Abraham Lincoln said once that the best way to predict the future is to create it, and for me, that determination translates into a positive, optimistic, personal philosophy: good can and should come out of everything, no matter how bad, tragic or awful, as long as we make sure that it does. So when someone dies, we need to look, as we reflect on their life and seek to honour the person, at what we can learn and how we can make sure that the effect of their life – and sometimes their death – is a life-enhancing one.
It would be easy to be sanctimonious in examining Amy Winehouse’s life and draw attention to the lessons to be learned about the consequences of the toxic cocktail of all those drugs and drink that clearly damaged her, and will almost certainly have contributed to some extent to her early death, even if this happened because she was trying to dry out, as reported in the Daily Mail today. And of course we should use every opportunity to communicate to our young people that a drug-fuelled or hedonistic lifestyle is ultimately not the path to happiness that it might appear. But there are two more important aspects to her life from which we can learn – the power of her music and her love of her family – and these have the potential to be lasting positive legacies of her life.
Her musical persona was amazing – that voice, that hair, that face. By all accounts, at her best she was compelling in performance – a kind of white soul icon who transported fans back in time while grounding them firmly in the harsh realities of life in the noughties. She didn’t shy away from controversial subjects, and she seemed just to tell it as she saw it, in an uncompromising, direct, no-nonsense way. We may not agreed with all she said, but we respected her right – and her capacity – to sing it. Her music will live on.
And as for family, one of the images that will remain with us is that of the then 26 year old Amy cuddling up to her father and sucking her thumb. Family was important to her, and her family are distraught at her death. When a daughter/son/brother/sister dies, the scale of loss felt by their family is unimaginable. We are reminded of the intense strength of family relationships, and how we would do anything we could to protect our children from harm. And we share in the grief for Amy’s loss with her family. She was, after all, just a child.