Dying on the Front Page: Jade Goody (5 June 1981 – 22 March 2009)
Deaglán de Bréadún
The death of Jade Goody early this morning is of course an occasion of great sadness. In the words of John Donne, anyone’s death diminishes us. Her decision to leave the stage of life in such a public way helped to heighten awareness of cervical cancer and that is to her credit.And yet, and yet. I have already written about the implications for our traditional concept of privacy. People are too private about cancer in particular. Men above all don’t want to go for tests, in many cases, for fear it will be discovered. They seem to regard cancer as a secret shame or vice. When I myself was afflicted by prostate cancer two years ago (the treatment worked, I’m happy to say) I felt people were, if anything, too respectful of my privacy and too nervous about making contact.
And yet, and yet. There should a certain dignity surrounding serious illness and, of course, death. As the old ballad says: “Let me like a soldier fall, with breast expanded to the ball.”
Jade Goody, may she rest in peace, cashed in on her own demise. It was for a noble purpose, i.e., to support her two children. But one has to ask the question: who’s next? I suspect the master-publicist Max Clifford, who makes Machiavelli look like an amateur, has been approached by others who are heading on that last journey. Naturally, one could not have a second terminally-ill person competing with Ms Goody, that would be too much even for the Fleet Street tabloids. But I shall not be surprised if another profiteering self-publicist at death’s door surfaces in the popular press.
In the meantime here are John Donne’s fine sentiments, carried here in memory of Jade Goody whose chief talent was for relentless self-exposure but who faced death with some courage, who cared for her children and who may have prolonged the lives of others, and for all that we should be grateful:-
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.