Travis John Hogg

TravisMy son Travis John Hogg died in May 2008. His passing was a mystery to the Irish coroner whose lengthy investigation and inquest ended with a verdict of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome – the grown-up version of the better known but equally mysterious “cot death”. Travis left a huge hole in many lives.

Losing a child is one of the greatest challenges mankind will ever face. Every time I see a motor accident or hear of an untimely death, I think of the parents of those who have passed before their natural time.

Here is my eulogy from Travis’s memorial service, held in Greystones, Ireland, in May 2008. – Alec Hogg


Two thousand years ago, the great Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said the art of life is like wrestling, not dancing. Some are forced to wrestle more than others. Our son Travis John Hogg was one of those extraordinary beings who never seemed able to leave the ring.

Travis struggled against coming into this world, finally arriving a minute after midnight into the new day of 7 October 1986. Just 21 years, seven months and 14 days later – he would have liked the symmetry of the numbers – Travis was taken back from whence he came. But not before he forever changed many lives.

He arrived to the sound of quiet classical music, exhausted, crying plaintively and looking like a prize fighter after being forced out of his mother’s body by the forceps of a burly doctor. Aptly, holding on for more than 12 hours of labour to make sure he shared a birthday with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Travis left peacefully. Passing on in his own bed in the new home his mother made for him and his sisters in Greystones in Ireland. We believe he has at last found peace and a place better suited to his special gifts. Knowing that helps ease a little of our pain.

The eyes are the window to our souls.

Travis’s eyes told us so much about our son. They were the eyes of an old soul trapped in a restless young mind. From the moment he joined us, this baby boy, our first child, had such wise eyes peering out of a tightly wound cocoon blanket. Knowing eyes shining with the intelligence granted only to the special few.

Travis’s superior intellect was always his greatest strength. And also his greatest weakness.

If Travis knew he was right he, well, knew he was right. No amount of opposing argument would ever change his opinion. Physical threats never made any impression. Not obviously anyway.

It worried us right through his school years that this exceptional mind was trapped in a weak frame.

Diagnosed early on with low muscle tone, he wrestled hard with life during pre-adolescence when forced to deal with South Africa’s archaic schooling system that often encourages the brute over the brilliant.

We never really knew what scars this left. But we did know from the fighting back of tears most mornings, that he hated every minute of his schooling.

Louise (his mother) took him to a team of psychologists and educationalists when he was 15. At the time we were looking for alternative education systems which suited him better than the mainstream one he was trapped in. Their passing words were “We wish Travis well in a world which will often frustrate him.”

Eventually he did learn how to cope during these years, mainly by alienating himself. And he started working on his body, too, building outer muscle through exercise and determination. Once or twice he even came close to enjoying a moment of his schooling. But whether it was being passed over for the Computer Prize or some other honour his talents richly deserved, the system always found a way of disappointing him. We tried to listen. Perhaps just not enough.

He didn’t make it easy though. Travis had a very tender, vulnerable side but only showed it rarely to his mother, sisters and I. But it was different with his “zulu mother” our housekeeper Mayvis Mdluli. Often we walked into the kitchen to see Travis happily hugging her. In her eyes our son could do no wrong. She would do anything for him, staunchly defending his untidiness and covering up by cleaning the mess before anyone noticed too much. Her affection was reciprocated.

Outside of school uniform, Travis’s haven was the Internet. Gravitating towards others whose wings had been damaged by society, he discovered a passion for computer games, a world which never disappointed like the other one.

Travis and I never really discussed our divorce.

Not in any great depth anyway. But from the little we spoke of it, Travis understood that going our separate ways was best for both his mother and I. And that both of us loved him and his sisters as much as ever. But that sometimes people, even if they are his parents, live happier apart than together.

The real tragedy about our son’s brief stay on earth is that after so much wrestling he was at last getting ready for some dancing.

Ireland was a joy for him. The people, climate and lifestyle were a great comfort after the harshness of Africa. Even more so the broadband. It took him a while to find his feet, but he was starting to emerge into the local community. Finding a couple of kindred spirits to debate deep into the night his passions like physics, space and the poor global leadership.

Steadily building his art portfolio, he was ready to take another step towards his dream of turning his genius into a career. Travis had been considering having a look at North America, to spend time in New York and from there to try his luck landing a job in the gaming centre of Vancouver. But an even better opportunity in Ireland kept him at home with his mother and sisters.

It is the ultimate irony that on the day he died Travis was scheduled to have an admission interview with the Bray Community College. An interview that everybody who knew him believed he would have creamed; starting him on a road where his talent would finally start receiving the recognition it so richly deserved.

As part of his portfolio for this interview, Travis just finished one of his better works – a charcoal portrait of his beloved and devoted sister Kendyll. His other loving sister Caitlin had the same kind of passionate relationship with Travis as his mother. They fought and loved, loved and fought. That is one of the obvious gifts this brilliant, enigmatic, gifted young man leaves his family and friends. His other gifts are less obvious and may take longer to appreciate.

With Travis’s passing, our lives will never be the same. The world has lost a brilliant, challenging, outrageously talented young man. Louise and I have lost our son. Caitlin and Kendyll their brother. Even after the rivers of tears and the gutting grieving, there will always be an empty hole in our hearts. Each in our own way, we loved him dearly. No amount of shared compassion and kindness will ever change that. But we thank you for trying to ease our pain.

Although Travis wasn’t religious, he would occasionally tolerate me by not interrupting when I said Grace. And I have it on good authority that during his final days he was re-assessing a lot of this kind of stuff. So without disrespecting his memory, I’m going to indulge his and your tolerance now with a short prayer. For those of us left behind. Should you wish to join me, please bow your head.

God, thank you for the gift of our son, brother, grandson, nephew and friend. Please guide us in this difficult time. Grant us the strength to understand that some things will always be beyond our comprehension. That we need faith to accept the unacceptable. And that things are as they should be. Amen.

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