The same fictional yellow creatures that brought great delight to so many around the world have become symbols of joy for a grief-stricken family after the loss of their beloved son and brother.
The fun loving, quirky animation characters not only reflect so many of the attributes Robert McEwan is remembered for, not least being a highly talented, professional animator.
He lost his battle with lymphatic cancer on 19 April 2017 at age 26.
The youngest of his siblings, McEwan was diagnosed with the disease exactly a year before, April 2016, and underwent eight months’ intense chemotherapy.
Due to an oncology error, he was mislead into believing he was in remission post his initial treatment schedule, whilst the cancer spread viciously through his body in a few short weeks.
True to form, the stricken young man made his family laugh with his smart wit and spunky personality to the end of his days.
His fiancée, Rirhandzu Marivate, suggested she and his family plant a tree in memory of him near his favourite stream in Greyton, where the couple had spent much time together during his illness.
“She was the love of his life and understood him in a way none of us did,” McEwan’s sister Terry Swart pointed out. “They were soulmates.”
While in Greyton, Terry felt overwhelmed by grief over the loss of her brother, and needed a moment to reflect.
She asked her supportive husband to tend to their young daughter and suggested they collect some river rocks in the nearby stream.
As an animator Rob would always help mom Lyndsay, a well-known Somerset West baker, decorate her cakes. He had a special gift for depicting the Minion characters in a refreshing and delightful manner. Terry started painting Minions on the rocks they had collected, and dub them the #RobRocks, an activity she does with love.
Regarding the #RobRocks, Swart says: “The minions sum him up so well and they are very universal. He was a wildly talented artist, and animation was his passion and calling. Robbie was our real-life cartoon character. He touched many people’s lives and had a very caring nature.”
She had the idea to hide the stones, with the #RobRocks on the back, in special places, even placing one in the Helderberg Nature Reserve and in Radloff Park. She encourages people who find them to tag them to Instagram and Facebook, and re-hide the rocks.
The #RobRocks started trending on social media after their father, Colin had taken four of the first rocks with him on a business trip to Australia.
“My dad really struggled with grief when he went on these trips, and this was like taking a bit of Rob’s spirit with him,” said Swart.
He hid the rocks at Mapleton Falls, Maroochydore Beach, Melbourne Botanical Garden and the Sydney Opera House.
“He would send us pictures and videos of the places he had hid them,” Swart said. “It gave us something to look forward to.”
She was ecstatic when the rocks were found by complete strangers and posted to Instagram. One even made it to a wedding.
Other followers started enquiring, and Swart was soon inundated with requests from family, friends and strangers for #RobRocks to take with them on trips to hide in his memory.
“It was a positive thing for us as a family,” she said. “We check our Instagram all the time now. It has brought us a bit of happiness and joy back to our lives.”
A number of rocks will make their way to the Northern Lights, to Manchester, Edinburgh, Austria, Germany, Mauritius, Glasgow, London, and Vietnam, to name a few.
“Someone will take rocks to New York and place them at the Statue of Liberty and on Times Square – iconic places I know Rob would have loved to go to,” said Swart. “There are so many places he still wanted to travel to, and in a way now he is.”
Said his mother: “What is so amazing about it is that we don’t know these people, but they got something that is so special to us.”
Swart said the family will continue to place the rocks around the Helderberg and wherever else they go.
“It’s really cathartic for me to do them,” she said. “For me I had to find a creative outlet to deal with the grief, something that’s therapeutic for me.”
Swart has also started a blog, “Grief – The Endless Journey”, to deal with her grief, and encourage people to share the journey and write about their own grief.
An extract from her blog reads, “I have had a little time to think about things, go through the cycles of all the very hard firsts and realise just how much loss permeates every area of our lives. I will strive to share the vulnerable spaces that grief makes so silent for so many of us.
I have come to realise that grief is unlike any experience in life, it can be irrational at times, it doesn’t follow a schedule, doesn’t end and it is a journey that absolutely nothing can prepare you for. It can be isolating, confusing and lonely even when surrounded by loved ones or friends. I’ll hopefully find my own joy again in this new and ever changed reality, I hope to share the good, the bad and the beautiful with you.”
V Follow the journey on Facebook at “robrocks memory rocks for robert mcewan” or Instagram “@robrocks_memoryrocksforrobbie.