Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, —
fair fame of one who has earned.
Havamal 76, from ‘The Poetic Edda’
The kids and I flew back from his funeral yesterday. Luscious is in Perth until Thursday, when she will return to us. Perhaps it’s time to talk about it.
On September 21st, my bonus son Blake lost the battle, and took his own life. He was a week past having turned 25 years of age.
I met Blake when he was eight years old. It was Luscious’ and mine first official family date– a way to introduce my one toddler to her three children, to see whether they would like each other. We decided on the zoo: at least, if the kids didn’t get on, there would be animals to look at. We needn’t have worried. The kids got on like gangbusters. And, thanks to the running-commentary-machine that was the prepubescent Blakey-boy, I was bombarded with more facts about penguins than I dared contradict: PardonmymidthirtiesIonlygrewupwalkingacrossasandbartoaplacecalledPenguinIslandIdo…I…but…whu…you know what? That’s fascinating, buddy. Tell me more.
Such was the way with Blake. His older brother Aiden was always more reflective, more measured. Blake was a younger compatriot to his sister Cassie– the one that was introduced to me as ‘The Talking Tornado’ — a dervish of discussion. He was a tiny guy, able to nestle in Luscious’ lap and be lifted and carried by her until he was twelve or thirteen. But what he lacked in size he made up for in sheer energy. Half child, half renewable resource. I once described him as thinking like mosquitoes flew: a million miles an hour, almost impossible to catch, and liable to change direction at any moment.
“Hey, Lee. You know globsters?”
“What if you found one in space?”
He inspired so many insane story ideas I ended up writing one about him. Blake the God appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (Issue 22, to be precise.) There was a copy with him in the coffin when we said goodbye. We couldn’t find one in our own collection: our thanks to our good friend Sally Beasley for finding one to give him.
There was separation as he grew up: after his parents’ divorce was finalised, he went to live with his birth father. But there were shared times, and shared loves: somewhere along the line I introduced him to Dungeons and Dragons; and we had a love of Norse culture– he and Aiden watched The 13th Warrior with Luscious and I for the first time, and it become a family movie tradition to introduce our other children to it as they reached the same age. Blake became a ceaseless traveller early. he spent time as an exchange student on Reunion island, and visited Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Italy as well as numerous cities around Australia. He started University, deferred, changed majors, started again, deferred, changed majors, tried once more. Settled on teaching history. Fell in love with collecting LPs, so much so that I gave him all the 45s I’d been carrying with me since my youth, and kicked off his LP collection with a few of my own. Loved local bands so much that members of two attended his funeral. Was a fierce lover of punk, like both me and his birth father. Introduced me to a plethora of unknown, local, and obscure bands that have become firm fixtures on my playlist. Somehow ended up with a collection of well over twenty pairs of cheap plastic sunglasses that nobody, including him, could explain. Brought girlfriends home. Talked about the complexities of his sexuality, his depression, his future. Bore tattoos of a full-grown hart, the vegvisir, and runic symbols. Met Holly, who seemed to be his forever girl.
Loved Lord of the Rings, and fantasy role-playing, and music, and travel, and clouds (he was administrator of a cloud-lovers group on Facebook) and any number of other things I can’t find the togetherness to list completely because he was, forever, searching for some sort of pattern to explain the world and his place in it. We all do, of course, but with Blake it was always so close to the surface, such a restless part of his internal countenance. He needed to see himself within the patterns of the world, needed to have a place and a mythology that was his own.
As he reached 25, it looked as if he had found it. Everything was before him. He was happy in his studies. He, Holly, and his sister Erin co-signed a lease on our house in Baldivis and were preparing to move in together. He was engaged in a teaching practicum in Bunbury, where reports of his progress were overwhelmingly positive. Everything was in place.
And then, a week after his 25th birthday, he was gone.
His funeral was last Thursday. Aiden and Lord 14 were pallbearers, along with his step-brother and several friends. Each of them wore a pair of those cheap plastic sunnies. Luscious, Blake’s birth father, Holly, and his best friend Lachlan delivered eulogies. I delivered readings from Lord of the Rings and Nordic texts to mark his loves of fantasy and history. A good friend played Simon and Garfunkel on a piano while we laid sprigs of rosemary on his coffin.
