It’s been impossible to ignore the coverage of the death of John Travolta’s son, Jett, who apparently died as a result of some kind of seizure.
Today the Telegraph website posted pictures from the Travolta family album, presumably issued by the family, showing tender snapshots of a boy, who may or may not have been autistic, and his loving family.
Two things struck me about these pictures: one was the reaction of a friend, who remarked, on the news of Jett’s death, “well, maybe it will be a relief for them too…”. When Lockie, our deaf child, was born, one unthinking neighbour remarked that for me to have another deaf child “would be irresponsible.” Because a disabled child can only be a burden, right? There’s not a day since that I haven’t wished I had greeted that ignorant comment with the response it deserved. I suspect the Travolta family are going to have to endure a lot worse.
Which brings me to point two: the fact that any online news story about the Travoltas is already thick with readers’ comments, some of which attack them for their Scientology beliefs, some suggesting those beliefs were responsible in some way for his death.
You know, I don’t think there’s anything much appropriate to say about or to the parent of a child who has died, apart from how sorry you are, how awful it is. I am no apologist for Scientology; the little I know about it provokes a response in me that is part hysterical laughter (Xenu? Really?), part deep distrust. But whether the Travoltas denied Jett’s diagnosis of autism seems less relevant to me than the news that he had not one but two full time nannies, at least one of whom was looking out for him when he died. These are not the actions of neglectful parents. As we recover from the spectre of Baby P, I wouldn’t be too quick to attack the grieving Travoltas.
In the age of instant comment, everyone feels they have a right to a public opinion on almost any story of the age. Perhaps they do. Reading some of the comments about the Travoltas over the past 48 hours, put out without thought, or self-censorship, however, I can’t help wishing for an age where as my mother used to say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all…