When she attempted to watch the movie, she couldn’t open the link. Yvon thought, This is even better because now he can troubleshoot for me because he knows much more about computers than I do. Yvon texted him, You know, brother, please help me out here because I’m getting frustrated trying to get this to download. I’m getting all these fault messages. What am I doing wrong?

Mattijs walked Yvon through the downloading process and a long and lovely text conversation ensued between them. They swapped jokes, and he sent her an email with another link to make it easier for her to watch the movie. After the two-hour film, she texted him and told him she enjoyed it because it made her feel better.

The conversation rinsed away her earlier concerns. Yvon sighed, relieved he was in a healthier headspace than she had thought. She wrote, We’ll hang out soon. Just one more hug and I’m off to do the dishes.

He wrote, Luv ya.

Back atcha, she texted.

Before or after the texting with Yvon, Mattijs made a grilled cheese sandwich, eating half, while the other half sat untouched on a plate. He inhaled a breath, stood, and got busy making a shrine for his family in his small two-bedroom apartment. Mattijs pushed the coffee table against the window and laid out a cloth at the base of it. Then, he gathered family photos, four of his favorite DVDs that he knew his family loved, and placed them on the altar he had created.

I imagined Mattijs sitting quietly with a notepad and pencil as he wrote the first note to his family: Dear Mom, Yvon, Marissa, Hans, and Marlo, I am sorry I did this to you. I’ve been depressed for years. This is because of money issues but also because almost nothing about myself is positive. And always that pain in my back. Life is too hard for me, and I see no other way out. I’ve been thinking about ending it for years. Your love kept me going. I can’t let you pay for my life anymore. I can’t go on anymore. I love you.

The second note was to his mother, and the third one to his oldest sister: Yvon, I love you. You are sweet and kind. You are smart and intelligent. You have a warm and good heart. Stay strong. Mattijs penned two more letters, one to his youngest sister, Marissa, and a combined note to her boyfriend, Marlo and his brother-in-law, Hans.

When he finished it, I imagined that Mattijs didn’t feel sadness. Though he didn’t want to cause his family pain, perhaps a sense of relief washed over him. He decided to write one last note to the whole family, pro- viding them with more comfort after his passing. You’ve done what you could. I hid my pain and feelings, mostly to spare you pain. I don’t think you saw this coming. I will watch over you. I will always keep loving you.

Mattijs carefully laid the letters side by side on the altar. Soon he’d be free from his psychological and physical pain, but he still had a few more things to do before he ended his life. To make it easy for the authorities to contact his family, he wrote down his family members’ names and addresses and shoved the piece of paper into his pocket. He got on his computer and searched for any insurance he could buy that covered a suicide but found nothing. Next, he checked the train schedule. At 9:30 p.m., he put his coat on, walked out of his apartment, locked the door, and headed toward the station. At 9:45 p.m., Mattijs leapt in front of an oncoming train.

Marissa, the youngest sibling, shivering and in shock, rang Yvon’s doorbell at 4:00 in the morning. Her husband, Hans, jostled from sleep, climbed out of bed and opened the door. Marlo, Marissa’s boyfriend, explained that Mattijs died by suicide. The police went to Marissa’s home first with the tragic news.

Yvon said, “I still remember the scream I gave when he told me. I can still hear it in my head.”

As I listened to Yvon, unexpected memories flood ed my thoughts. I was back in the kitchen, holding the phone, falling to my knees, listening to Setiawan, as she said, “Brian’s gone, Sue. You have to be brave.”

Prior to Mattijs’ death, Marissa didn’t have the same level of patience for her brother that Yvon had. She said, “My way of thinking was ‘Suck it up. Put some pepper in your ass. You need to get through, and find a way to get through, and do it.’ Maybe it’s a bit harsh, but I couldn’t deal with him the way Yvon did. She was always so sweet to him and always making sure he wasn’t left behind and thought of him. But I couldn’t do small talk with him because I was really annoyed by how he got through life. And that’s what really bothers me now because now I know how really bad it was. He couldn’t get through it any other way.”

Since they lost their brother, Yvon and Marissa have each traveled her own journey as they came to terms with their brother’s death and how it changed their perspective on life.

Yvon said, “I quite desperately wanted something good and meaningful to come out of this situation. And yet, my problem was, after it happened, so many things no longer had any meaning for me. So many things felt frivolous and a waste of time. Even though I know it’s a very useful thing to be resting your body when it’s feeling tired, when you’re watching TV all day due to health reasons, it just feels like you’re killing time. And for me, that particular phrase, to kill time, felt so disrespectful of the gift of life, considering my brother and the way it ended. I very much resented that. At the same time, I was faced with the fact that I had very little energy to do anything. So how do you go through your day without the energy to do much, but at the same time, really want to turn every situation into the most useful thing you can think of? That was really troubling to me.”

Marissa, on the other hand, said, “For me, it was a really weird time. I couldn’t go through the grief process because I had a daughter. He died on the 7th of September, and my daughter was born on the 13th of October. Having a baby does take up your time. I start- ed working in January/February. I thought to myself, Wow, we are dealing with this quite well. I’m already at work, things are going fine, and I’m going with the flow. I feel like a super mom. I had energy. I’m thinking of Mattijs but in a good way, and I’m not always crying anymore. If this is grief, it’s quick.”

A few weeks later, Marissa’s energy plummeted, and thoughts of her brother plagued her daily.




susan casey

Susan E. Casey, MSW, MFA, is an author, a licensed mental health clinician, a certified bereavement group facilitator, and a certified life coach. Throughout the past 25 years, Susan has worked in hospice, in-patient, and home-based settings with teens and adults, and taught numerous courses to executive leaders and clinicians. Currently, Susan works for a measurement-based care organization, providing clinical coaching to therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists countrywide to improve mental health outcomes for youth and adults. Susan’s blog on her website,, chronicles her grieving process following the death of her younger brother. Her fiction has won numerous awards, including first place in the PEN/Nob Hill Literary Contest and Green Writer’s National Literary Contest. Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief is her first work of nonfiction published on February 14, 2020 by Library Tales Publishing. Both Susan’s professional and creative work have been guided by her deep belief that every individual has purpose and inherent strengths and deserves the opportunity to reach their own unique potential. Susan lives in Maine with her husband Steve and golden retriever Indy.

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