A special memorial service was held for the Belgian tourist, who died here decades ago, at the Panama Catholic cemetery in Rarotonga this week.
Rudi Alfons Jean Feyens, better known as Rudi, resigned from the Belgian Navy in 1991 to travel the Pacific.
His dream to experience the island lifestyle brought him to the Cook Islands where he spent about a year before returning to Belgium in 1992.
But Rudi’s love for the Cook Islands and the people here couldn’t keep him away for too long and he returned for his second visit a year later. Sadly he died on January 27, 1993. He was only 28.
Little is known about the circumstances surrounding his untimely demise. The death certificate reveals he suffered a heart attack while snorkelling in the Titikaveka lagoon.
Without family – but with newfound friends at the side of the grave – he was buried on February 11, 1993.
Last year Rudi’s sister Ingrid Feyens contacted the Nikao Cemetery restoration project team to help locate her brother’s grave.
Cate Walker, Paula Paniani and William Tuivaga, the members of the restoration project team, were able to locate Rudi’s unmarked grave at the Panama Catholic Cemetery.
This week Ingrid along with Rudi’s other relatives did the unveiling of his grave.
It was a special moment for her.
“A moment that we have been dreaming of for years, meeting my brother Rudi again. Thank you to everyone here to share this moment with us,” Ingrid said.
“Due to his sudden and far too early departure, we miss him in our daily lives to share our joys and sorrows.
“We want to give a message to everyone who has made this special day possible for us. Together with Rudi we will carry you forever in our hearts, now we understand even better why Rudi always called this ‘his paradise’.”
The memorial service was led by Father Freddy Kaina and was joined by Feyens husband Francis Vangroenendael with their extended family and volunteers Bobby-Ryan Hansen, Teva Teaukura, Paula Paniani, William Tuivaga and Nelson Akava.
Cate Walker said it was an extraordinary effort from the volunteers who had contributed into rebuilding Rudi’s grave and place his memorial plaque which Ingrid and her husband brought with them to Rarotonga.
She acknowledged Raina Boaza and Moe Hobbs for their generous donation towards the project and all those who attended.