Friday, August 20, 2010

Eulogy for Jodie Deeming

Here's the text of the Eulogy I gave yesterday for Jodie Deeming.  It attempts to deal with at least some of the reasons why God allows children like poor Jodie to suffer, and to die - as well as paying tribute to a remarkable young woman.

Eulogy for Jodie Deeming
Delivered at St Mark's Church
19th August 2010

It is my task to attempt to sum Jodie up in a few short words.  Its not an easy task...because although her life has been short, there is a lot of life to convey.  I met Jodie for the first time just a couple of weeks ago...when she was slipping away.  Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to talk, because she was already heavily sedated.  I’m sad about that, because from all that I’ve heard about Jodie since then, I am sure that she is someone I would have really enjoyed getting to know.  There is no doubt that Jodie was a remarkable young woman - as all of you are obviously aware.  It’s a testament to the kind of person she was that you have all come to celebrate her life today.

Jodie was born in Birmingham, on the 17th of June 1996.  As soon as she become aware of her surroundings, her impish sense of humour started to show through.  Initially, Jodie was a little camera-shy.  She would dart behind the curtains, or behind the sofa, as soon as anyone pointed a camera at her - though I understand that she overcame that particular trait later in life!

Once, when Jodie was still a toddler, her sister Kerry was babysitting for her.  Kerry suddenly became aware that Jodie had disappeared.  “Oh no!”  Kerry panicked, and started looking everywhere for the missing toddler.  By the time Jodie’s mum, Annette, got home, poor Kerry was out of her mind with worry.  “Where could Jodie be?”  But Annette was wiser...she knew the tricks that Jodie liked to play, even at that age.  Annette pointed to the coat cupboard...and there, Kerry found Jodie, curled up and fast asleep - no doubt bored of waiting to be found.

When she was around 3 years old, Jodie’s family moved to Bognor, where Jodie started at nursery school.  Here, certain aspects of her character started to assert themselves.  With her new friends, Jodie would spend hours doing cartwheels, and then having competitions to see who could stand on their head for the longest.  It was at this early stage that Jodie’s artistic streak started to show through as well.  Painting and drawing were her favourite activities at nursery, by a long way.

By the time Jodie moved up to Michael Ayres School, as an infant, a certain shyness had started to show itself.  Jodie loved dressing up, and taking part in school plays...but she was not one for taking the leading roles.  She was happy just to be a shepherd or an angel when it came to Nativity plays.

Her slight shyness was, perhaps , an indication of Jodie’s imaginative streak.  She developed a deep love for the whole idea of fairies - after watching the story of two little girls who photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden in the time of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The Cottingley Fairies, as they were known, quickly captured Jodie’s imagination...and she began to draw fairies, and look for fairies everywhere.  When out for meals at Brewster’s Restaurants, Jodie would delight in having fairy transfer-tattoos stuck to her arm...and would leave them there as long as possible.

Dolphins were another creature which captured Jodie’s imagination.  She would dream of swimming with dolphins...drawing them often, and imagining herself in the dolphins’ watery-world.  Both dolphins and fairies became really important to Jodie in the later years of her life….they provided her with an escape from the more unpleasant treatments that she had to endure.

A few years later, Jodie and her family moved to Scotland, spending many happy days with Annette’s cousin Jean and her family.  Jodie was full of life and fun in those days - she loved swimming, golf at the park with her brothers, badminton and rounders.  She loved the park and the fair - especially Strathclyde park with its boats.  Of course, few of these activities were cheap...and when I met with them last week, Jodie’s cousin Bernie told me, with a wry smile, “she loved spending my money too!”

As I’ve listened to stories about Jodie, the word which has come up most often has been the word ’laughter’.  Jodie had an infectious laugh - and would quickly smile at the slightest funny event.  Her laughter has helped to imprint lots of little incidents in her family’s mind - such as:

  • the time when both Keiran, and later Anthony, had their sandwiches stolen by seagulls!
  • or the time when Annette’s cousin Jean had a bit of a struggle with a British Rail toilet door, which had Jodie on the floor with laughter!
  • or the time when the family were visiting the Isle of Wight - which Jodie loved - and missed the last hovercraft home.  (That meant a night on the beach...and some difficult walks up and down the steep streets of Ryde, with Jodie, by then in her wheelchair, and the whole family pushing from behind!

