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Real Life

Kiwi parents nightmare: 'Our son should still be here'

After the suspected suicide of their 13-year-old boy Blake, the Dalleys are on a mission to make sure this
tragedy doesn’t happen to others

By Annemarie Quill
There's a photo of a beautiful boy with a huge smile on the wall of Tash Dalley's kitchen in Mount Maunganui. It's her son Blake, aged 13, posing on a balcony overlooking the sea in a smart navy shirt he'd just bought with his mum.
The photo was taken on December 10, 2020, the night of the school dance for children leaving Mount Maunganui Intermediate School for the long summer break.
Blake never got to see that summer. He never started high school. He never got to dance again. Less than a week after that photo was taken, Blake was lying in an open casket in the family's living room, dressed in that same shirt.
His distraught parents Tash, 41, and Seaton, 50, slept at his side. His siblings circled their brother, talking to him and drawing pictures to put in "his bed".
The couple with their kids (from left) Aidan, Clayton, Elise, Mason, Brooke and Mitchell. "We owe them a happy life and happy parents."
The Dalleys are a large, loving family. Blake was the middle child, with older brothers Clayton, 19, Mitchell, 17, and Aidan, 16, younger brother Mason, six, and his two sisters Elise, four, and Brooke, two.
The death of their beloved "Blakey" in a suspected suicide plunged the family into a deep darkness, "the stuff of nightmares", which his distraught mother wants no one else to experience.
Tash is racked with anguished sobs as she recalls the days before Blake died.
A keen skateboarder, he'd spent the weekend hanging out at the skatepark, before Tash picked him up for a trip to Starbucks. It would be their last outing together.
"He talked about what Christmas present he was going to buy his girlfriend Milli – he was so thoughtful about gifts – and the summer trip he was going on with his dad. Nothing unusual."
The next day, Monday, Tash got a call to pick her son up from school early. She tells, "Blake was a typical teenager, but he wasn't one to get into big trouble. Seaton taught our boys that you're more
of a man if you walk away from a fight, but sometimes Blake would stand up to try to protect people."
Blake was not fighting, just mucking around, however, it was decided he wouldn't return for the last day of school. Tash tells Woman's Day, "I remember looking at his face. He was staring at the wall, angry, as though he'd checked out.
He was like that all the way back in the car and went straight to his room."
Tash busied herself with her normal routine, emptying lunchboxes and getting afternoon tea for the youngest children. She went downstairs to Blake's room to find him still sullen.
"I told him to tidy his room – it was a terrible mess. I asked what was going on, but he wouldn't say anything. I said I was so disappointed in him and we'd talk later, but…" Her voice drifts off as she cries
with an unimaginable pain.
A short time later, Tash returned to see if he had tidied the room. When she opened the door, it was a sight she'll never forget. "Finding Blake that way will haunt me until my last breath," she says softly.
"The image replays in my mind, especially at night, when I lay down to sleep."
Tash managed to drag her son into the hallway, screamed for help and started CPR. She remembers, "I saw our three little ones watching wide-eyed at the bottom of the steps.
I told them it would be OK and to go upstairs."
"Finding Blake that way will haunt me until my last breath," says Tash.
Meanwhile, after getting the call every parent dreads, engineer Seaton rushed home in thick evening traffic to be greeted by fire trucks, police and an ambulance. He watched helplessly while paramedics worked on Blake's small, lifeless body.
Blake was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Seaton says the shock was indescribable. It was only when a funeral director arrived and explained the stages of grief that they'd be going through that the family were able to talk about their feelings. "Without him, we'd still be lost."
In the following days, Seaton says, "Family, friends and the community held us together, bringing food and cleaning. Blake's school was amazing." People flocked to the family home and spoke about how they were also struggling.
Tash tells, "Because we were open about how Blake died, a surge of people came to talk to us about the mental health of their own children. One mum sleeps by her child's bed each night, afraid she's going to take her life.
"Many kids came to us to say they felt depressed and spoke of suicide. You'd never have guessed it in a million years from these kids – just like us with Blakey. A common theme was there was nowhere to go for help."
The most shocking thing the family learned in the aftermath of Blake's death is that there are no counsellors available in intermediate schools. Tash declares, "That's when kids like Blake need it. Blake could be anyone's son. Suicide doesn't discriminate. It affects all communities and the kids want to talk, but to who?"
The couple decided in the thick of grief that they would "do something" in Blake's name to help the situation. Feeling strongly that younger students need more support and education in mental health, they were impressed by Mike King's Gumboot Friday initiative, which provides free one-on-one counselling but is not funded by the government.
