Sunday, 22 February 2009

Before I Say Goodbye

Here's a piece that I wrote in today's Sunday Times about Jade Goody, in the context of my sister, Ruth Picardie. It's a huge subject, and difficult to encapsulate in 1800 words, but here they are...

21 comments:

oxford-reader said...

Thank you for writing this Justine - I've just posted a link on my mistressdickens blog, which will go into my facebook page too, so hopefully even more people will read it.

This is such a tough question to answer, and I'm glad you've helped put it in perspective. I think we've all become so attuned to watching Jade Goody, and seeing the silly things she does, we've all forgot that she's actually dying. I hope she has a happy time of what she has left.

kairu said...

I remember reading John Diamond's column (was it in the Guardian? I can't quite recall) during the last year or two before his death, which he continued almost up to the very end. It was shattering but at the same time heartening to read about his struggles, his fears, his pain at leaving his wife (Nigella Lawson) and two children. But as a writer, it is almost a compulsion to express everything in words, and as a journalist, to treat your own life as an open book. (Although as a writer you don't necessarily share everything - later articles, especially after Nigella took up with Charles Saatchi, portrayed Diamond as someone bitterly and savagely angry at the end of his illness, which wasn't quite as apparent in his writing).

I remember a scene in Shadowlands (I can't remember whether it is the play or the film), where one of C. S. Lewis' students tells him, "we read to know we're not alone." And we write to tell other people that they are not alone.

oxford-reader said...

Kairu, the line you quoted is in the film, I know. I've never seen the play, but I would think it would be in there too, as it's so wonderfully true. There's another line that always strikes a chord whenever I hear it: 'The pain now is part of the happiness then'. Bitter-sweet, I know, but very true.

Justine Picardie said...

I love that line -- we read to know we are not alone... I think we also write for the same reason (or at least, a partial reason for a mysterious process...)

Ladybird said...

Justine, You expressed wonderfully what I was feeling yesterday when I flicked over to Sky and saw minute by minute coverage of Jade leaving her house by helicopter. I have been in the US for a number of weeks and so missed all the buildup and was uncomfortable with what feels like the prurience of the whole thing, but I stayed watching. I read your sister Ruth's book in June 1998 over one evening, in bed and cried so much that the bed was actually wet. At the time my husband's only brother was dying in a hospice and when he came back from seeing him he asked why I needed to read about someone else's experience of what we were living. I think that a book like Ruth's gives us license to grieve when it might feel self-indulgent to grieve our own pain. I am so, so sorry for your loss and I think how much you loved and still miss Ruth is palpable in today's article.
I really enjoy your writing. Thank you.
Irene

Juxtabook said...

An excellent article Justine on a very difficult subject. People need to die in the their own way, as best they can within their illness. Surely the only positive in dying at 27 of cancer as Jade is, is that unlike a sudden death such as a car crash it gives you the chance to put things in order and to leave things as you want them left, 'before you say goodbye'. These are her moments and Jade should fill them as she wants them filled.

As to the public aspects of writing about or filming your last weeks, I think if writing or being filmed are part of your normal life then you would want them to go on as long as possible and your illness is bound to be part of them.

I am glad some writers, like yourself, are making the point that death is normal and needs talking about. I think poeple used to do so much more: people died at home, were laid out by their families etc. I think the slaughter of WWI did for our comfortable co-habitation with death.

Lou said...

Thankyou for posting your article,Justine.As a child who lost her mother to breast cancer and now a nurse who has cared for many women who are dying (and living)with cancer,I have experienced first hand the fallout when women are not allowed to express their feelings.The living and well have no right to dictate to someone about the right or wrong way to die.Anger,fear and despair are all feelings that are valid and need to be given voice.I'm glad that people like your sister and Jade Goody have been given that voice.One of the lines in your sister's book will always remain with me.I remember Ruth acknowledging that "life will go on without me ,it's just that I will miss it so..." Life does somehow go on without our loved ones,but they continue to "live on" in the way we remember them everyday of our lives.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you to everyone for these wise and warm messages, all of which give so much insight into the inextricable links between love and loss, between the living and the dead. I also love that line in Ruth's book, and her writing is here beside me as I read your words tonight.

Jean said...

Apropos of earlier posts about Edith Wharton, I'm now about half way through Hermione Lee's biography and can't put it down, except to stop and read Ethan Frome online from the Gutenberg Project. What a life she led. Bisexual, adulterous, insane husband;
She passionately in love with another bisexual, a totally unfaithful and dedicated bounder who everyone recognised as such except herself. Mind you, apart from the bisexual bit, I recognise my own experience here.
Can't believe the amount of constant travelling she did as well as writing copiously. Now, I'm going to look for the movie of Ethan Frome. Fascinating stuff!

Guineapigmum said...

I've just left a comment on the Times site, thinking I was leaving it here (note: must learn to read properly). Thank you for that piece - it was beautifully written.

I remember so clearly reading Ruth's diary in the Observer at the time and being enormously moved by it. In fact, her diary pieces are one one of the reasons I read your blog, if that makes sense!

I had ovarian cancer last year and was able to write about my experiences on my blog. I found the writing and the support it prompted people enormously helpful, and it made me realise how important it is that we should be open about diseases of this sort. So I might not like Big Brother or the celebrity culture but I'm full of admiration for Jade.

Guineapigmum said...

Oops - some stray "people" in there

Justine Picardie said...

Guinea pig mum (what a brilliant name) -- thank you for your message. Like you, I'm not a fan of Big Brother, but as you have made so abundantly clear in your wonderful blog, a decision to share your experience of cancer has absolutely nothing to do with celebrity culture, and everything to do with the threads of human warmth and understanding...

Candyce said...

I read your sister's book while I was going through BC treatment. I had lost my Mom and both grandmas (who I never knew) from it.

I cannot tell you how much her book affected me. I have kepts it and still will reread parts of it. I have often wondered how her dear twins are. It broke may heart that she could not raise them.

Thinking of you...

Primrose said...

This piece made me cry when I first read it and I've been unable to comment on in initially here. I have just heard the very sad news that Jade Goody passed away and the first person I thought of was you. I cannot tell you how much your post both moved and humbled me. You gave all the dignity to this young woman that she deserved by your eloquent, fiery, beautiful words. xx

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RoseForshaw said...

Hi Justine
When I was in hospital not allowed to give birth to my youngest child and still grieving my father, I read your account of the year after losing Ruth. So much came home, especially the unanswered emails into the ether. What do you do? the answer is that you carry on because you have no choice. And what happens when your partner loses his sister too? You answered that aptly - nothing happens actually because your own grief takes precedence. And a princess dies also in 1997 and so the whole thing gets mixed up.

The spirit moves us. I am sure you are right because what else can?

Rose

Liz said...

The truth is a question, but out of context would tell you otherwise,
is very difficult to answer, and I'm glad you helped put it in perspective as much as logic logic to be used by consuming a pill of generic viagra medicine and other medications. I think everyone has come to be a line like watching Jade Goody, and see the silly things he does, we all have forgotten that in reality is death.

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