The tragic death of Amy Winehouse has dominated the media for a few days, and the caravanserai has now moved on. The media’s treatment of the event was not exactly its finest hour, as Hadley Freeman of the Guardian spotted, in a thought-provoking piece.
Meanwhile her family are in mourning, following Jewish custom, and sitting shiva, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle, which gave the event a fair amount of coverage. It is comforting to know that the Winehouse family have an ancient tradition to fall back on to help them get through this very difficult time.
There are lots of parents in the United Kingdom like Mitch and Janis Winehouse, parents who have lost a child to drugs (if that is indeed how Amy died). Such children may not have shared Amy’s talent, but I do not see a necessary connection between artistic talent and a drug-related early death. You do not have to be a genius to die young, sadly.
All these deaths have features in common. These children were loved; they caused their parents huge distress; their parents did everything they could to save them, but failed. The stories are always the same. Some time ago I presided at the funeral of a young man who had remarked to a friend concerning his addiction: “Perhaps one day I will stop breaking my mother’s heart.” But he didn’t.
Many of these young people have been through detox programmes, which in their cases have not worked. They have also been through the criminal justice system, and done time for possession or for burglary and theft and other crimes- and that hasn’t worked either. My view is always the same: therapy and detox are hell on earth, but staying addicted is even worse suffering. So get therapy – it is what is called a no-brainer. Why some do get therapy and come out the other side, and some don’t, is a mystery for me. The usual judgment of bystanders and family members alike is that there is some weakness of character in the addict that stops him or her taking the difficult path to recovery.
Every drug-related death is tragic, because none of these deaths have to happen. The same is true of the drug alcohol. But as a friend of mine on Facebook pointed out, this is not the time for moralising, it is a time for prayer. One could recite a De Profundis, which is the traditional Catholic prayer for the dead, and which is of course the 130th psalm, and a traditional Jewish prayer. As for Amy’s community, they will be saying kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer, the English translation of which goes like this:
May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.
May his great name be blessed, forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honoured elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he – above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen. He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.