I guess lots of people have been waiting for the announcement of Jade Goody’s death before letting loose with their feelings. I am still staggered by the amount of vitriolic nastiness some people can pour out on blogs and in other media. I don’t know whether it comes from some sort of transferred self-loathing or some sort of bitterness about the world, but it is not pleasant to see.
The emphasis Jade put on her sons and her concern for their future made it all the more sad that her death came in the early hours of Mothering Sunday. Many will question the values (especially in relation to money) she expressed regarding her children, but nobody can deny the seriousness with which she took motherhood and the responsibilities it brings.
Jade Goody is surely an icon of our times. She was a poorly educated girl from South London who, when exposing her ignorances on global television, made a lot of people want to protect her from herself. She epitomised a culture that – in the infamous fantasy slogan of the National Lottery (‘It could be you!’) – promised instant wealth and fame without you having to do anything to earn it. It told the lie that the capricious finger of ‘God’ might choose you to have it all and have now. She was the face of a superficial culture of celebrity for its own sake, supported (and funded) by a public hungry for voyeuristic entertainment. It is clear that many commentators looked at Jade Goody in such a way as to betray a superior gratitude that they were not like her. Snobbery comes in many forms.
But, despite the publicity-seeking girl who cashed in on her fame, Jade Goody also demonstrated that people need to take responsibility for their life and stop blaming everyone else for their lack of success, progress or acquisition. She grabbed an opportunity, exploited it mercilessly and then had the guts to see her dying and death as part of her life and let the world in on the action.
I am not alone in wishing she had retreated sooner and learned the art of privacy. There is even something not quite right about a publicist, Max Clifford, asking for people to give the family privacy… while speaking to cameras and perpetuating the story with snippets of information from inside the dying girl’s home. But she chose not to and I respect that.
What Jade Goody has done is confront an escapist culture with the reality of human mortality. Whatever the magazines and films tell us, we shall all die. And our living to some extent is shaped by our approach to and understanding of our dying. Jade let the world in on a young woman who knew she was going to die being able to give a vocabulary to her family and friends (as well as the watching world) for a part of their life they might otherwise not know how to handle. Some of us (in pastoral work) are used to preparing people (and their families) for their death and to helping the bereaved express their feelings while looking afresh at their own life and meaning. Jade has made that conversation easier for a lot of people.
She wasn’t a plaster saint whose theology was thought through and carefully articulated; she was an ordinary woman who said it as it was and seemed incapable of dressing it up in ways others might find more acceptable.
Since learning of the terminal nature of her illness, Jade has read bits of the Bible (I don’t know which), been baptised, had her children baptised and then prepared her own funeral. I have no idea – and nor does anyone else – what she thought or understood about life and death and God and the meaning of life. I could not know what she thinks happens after death – she certainly came out with some weird folk-religion stuff about Jesus and stars. But, I think it is safe to say (as if it was any of our business, anyway) that she grasped the simple fact that a mortal human being needs to know she is loved infinitely and that the Lover will not let her or her children go. The only security left for her was that her death would not negate her life.
My final word on this is simply that the root of Christian faith is the confidence that death itself cannot separate us from the love of God as seen in Jesus Christ. The narrative of this world says that violence, death and destruction have the final word and ultimate power: the cross and an empty tomb say appearances can be deceptive. God who creates, sustains, redeems and loves has the final word and that word is ‘resurrection’.
Now we pray for Jade Goody’s family as they endure their public bereavement.