It was beautiful, and heart-shattering, and it will never, ever be enough.
When he left home, I gave Blake my first set of D&D dice, because he was playing regularly and I hadn’t played a game in a while. When I was recording his possessions so his father could act as executor — Blake died intestate — I found them among the effects that had been removed from his body.
He had them with him when he took his life.
How do I come back from that? How do any of us come back from this?
Because, like Blake, who spent his whole life searching for patterns, we’re left with little but pareidolia: a fruitless search for meaning in the randomness he has left behind. Our memories, each set different from the other, each facet slightly anomalous, slightly altered, depending upon who we are and what we hold dear about him. A scattering of possessions, of varying importance depending on what we knew of him or what we, ourselves, find important. A clutch of stories. Some revelations– things that I, who knew him for 16 years, and his mother, who knew him from before his birth, had no idea about. Grief. Lives that have cracked, and shattered, and will not be put back together in their original shape ever again because there will always be a Blake-shaped pattern that will simply no longer fit.
I’m supposed to have answers. I’ve been through something like this before, right? I’ve been asked, over and over: How do I deal with this? How do I survive this? What can I ever do now, without him here? And I don’t know. I really don’t know. I can’t get a grip on it. Can’t see the edges of it. It’s too big. Too broken.
We’re all broken. And I don’t know what shape we’ll eventually reform ourselves into. But Blake — that vibrant, brilliant, lunatic whirlwind of joy and influence and just bloody well fascination — will never again be with us. He’s on the other side of the mirror, and I don’t know how to get him back.
I miss him so hard I can’t breathe as deeply as I need to.
I don’t want to end this. I don’t want to stop talking about him. But if you’ve got this far, you probably need a cup of Lucozade and a few squats to get the circulation going again. So let us finish, for now, with these:
First, some music, and then the readings from the funeral.
Future of the Left is one of the bands Blake introduced me to. Singing of the Bonesaws is my favourite of their tracks. This style of song– spoken declamations over a discordant under-track– was a style we both loved. My general playlist on iTunes (the one I play when I just want music to play) has just shy of 5000 songs on it. This is, literally, number one.
As mentioned earlier, I gave readings from The Lord of the Rings and Norse texts at the funeral. The verse at the beginning at this post, traditionally read at Norse funerals, was one of them. Here, then, are the texts I read from LoTR.
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harp string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
Lament for the Rohirrim
In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.
Aragorn’s last words to Arwen before his death
And to finish, this selection (stanzas 10-15) from the skaldic poem Sonatorrek (The Irreparable Loss of Sons). I am indebted to my friend, fellow author, and holder of a PhD in medieval Icelandic literature, Lisa Hannett, (Authordom: the art of finding friends in odd places) for pointing me in the direction of this text.
Me hath the main
Of much bereaved;
Dire is the tale,
The deaths of kin:
Since he the shelter
And shield of my house
Hied him from life
To heaven’s glad realm.
Full surely I know,
In my son was waxing
The stuff and the strength
Of a stout-limbed wight:
Had he reached but ripeness
To raise his shield,
And Odin laid hand
On his liegeman true.
Willing he followed
His father’s word,
Though all opposing
Should thwart my rede:
He in mine household
Mine honour upheld,
Of my power and rule
The prop and the stay.
Oft to my mind
My loss doth come,
How I brotherless bide
Bereaved and lone.
Thereon I bethink me,
When thickens the fight
Thereon with much searching
My soul doth muse:
Who staunch stands by me
In stress of fight,
Shoulder to shoulder,
Side by side?
Such want doth weaken
In war’s dread hour;
Weak-winged I fly,
Whom friends all fail.
Son’s place to his sire
(Saith a proverb true)
Another son born
Alone can fill.
Of kinsmen none
(Though ne’er so kind)
To brother can stand
In brother’s stead.
Blake Henry Triffitt
14 September 1994 to 21 September 2019