My Friend Blaise
My dearest friend, Blaise van Hecke, passed away early Monday morning.
Everybody’s posted the sweetest platitudes about her on social media.
That’s what happens when somebody dies. People say the nicest things about them.
They’ll say those things about me when I pass away.
In my case, just know about half of those platitudes won’t be entirely accurate, or will even omit a few things.
The truest platitude for me would be something like, “Oh, he could go out of his way to help you, but sometimes he could be a surly prick.”
That’s still being kind.
But we don’t say those things about those who’ve left us.
As far as Blaise goes, it’s because there isn’t anything negative to say about her.
Blaise truly was the warmest, kindest, most generous person I’ve ever known.
We met while studying writing and editing and immediately clicked – we both loved writing and stories, were both working on books, and both had big dreams about publishing. Actually, strike that. I had big dreams. She had big dreams and the power to make them real.
When we first talked about starting our own fiction anthology, [untitled], it was Blaise who organized it, coordinated it, looked into the realities (like printing, etc.), paid for it (she paid for the first issue on her credit card) and made it happen. If it wasn’t for her, it’d just be an idea. Still. It’s not, though. It’s up to issue ten.
That’s the way she tackled everything – it wasn’t just about the dream. We can all do that. I do that a lot. It was about making that dream real. And it didn’t matter how big the dream. She would give it a big shake – just look at how her and her husband, Kev, made Busybird Publishing a creative community hub in Montmorency.
She also helped me when life had boxed me in and was always there for me during times I wanted to give up – I don’t say that as a euphemism, either. When I was going through one health thing after another years ago, there truly were times (for one reason or another) I wanted to flick everything.
A lot of people I meet in writing industries will think that despite whatever my eccentricities are that I’m composed and purposeful. But, like most, I’m a mess, if not more-so because all the mental health issues I’ve battled since I was a kid. Balls of neurosis are made from me.
In 2009 when I went through months and months of depression because I had horrible digestive issues, and anything (and everything) I ate caused excruciating pain, Blaise would call me every day to see how I was. One time she took me to emergency, and then a 24-hour clinic, so they could examine me and assure me that whatever was happening, it wasn’t life-threatening. Afterwards, she took me shopping and bought me some healthy soup.
She was like that with everything. Thoughtful. Considerate. Caring.
Whenever I was down or anxious or something had gone wrong, there she was. She always knew what to say. It was so unusual for me. I grew up in a migrant background where the prevailing attitudes are pessimism and fatalism. Her outlook was always optimistic but grounded, that things could always be better.
She supported my writing like nobody else did, listening to my endless whinging and self-doubt. The writing’s the easy part of the writing endeavour. I’ve always been able to do that. And the truth is anybody can put words on a page. It’s the hustle of getting published. So many times back then the mounting rejections crushed me. She always picked me back up and set me right again.
Her perspective was you could hand too much power to people who judged your work – at least in regard to how their decisions affected you (or how you let them affect you). She never needed that validation. While (like every writer) she occasionally exhibited doubt about her own writing, she always came back to enjoying the journey.
She tolerated my bad moods and dark times and petulant outbursts good-naturedly (and there were enough of them), and rarely lost her temper – and when she did, it was with good reason. Normal people would’ve given up long before. Saints would’ve thrown their hands up in resignation. Not Blaise.
I worked with her and for her for ten years, and she (and her husband Kev) always over-serviced people. There are a lot of sharks in self-publishing – people who’ll tell you anything to get your money, but that was never her attitude.
Even if business was struggling, she was dedicated to the person first, and then to their need to tell their story. The actual financial side – talking to people to get their money – limped in a stunning last. I know people in this business who’d take your money even if it meant your family wouldn’t eat that week. That was never her (or Kev, and their business).
She gave opportunities to people in writing, running annual competitions and anthologies that lost money for her business, Busybird Publishing, because she always believed in the power of story, and helping writers find their voice.
All this is who she is but none of it does her justice.
Words are our attempt to define the indefinable, but even at their best, they can only ever give us an approximation of what we truly feel, and can only vaguely capture people and who they are.
I could go on for pages (this is already twice as long as when I first wrote it), and I’d barely cover her kindness, her generosity, and her compassion.
In recent years, we hadn’t been in touch as much because of Covid restrictions and other things, and I regret that now – the time that’s gone that can never be recaptured.
I think about the conversations we should’ve had, and which we’ll never have, and I rue I didn’t try harder the last couple of years. I always thought there’d be another time, or another opportunity.
Funnily, ironically, I don’t even know what adjective goes here, but on the day that she would pass, I had thought about buzzing her for an impromptu catch-up, like we used to.
The last time I saw her was several weeks ago to belatedly celebrate her birthday. I gave her a journal with a bird inscribed on the cover – she had a thing for birds, so the bulk of my gifts were bird-themed. Now all I can think about is how she’ll never write a single word in those pages.
Blaise was the best. She truly was. People often say that about the deceased, but in this case every platitude is deserved.
Most of all – most of all – I’ll remember she always had that big, warm smile (that was sometimes cheeky), she always had a positive and/or constructive outlook on any situation, and she wasn’t afraid to be goofy or silly to lighten the mood, or just to celebrate living and being true in the moment.
If I could talk to her now, I know she’d tell me not to be sad, that it’s okay, that this is part of life, that she’ll miss me, too, but I need to go on living life.
In this moment, that just seems impossible.
Blaise, I’ll miss you always.
You are the best person I’ve ever known.
My life, publishing, and this world, are all a lot lesser without you in it.
Thank you for your friendship.
I’ll treasure it and our memories forever.