My heart goes out to the families, friends and fans of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and Billy Mays. I’m not sure I can remember a time when four celebrities passed away so close to each other, and it’s made for a week of mourning, reflections, and retrospectives on television, especially on the news shows and news magazines.
In all of the coverage, there is one question that hasn’t been asked. In fact, it is perhaps the most weighty and dramatic question that can ever be asked about anyone who passes away, especially those who are largely in the public eye. It is the kind of question that a site like Beliefnet can and must contribute to the discussion, so I’ll ask it. And I ask it with all respect:
“Where are they now?”
We live in a wonderful country, where the freedom of religion is a constitutional right and (according to the Declaration of Independence) a foundational motivation for how and why our country was founded. We enjoy the freedom and the privilege of relating to our Creator in public and private ways, choosing what we believe about what will happen on the other side.
I believe the time has come for the afterlife not to be a taboo subject to discuss when someone passes on. In fact, the topic is wonderfully timely and relevant, especially in Mr. Jackson’s case. He spent his life dealing with the media poking and prying and evaluating his personal life. Now after his death, the focus is now on drugs, his children, his money and other attempts to generate interest and perhaps controversy. Why not talk about something more lofty and honorable?
With all of the boundaries that television–especially cable television–pushes against in our day-to-day, and in a time when fewer Americans attend traditional church nor default to Christianity as their faith, I wish there was a way to engage young and old fans in the ultimate question of what happens to us after we die.
There are many in our country who believe that we all go to a better place. Many faiths believe those who act rightly go to a place called heaven. Evangelicals believe all those who follow Jesus Christ become “absent from the body but present with the Lord,” and will experience heaven as described in the Bible. Those of Jewish faith focus more on deeds in this life rather than the afterlife. As fellow blogger Dena Ross noted, Jermaine Jackson expressed this wish at the first press conference: “May Allah be with you,” which even the major news outlets either misquoted or intentionally overlooked to avoid a religious discussion. But why?!
The mourning process is always interesting when it comes to public figures. When many of us lose a family member, the sadness of their passing is often accompanied by the search for pictures and the plans for a memorial service of some kind. For people of faith, there is also a celebration of eternal life and the hope of seeing our loved one again. For public figures, the news outlets have plenty of video footage, and there’s a public memorializing that is out of the family’s control.
The coverage of Mr. Jackson’s passing has been more about controversy than tribute, aside from a few old network TV clips from last night’s BET Awards. Ms. Fawcett’s passing probably would have received more press coverage had she not died on the same day as the King of Pop, but at least some coverage was given to her courageous battle with cancer. The coverage of Mr. McMahon’s passing was starting to die down, although there was time for talk about his difficult finances and his prior battles with alcohol. Mr. Mays’ death will likely not make a large media splash, due to the timing and the fact that a pitchman is probably not covered as widely as a music or television star.
As it will be with all of us, what each celebrity did in life can now only be recognized and remembered. We can hold on to fond memories of them and have fond feelings toward them. People who are inclined to interpret life and form a worldview according to a faith covenant are bound to consider: where these celebrities are now, how the deaths should affect our lives right now, and where we will go when our own time comes.
Reflections like these would be the highest tribute we can pay to each of each celebrity who has passed away recently.