Poppie’s grandfather dies: ‘Her death destroyed his health’
The family of murdered toddler Poppie van der Merwe (3) were dealt a fresh blow this week when another family member died.
Poppie’s grandfather Johan van der Merwe (65) died suddenly on Tuesday in a hospital in North West. He was the father of Poppie’s dad, Christo van der Merwe from Westonaria.
On Wednesday the family told YOU their only comfort after Johan’s death is the knowledge that a loving grandfather has now joined his granddaughter in heaven.
Carla (69), Johan’s widow, says her husband’s sudden death came as a great shock to her and the rest of the family.
She says Johan had been in “incredible emotional turmoil” in the nearly two years since their granddaughter was murdered on 25 October 2016. Poppie’s mother and stepfather have since been found guilty of her murder.
“Poppie’s death was a terrible blow for both of us,” Carla says. “We were carried through this difficult time by friends and family, members of our community and our minister.
“We went to therapy to help us cope with Poppie’s death . . . Johan and I realised she’s with God and in a better place. We talked about it for entire evenings – with Christo too – and cried over our grandchild.
“It was hard. Johan would often question why something so horrific should’ve happened to an innocent little girl. But she was one of God’s little angels and He wanted her with Him in heaven. That’s the only comfort we could find.”
Poppie’s mother, Louisa Koekemoer, and her husband, Poppie’s stepdad Kobus, were found guilty of murdering the toddler on their rented smallholding near Brits in North West, and in May this year were each sentenced to life in prison.
Carla says the way Poppie was abused, which was only discovered after the couple moved to Brits from Orania in the Northern Cape, shattered Johan. Neither of them could make peace with the horrors they darling grandchild were made to endure.
Not even Kobus and Louisa’s sentencing has brought closure because nothing could undo the things Poppie were put through, she says.
Carla says Johan seemed to be perfectly healthy when the couple visited family near Brits this weekend. She says she and Johan were watching TV on Monday night when at about 9.30pm he suddenly collapsed and started vomiting blood.
“He had absolutely no symptoms [beforehand] and hadn’t been feeling under the weather at all,” she recalls. “He’d worked in the garden earlier in the day and seemed completely healthy.
“So on Monday night when he collapsed on his way to the bathroom and started vomiting blood, I knew it was serious and that I had to get him to a hospital immediately.”
Johan, who was a bleeder and diabetic and had suffered a bleeding ulcer years ago, was immediately admitted.
“We only discovered later that he’d probably been bleeding internally for days,” she says. “It’s terrible to think that this was happening while we were oblivious – Johan didn’t even know himself, otherwise he probably would’ve said something.”
She says the family had wanted to airlift Johan to a hospital in Bloemfontein but doctors advised against it because his body was constantly rejecting new blood.
“Johan and I never used medication to help us cope with Poppie’s death. We never even took anything for the incredible stress we were under. I don’t know if it would’ve changed anything,” she says.
“Poppie’s death and the harrowing trial that followed really damaged Johan’s health and state of mind. I suspect the stress is what cause his ulcer to start bleeding again.”
On Tuesday, Christo posted a note on Facebook: “Daddy, you are and will always be my hero. Thanks for making me who I am. Rest quietly and enjoy playing with Poppie. RIP, dad.”
Johan will be cremated on Friday. A private memorial service is planned, for which final arrangements will be made later this week.