An ode to Renier Nel

Crew Commander, Firefighter, Paramedic, Husband, Father, and Friend

This has been a particularly trying week for me; we lost two people this week. Both these people made such a big difference in my life. Matt, our fearless leader as we lovingly referred to him, and Renier, a very dear friend and scuba dive buddy.

We met Renier when we trained a group of Firefighters to scuba dive. Over the years, we became close friends with Renier, Aletta, and his family. His eldest daughter Nialè was about 3 when we first met. I can vividly remember her calling me Tannie Anya (aunt Anya, because I think there were just too many T’s ). We journeyed with them through the birth of Renier and Aletta’s second daughter Zelandri. We saw Nialè become the head girl at the primary school.

Then along came COVID-19. I was the first person to say this is a flu; people should get over themselves. I wore my mask, but in truth, I wouldn’t say I liked it. I complained about it. Then Aletta called to tell us that Renier was in the hospital with COVID. Renier fought a brave fight. He was in the hospital for a month, but sadly Renier passed away Monday last week. I have been trying to find the right words to commemorate Renier, but it pains me to say that my words cannot do him justice.

Today was Renier’s memorial service. Nialè dedicated a poem to her father, and it was the perfect commemoration. So I share her thoughts in memory of her father.

That Hero by Nialè Nel

Once I knew a man…
For a lot of people, he was great fun.
He was someone some of us still admire,
and the greatest thing, he was so extremely brave that he could kill fire.

Yes, you guessed right…
He was a fireman, alright.
And for some of his colleagues, he was quite a blight.

For people, he really cared
and things he freely shared.
Young men he took under his wing,
and if you needed something, you could just give him a ring.

Some would even call him a hero,
others would call him bro.
But sadly I must come to a conclusion,
and this is not an illusion.

Yes, he made a huge impact on the community,
but this is now something that became a reality.
That man everyone loves is now, unfortunately,
looking down from above.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought, could it really be?
That the hero everyone knew, was actually the father of me?

On asking if it would be okay to publish the poem, Aletta shared Zelandri’s letter to her dad with me. It is very special, so I translated it and posted it below.

To Daddy from Zelandri

Daddy, I miss you. All the other people miss you too. I wonder how you are in heaven. Perhaps it is going well, or maybe it is not. But I love you. Be healthy Daddy.

I love you.

The world is a lesser place for having lost Renier. I pray God’s grace on Aletta, Nialè, and Zelandri as well as the family. May we all strive to leave a legacy this big! Please be safe! Appreciate your loved ones. Give flowers to those you care for while they are around.