If we are challenged by death we may be able to live more richly

Published in the Courier Mail 19 May 2009

FARRAH Fawcett and Jade Goody were stars in different eras. One was famous for her part in the glamorous crime-fighting trio who were the original Charlie’s Angels. The other was infamous for her part in the motley group who were Britain’s Big Brother contestants, as well as subsequent appearances in Celebrity Big Brother and its Indian version, Big Boss.

These women seemingly had little in common. That is until recently, when they both chose to chronicle their fight against cancer in front of the camera. Goody died in March. She left behind two sons, a widower and enough footage for there to be a five-part documentary series created around her life and death.

Fawcett is still fighting. Last weekend the screening of Farrah’s Story on NBC in the United States drew about nine million viewers. The show was originally conceived as a video diary for Farrah and her family to celebrate her cancer victory in the future.

At Fawcett’s request, her long-time friend, Alana Stewart, filmed her in treatment and at home. Stewart, who was also a producer on the show, said the movie highlights Fawcett’s strength, and she told the American ABC network: “Her big message to people is don’t give up, no matter what they say to you, keep fighting.”

Perhaps the raw honesty will be of use to those who are experiencing similar battles. Dr James Church, a colorectal cancer specialist, when speaking of Fawcett’s story, said: “She helps a lot of people. When they see someone who has the courage to really fight, that encourages them and their families.”

Some may find the concept of chronicling one’s life-and-death struggle in front of the camera as bad taste, or money-grabbing. Some may see it as a vicious indictment on our voyeuristic society, where we seem to be viewing someone’s pain as entertainment. Has the media industry gone way too far when it serves up not just the reality of life but also the reality of death?

Goody had some thoughts on that topic. She told reporters: “I’ve lived my whole adult life talking about my life. The only difference is that I’m talking about my death now. It’s OK. I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them. And I know some people don’t like what I’m doing but at this point I really don’t care what other people think. Now, it’s about what I want.”

It was the process of considering her death that motivated Goody to consider her life and those within it. She had made no secret of the fact that the money her public life and death would earn was to ensure her sons were looked after and able to be educated.

Goody had come from a disadvantaged family background, and had missed out on a lot of her education, and wanted to make certain that her sons had a different experience.

It’s not surprising that she married a former flame not long before her death, or that Fawcett’s former partner, Ryan O’Neal, has been a close companion during her ordeal.

Death has a way of focusing us. It prompts us to make the most of our days. Professor and author Leo F. Buscaglia said: “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time . . . It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.”

Perhaps the chronicles of the struggles of Goody and Fawcett have given us an opportunity.
That is, if we allow ourselves to be challenged by death, we may be more able to live and love more richly.

Ruth Limkin