Jodie was rather a prankster, it seems.  Her early adventures in hiding from Kerry in the coat cupboard turned into a life-long love of little games and pranks.  She would often hide things for people to discover in strange places around the house.  She would give her friends joke sweets...innocent looking sweets which tasted awful!  On one memorable birthday which was held in hospital, she started squirting the nurses with a hypodermic needle.  That was no doubt a form of subtle revenge for Jodie, because she hated needles!  She would do anything to put off the moment when a needle had to be used...claiming she was hungry, or needed to go to the loo, or just asking ‘But what’s it for?’.  Another bit of good-natured pay-back would happen when bath-time came around.  If she got half a chance, Jodie would grab the shower-head, and soak the poor nurses!

Throughout the last few, difficult years - Jodie has always been looking for ways to bring joy to those around her.  She planted a garden at the family’s home...a garden of fairies and night-lights.  She planted shrubs which her family will be able to remember her by.  She made a beautiful mosaic pot, which I know Annette will always treasure.  Throughout her illness, Jodie has been always full of jokes, smiles and generosity.  She has been collecting and giving little gifts for family and friends...little gifts which I know will be treasured for ever.

There is something that Annette’s cousin Jean said to me last week that I think I will always remember.  She said “Annette was blessed...because she gave birth to an Angel”.  That seems, to me, to sum Jodie up very well.  Jodie had a light spirit, a spirit of laughter, a spirit of dreams, a spirit of generosity, and, ultimately a spirit that refused to be held down to the Earth.  The illness that she has suffered may have ultimately taken Jodie’s body, but it could not touch her spirit.

Annette told me that on the night Jodie passed away, just a few hours after we had prayed together with her, Jodie had a smile on her face.  That smile said a great deal.  Perhaps it was a smile of good memories - as Jodie remembered the laughter she has shared with her family.   Perhaps it was a smile of cheeky anticipation as she thought about the little things she has undoubtedly hidden around the house for her family to discover in the coming days.   Perhaps it was a smile of recognition as she saw relatives who have already passed on, coming to meet her - like her much loved grand-mother. I am sure it was all of these things - but also, I’m sure, she was smiling at the face of the God who loves her, and who wants her to live with him for eternity.

Some of us may be wondering where God has been in the last three years, while Jodie has been battling with her illness.  That’s a real question - and a right question to ask.  It’s one that  I have to confront often as a priest.  Let me share with you something of the conclusion I have reached.  God has given the human race enormous of intelligence and creativity.  We have the ability to create amazing things, and advance every day in our knowledge.  But, sadly, much of the human race seems to ignore the simple rule that God has laid down for his children...the rule that we should love God, and love one another.  Instead, ever since Jesus taught us how to live, we have been busy fighting each other.  We battle over land, we battle over ideas, we battle because of greed for money and power - and we don’t spend our resources on battling disease.

Last year, the Medical Research Council spent around a billion pounds on finding cures for diseases like Jodie’s.  That sounds a lot, until you realise that in the same year, we spent nearly 44 billion pounds on defence, and countless billions propping up our corrupt banking system.  Now, I know we need defence, and indeed banks...but that seems a very imbalanced picture to me.

So where was God, during Jodie’s suffering?  God was, as God has always been, calling out to a greedy, war-torn, consumer-driven society and saying - “for the sake of Christ, stop fighting and start loving! Spend your resources on things that are holy and healthy, instead of bombs and bullets, banks and bling”

I have no doubt that God weeps over the death of children like Jodie.  But God can’t intervene miraculously all the time.  If he did, the human race would never learn...never grow...never turn away from greed and war, and turn towards love.  Instead, for the greater good of the whole human race, God has to sometimes let children like Jodie slip away...because we are so often blind to the deaths of millions of adults, but the death of a child forces us to confront who we are.  It forces us to think about whether the way we live, and the actions we take as a society have, albeit indirectly, contributed to such a child's death.  Our insatiable appetite for oil - and for other 'stuff' - leads to wars.  Our greedy lust for money, and for living in debt, leads to the collapse of banks.  All these ways of living draw vital resources away from medical research, and into the pockets of weapons-dealers and billionaire bankers.  Every penny spent on mopping up our western life-style, every penny spent on dealing with alcohol and drug abuse for example every Friday and Saturday night in the centre of Portsmouth, is a penny which could have been spent on medical research.

But there is no doubt in my mind that, for Jodie, this moment is anything but the end.  Dying is something we must all do - none of us is immune.  But people of Faith believe that death is only a doorway, a doorway to an eternity of life with the Creator of all life.

I have a vision in my mind:  it is a vision of Jodie, happy and grateful for the love that she has shared during her short time on Earth...and now, while she waits for the short years before she will be reunited with those she loves, I see Jodie, swimming with dolphins, dancing with fairies, and flying with angels.  I see her caught up in the love of God, sharing God’s love and shining God’s love to all who would receive it.

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