Monday, December 10, 2007

Katy French

Melancholicus must admit to never having heard of this stunningly beautiful but terribly unfortunate young woman until a week ago, when he heard (courtesy of RTÉ news) that she was in intensive care in Our Lady’s hospital in Navan, having collapsed shortly before at a party.

She died last Thursday, 6th December. She was only 24 years old.

Melancholicus is blogging the death of this young woman only because everyone else is, and because there are a few points he wishes to make that he has not thus far seen elsewhere.

Since Ms French was a celebrity of sorts, the last week of her life and her sad death have attracted an enormous volume of publicity. However, this kind of thing — death from cocaine, and from drug overdoses — takes place all the time. Many young people die from substance abuse each week, and their deaths are seldom reported in the media. Ms French’s death is viewed as especially tragic, since not only was she young and talented, but she did not belong to the poverty-stricken underclass, the people who are associated in the Irish mind with drug abuse. She was a model by profession, and appeared to have the world at her feet.

And boy, was she pretty.

The newspapers, by and large, have engaged in a kind of collective hand-wringing over the extent of drug use among the bright and the beautiful in contemporary Ireland. Last Saturday’s Irish Independent devoted ten pages — plus a supplement — to Katy French’s untimely demise. There was a great deal of sorrow and regret expressed in these columns, as though the writers had known Ms French personally — which Melancholicus doubts. There was also a great deal of shock; Melancholicus surmises that this is due at least in part to the fragile nature of our human mortality being forcibly brought home, by the deaths of three young people in similar circumstances in such a short time, to a great many people for whom death is an unfamiliar and far-off thing. Young people (at least those under the age of thirty) tend to think of themselves as invincible and able to withstand any shock to their systems, chemical or otherwise. When he was 25, Melancholicus shared this assumption of invulnerability with the rest of his peers; today he is 35, and is starting to feel the effects of his age.

Then there were those who were nasty, for whom the death of this unfortunate young woman was an occasion for spite and sarcasm. Melancholicus has read their blogs, but has no intention of linking to them. Those with a morbid curiosity can go googling if they wish.

Some kind souls have at least stopped to remember her grieving family; Melancholicus cannot imagine how terrible it must be for her parents to have to bury their child. Many have pointed out that at 24, Katy was too young to die. Melancholicus agrees; her life was cut terribly short. But on the other hand, there are many who are not given even the 24 years enjoyed by Katy French. There are many whose lives end even before they have learned to walk and to talk; and there are not a few that die even in the wombs of their mothers, sometimes even by the choice of their mothers.

Melancholicus did not know Katy French, so he has no idea whether the glowing portrayals of her in the newspapers are an accurate reflection of her personality, or whether they owe more to the ubiquitous instinct for instant canonisation that we encounter whenever someone — particularly someone young — dies.

In the midst of it all, however, nobody has troubled to spare a thought, never mind a prayer, for the one soul at the centre of all this brouhaha: Katy French herself. Inches of column space are devoted to recollections of her short life, and extensions of condolence to her bereaved family. But her life on earth is now a matter of the historical record, and forever fixed in time. Nothing that she said or did in her 24 years can be changed now. None of her choices and decisions, for better or for worse, can be undone. She has now entered eternity, and not one writer, so far as Melancholicus has been able to determine, has actually given any thought to Katy’s spiritual well-being at this present time.

This is illustrative of the thoroughly de-supernaturalised view of life and death that has obtained in western culture as the Catholic faith — once the dominant religion on this island — continues to retreat into irrelevance, helped in no small part by the men ordained to protect and spread that same faith. Now Katy was herself a protestant, but that does not change the fact that she has a soul which is still living now, after the death of her body, and that she was — like all of us — a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Insofar as life after death is even thought of at all, it is usually in the context of a living on in the memories of one’s friends and relatives — which, at least from the perspective of the deceased person, can hardly be called life — or else of an automatic entry into some kind of generic paradise.

Furthermore, even among those who do hold to Christian or quasi-Christian notions regarding the hereafter, there is a tendency towards universalism, and this tendency ensures that the welfare of the soul is forgotten, even before the body has been committed to its final place of rest.

It is not our place to assume we know, or can guess, Katy’s final destination. Death, and what follows, remains a great mystery, even though so brightly illumined by the Christian faith. It would be an impious act to adduce arguments either way, for the true state of the soul at the moment of death is known only to God. Katy knows where she is now; we who have survived her do not. Accordingly, it is our duty to pray for her that she may be loosed from her sins, and while fond reminiscences of her life are not out of place, these are of benefit only to others — not to Katy herself. Could she address us from beyond the curtain, she would probably be much more interested in what’s going on in the picture below than in what the media has made of her obituary. Her priorities now would be somewhat different to her priorities of only a few weeks ago.

As far as Katy’s own religious beliefs were concerned, they were as muddled and syncretic as those of any young person, whether Catholic or Anglican, reared with the vacuous mess that passes for catechetical instruction in these thoroughly secularised times. Although a protestant, she claimed to practice as a Catholic, seeing no difference between the two religions. That comment says more about the state of the Church than it does about Katy. She appears to have at least been open-minded where matters religious were concerned, and did not share the ignorant knee-jerk prejudice against religion that Melancholicus has encountered so often among students at the university where he works. She seemed to have been spiritually inclined, and in search of rest for her soul; given enough time, she may have found her way to the fullness of the Truth. Tragically, however, she didn’t have the time she needed. She declared that her calling (her “vocation”, as the Church would put it) was to be a wife and a mother — a much more exalted, and more difficult state than that of mere modelling, and a brave thing for a young woman to say in this feministical age.

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

No comments: