Dying with Dignity

I’m not a fan of reality TV. I see enough confusion and humiliation in my job without watching it on my day off.  However, who could fail to be moved by the life and death of Jade Goody. She was a poorly educated woman who made the most of every opportunity given to her, a modern example of a fairy tale. I worked with someone today who said they were just like Jade – big mouthed, and big hearted. She was, they though, like a modern Princess Diana.  

But until a few months ago, Jade was a figure of scorn and an exemplar of ignorance. She only became universally popular to a certain generation when she received her terminal diagnosis of cancer. Those who had poured scorn on her until recently, embraced her in her last illness. Why? Because we live in a society with a generation of young adults who don’t know anything about death, and for whom Jade has become a mentor on that journey.

A remarkable number of young people have never been to a funeral, never seen a dead body, never spent time with someone who is dying.  Their vision is confused by inexperience.  For them, death is a frightening unknown, stalking the world of the elderly; death happens when you get old, not when you are young; when you are young you are immune – and if something does go wrong it must be someone’s fault!

So thank God for the example that Jade has played out in the media spotlight. She has been an exemplar of how to have a ‘good’ death. She provided financially for her sons, and put her affairs in order. She was ready spiritually and emotionally to say good-bye. She did not keep her children at a distance from her death, nor the cameras.  

So this generation have some idea of what dying and death can bring. They have seen a courageous young woman coming to terms with and accepting the foreshortening of her life with dignity. I hope she has made provision for her children to attend her funeral, so that in time they will approach death without the ignorance of fear. She has done a real service to her generation – God speed, Jade, and rest in peace.

Life after life after death

As so often happens on a long country walk, we began to talk theology. What, my son mused, would heaven be like? A number of options were presented. Perhaps it would mean sitting on a fluffy cloud, playing a harp? My dad thought that sounded unrelentingly dull. Or maybe heaven would come to earth when justice and peace are restored to all. Not likely to happen this side of the parousia, said my punning sister!

Tom Wright’s book on heaven, Surprised by Hope, makes fascinating reading. Those who long for their very own cloud will be disappointed. Working for global justice and world peace will not bring about salvation, but is ‘anticipating in the present’ what we hope for in the future. At the end of time, all our work today will be transformed, with all time, space and matter. And +Tom is sure that our salvation will be bodily – we will rise with Jesus in a physical sense. Wow. It’s hard not be be facetious, and hope that God will redeem my eyesight and big bum.

This then is our impetuous to continue to look, work, pray and act to bring the kingdom on earth. We do it knowing that God has begun to bring in the new heaven and new earth (because Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruit of the new creation), and in anticipation of time when that kingdom will be fully revealed. It’s all very encouraging to a workaholic like me, who really does hope that my labour is not in vain.

Best of all, my favourite passage in the book suggests that, not just our skills and talents but our likes, loves and interests will be enhanced, ennobled, in fact rescued in an ultimate act of salvation, to be used to God’s glory. YES! I will be able to sing, drive fast and read scary books in the new creation – Adrian will be able to fly, garden and wear cruddy shoes (well, maybe not that) – and my dad won’t have to learn to play the harp. Hallelujah! A heaven like that is worth waiting for, and maybe even believing in.