"I agree with Mike that we need to catch these kids early – they need someone to talk to," says Tash. "We've set up a Givealittle to commemorate what would have been Blake's 14th birthday, with all funds going to Mike's charity."
The family is overwhelmed by the response, with money pouring in from all over Aotearoa. As Woman's Day went to print, they'd raised almost $65,000.
"Each day, when we saw the figure increasing, it brought us to our knees, tears streaming down our faces," says Tash.
"As a country, we shouldn't have to do this ourselves, but we're beyond grateful that people want to help stop the statistics rising."
Tash adds that she and Seaton feel incredible guilt for not knowing how much Blake was hurting. "He was an empathetic boy who felt things deeply. A comment that another person might brush off would bother him all day. I remember him complaining he didn't like his looks and that he was too short, but he did it in such a jokey way, we didn't register."
Tash and Seaton hold on to precious memories of Blake. "We expect to see him bounding up the stairs with that cheeky grin."
After his death, the couple accessed his phone. Most of the content was skateboarding photos and chats with friends. But they were heartbroken to discover messages from people telling him he was ugly. He'd also recorded TikTok videos to a song called Better Off (Dying) by the late rapper Lil Peep.
Tash tells, "The videos were excruciating. We saw how he was suffering. He said he was lonely, that he'd seen texts about himself that made him feel sh*t, that he couldn't stop crying, couldn't express himself and that he hated being so sensitive. I don't think kids speak to their parents about these things, but maybe if he'd had someone neutral to talk to… That's why we need people in schools."
Mount Intermediate principal Melissa Nelson commends Tash and Seaton for being so public with their loss, saying, "For so long, suicide has not been spoken about and, as such, so many people's lives are destroyed in the secrecy. It's something we should feel ashamed about as a nation."
This year, the school raised funds for counsellors, but this money runs out in 2022. There are already 30 children on the waiting list. Mike King agrees that there is a desperate need for counselling for a younger age group, saying that while the government funds support to 12- to 24-year-olds, 40% of the kids accessing Gumboot Friday's services are aged 11 and under. "There is no need for families to go through this trauma – we need action, not talk," he says.
Since the tragedy, the couple have been raising money to support Mike King's charity.
The Dalleys hope that helping Mike's charity means other families will not suffer.
Tash says, "The sheer exhaustion of grief is a heavy weight, but our amazing children get us out of bed every day. We owe them a happy life and happy parents. They're our blessings and we step up each day for them. We share our emotions more with the kids now and let each other know if we're having a crappy day."
Tash and Seaton are haunted by triggers. She explains, "Closed bedroom doors and sirens make our blood run cold, while the sound of skateboard wheels on concrete really pulls at our hearts.
"If we hear the outside gate close, for a split second, we expect to see Blake bounding up the stairs with that cheeky grin. Then reality kicks in and sadness hits."
Tash recently had two tattoos inked on her arm, including a butterfly on her wrist. She explains, "Since Blake died, everyone has noticed a large monarch butterfly flying around the balcony into the house."
Around Blake's room are his skateboards that he will never ride again. But in his mum's heart, he is still riding. Her second tattoo is Blake on his skateboard with his favourite quote from Star Shopping by Lil Peep: "Look at the sky tonight. All of the stars have a reason."
HOW TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE
If you think someone may be suicidal, ask them – it could save their life. Asking about suicide will not put the thought in their head. Ask them directly about their thoughts of suicide and what they're planning. If they have a specific plan, they need help right away. Ask them if they'd like to talk about what's going on with you or someone else. They might not want to open up straight away, but letting them know you're there for them is a big help. Listen and don't judge. Take them seriously and let them know you care. Help them to find and access the support they need from people they trust – friends, family, kauma¯tua, religious/community/cultural leaders or professionals. Don't leave them alone – make sure someone stays with them until they get help. Support them to access professional help, like a doctor or counsellor, as soon as possible. Offer to help them make an appointment and go with them if you can. If they don't get the help they need the first time, keep trying. If someone is at immediate risk, call 111. For more advice, visit mentalhealth.org.nz.
Source: Mental Health Foundation
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Please help Tash and Seaton raise funds for Gumboot Friday, which provides free counselling for anyone under 25, by donating to their Givealittle page.
IF YOU NEED ASSISTANCE
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, text or call 1737 any time, day or night. For Lifeline, call 0800 543 354 or text 4357. For the Suicide Crisis Hotline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO. In an emergency, always dial 111.

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