I spent most of breakfast time this morning fighting back tears as I read Libby Purves’s article in yesterday’s Times 2 about her late son, Nicholas Heiny. There is a beautiful picture of him on the front of the T2 section, a young man in his early twenties with long, corkscrew-curling hair and a delicate, sensitive face. He committed suicide last year at the age of 23 whilst in the grip of an overwhelming depression.
After his death, Nicholas' family discovered that, throughout his late teens and twenties, Nicholas had written extensively about his life, his thoughts and his feelings. In journals, poems and throwaway writings he revealed a person of mystic romanticism, a soul which saw more than the common in everyday things and happenings. The poems quoted in the article are beautiful and technically accomplished, the writings – paraticularly about sailing on a square-rigger – luminous in their lyricism. But, at the same time, his writings are always grounded in how these experiences impacted on him, personally. And he could be funny too, like the way in which he describes the people whom he saw at the hotel where he was working as a waiter to raise money for his gap year travels. One couple is ‘two half-lobsters dressed in pink’ another is ‘an old, stout poached pear'.
I cried again and again, not specifically at the thought that the world had proved too much for this rare and beautiful soul but at his mother’s enduring love and her commitment to his memory. Also the mother of beautiful young men, I found it almost unbearably poignant to hear his mother defending him, assuring us that though a poem was called ‘Bad Trip’ ‘it should be stressed that drugs wer no part of his life. He was all too aware, after a bad reaction to a prescription medicine, that he belonged to the group who should not take risks with recreational drugs: his mind found wild enough territory already.’ I was reminded very strongly of something his mother had said about herself in her own autobiography ‘Holy Smoke’. I can’t quote it because I can’t remember where my copy of the book is and I need to get this posted, but do read it, it’s a wonderful, unselfconscious read by a woman who is more remarkable than she is prepared to admit.
Nicholas Heiny’s book - The Silence at the Song's End - is being published by those who loved him and who could not bear to pass his writings to those who ‘with an eye on sales might inflict too much intrusion on all of us.’
It is available here.