Feike van Dijk will never fully heal from the fire that took two of his five children.
The fire at the family’s home near Lander July 15, 2014 claimed as its victims 2-year-old Noah and 3-year-old Zephy, and also seriously burned Feike and one of his 9-month-old twins.
While Feike and his wife, Noelle, have re-built their lives in the years since that tragic day, separation from his relatives in the Netherlands has been an additional strain on his heart.
That strain was eased this past Christmas thanks to a Dutch reality television show that reunited the van Dijks with their Netherlands family in dramatic fashion.
Home In Lander
Feike and Noelle moved to Lander in January 2009.
Feike, a musician from the Netherlands, and Noelle, an artist whose family lives near Lander, opened a gallery and started their own family, which quickly expanded with five children.
In July 2014, the oldest was 5 and the youngest the 9-month-old twins.
“We lived in a log home, a first house as a young couple – super stoked, excited about 2 acres just outside of Lander,” van Dijk told Cowboy State Daily.
Still A Mystery
But a freak windstorm changed their lives forever, sparking a blaze that would consume their dreams.
“It was 60- to 70-mph winds,” said van Dijk, adding that officials initially blamed the fire on a barbecue grill knocked over by the gale. But experts later determined the grill wasn’t even on when the wind blew it over.
“They’re not 100% sure what the cause is,” said van Dijk.
Heartbreaking And Devastating
But the impact of the fire was devastating. In addition to losing their 2- and 3-year-old children, one of the twins was badly burned.
“About 35% of his body (had) third- and fourth-degree burns,” said van Dijk of his little boy. “We were afraid that we would lose him as well, were it not for the incredible care of the University of Utah burn unit, which in my eyes is still the best burn unit in the world.”
‘Still A Lot Of Guilt’
Van Dijk and his wife tried to go back into the house when they discovered the two middle children weren’t outside with the rest of the family, but were repelled by what he called a “wall of heat” and “dark, dark smoke.”
“Both me and my wife, we tried to save, of course, our beautiful boys, and were unable to reach them,” van Dijk said. “They weren’t too far from the door that we had entered several times, so that was a heartbreaker as well.”
Van Dijk and his wife both sustained serious burns, and also were treated at the U of U burn center. The oldest and the other twin were unharmed, he said, but his older son still carries the emotional burden of losing his two younger brothers.
“He was the big brother, and he loved his little brothers dearly, and he still feels extremely responsible,” said van Dijk. “So there’s still a lot of guilt that he has to deal with as well.”
Tragedy Upon Tragedy
Van Dijk said the family made it through that terrible time with the help of friends in Lander, and with visits from his family in the Netherlands.
His parents, who are divorced, were able to come from the Netherlands to the funeral service for the children, but van Dijk’s father has since died and his mother is in poor health.
“I was able to go back to the Netherlands for my brother’s wedding one time, and my dad’s funeral,” said van Dijk, pointing out that none of the family have seen Noelle or their three children since the tragedy in 2014.
“So there’s a lot of family that was never able to come and visit us in Lander in the 13 years that we’ve lived here,” he said. “And the last time that my mother saw my (youngest) son was while he was still struggling in an induced coma in the hospital.”
Mother Caught COVID
And now van Dijk’s mother’s health is in serious decline.
“My mother ended up with COVID at the beginning of summer,” he said. “And since then, she’s had a lot more injuries – she’s been falling, her foot is destroyed, her hips are not doing really well anymore. So she lives at an assisted living facility now.”
As van Dijk began to face the reality that his mother might not be with the family for long, he began searching for ways to get his family to the Netherlands.
“I was like, this might be the last time that I’m going to see my mother and the last time that my mother’s going to see my kids,” said van Dijk. “And I immediately thought about the TV show, ‘All You Need Is Love.’”
‘All You Need Is Love’
Since 1992, the television show “All You Need Is Love” has been a staple of Dutch television. Its premise is to bring together loved ones who have been separated by difficult circumstances.
Van Dijk said he wrote to the producers at the beginning of summer, asking for help in getting his family of five, plus Noelle’s mother, to Feike’s hometown in the Netherlands for Christmas.
“I wrote them then, and never heard a word back,” said van Dijk. “And at the end of November, I received a phone call from this TV show, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re with this program. We received your letter. We would like to help your family.’”
‘Praise The Lord!’
Van Dijk said he and his family were sworn to secrecy. The only other person clued in to the surprise was his sister-in-law, who had to hide it from her husband, van Dijk’s brother – who, unknown to him, also had written to the television program.
“Two days before (we arrived), the people from the show, they called my sister-in-law and they said, ‘This might be the weirdest phone call that you’ve ever received, but make sure your husband and your mother are at this location around this time,’” said van Dijk. “‘But please do not tell anybody about this phone call or about what this might be about.’”
Van Dijk’s sister-in-law gathered the family at their home on Christmas Eve, while the American family made their way in a large tour bus with other families that were a part of the special live Christmas episode of “All You Need Is Love.”
“Three of (the families) were from New Zealand,” said van Dijk. “We were the only ones from the states. And the bus went from one location to another location to surprise families.”
When the van Dijks arrived at his brother’s door, Feike said the response was everything they had hoped for.
“In the bus, there was a small interview, and the host would ask, ‘How do you think your mother would respond,’ and my wife immediately said, ‘She would stick her hands up in the air and say, ‘Praise the Lord!’” said van Dijk. “And she actually did. It was hilarious. There was a lot of crying involved.”
The family was able to stay in the Netherlands for 10 days – a visit that would have been impossible were it not for the television show.
“Sending a family of five during Christmas overseas, financially it’s impossible to even find tickets or to afford tickets,” said van Dijk.
The gratitude van Dijk said he holds not only to the television producers, but to the family’s friends in Lander, have helped them heal from the tragic events of July 15, 2014.
“For me, the fear of losing my mom and for her not being able to have all of her kids and grandkids together, that was the biggest fear for me,” said van Dijk. “We were able to spend positive family time together and celebrate something.”