Wednesday 22 November 2017

Sinead Ryan: It's time to stop mourning and let Princess Diana rest in peace

We have been collectively mourning someone we don't know for 20 years. It is time to let Diana rest in peace

PA file photo of Diana, Princess of Wales 9John Giles/PA Wire/PA Images)
PA file photo of Diana, Princess of Wales 9John Giles/PA Wire/PA Images)
Princess Diana in Paul Costelloe
A time to move on: Princes William and Harry, seen here on Wednesday visiting the floral tributes to their mother, Princess Diana
The Prince of Wales and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry view the sea of floral tributes to Princess Diana at Kensington Palace almost 20 years ago. Photo: Rebecca Naden
Princess Diana
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

This newspaper, like other broadsheets, has a section on the 'personals' page for acknowledgements, where the family of a deceased person offer a public thank you to friends and colleagues for supporting them in their loss.

Some people like to have it printed a month after death; others a year, or on the person's birthday, or make a donation to charity or have a Mass said. It's a small ritual which signifies the end of the mourning period. It doesn't mean any of the sadness has gone, but that life goes on.

We've been collectively mourning someone we didn't even know for 20 years now. Is it time to let Diana, Princess of Wales, finally rest in peace?

Her sons think so.

The Prince of Wales and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry view the sea of floral tributes to Princess Diana at Kensington Palace almost 20 years ago. Photo: Rebecca Naden
The Prince of Wales and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry view the sea of floral tributes to Princess Diana at Kensington Palace almost 20 years ago. Photo: Rebecca Naden

In the spate of interviews and documentaries they gave this month on the BBC and ITV, and to some magazines, they made it clear it would be their last public comment on their mother - surely one of the world's most famous and photographed women ever.

They chose as a permanent memorial a walled garden within Kensington Palace, rededicated in white flowers, along with the fountain and playground erected some years ago in her memory along the Serpentine river. It's the royal equivalent of a notice in the paper.

In the broadcasts, William and Harry both spoke lovingly of their mother, who they lost at the age of 15 and 12 respectively, so they were tragically young. They were reserved and circumspect, but did give us new nuggets of information on a woman about whom we surely thought we knew everything at this stage.

Conflicted personality

But to them of course, she wasn't a public figure, she was just mum. So, their insight was essential viewing for royal watchers to see if they could delve any deeper into the complex and conflicted personality that was Diana.

We saw a few private family photographs, not taken by newspapers. We heard about their 'final' phone call with her, although they omitted the exact words. We found out that she believed in very free parenting, to the point that she encouraged her kids to 'get into trouble', as long as they didn't get caught. That she had completely enveloped them in love was apparent. You don't fake that sentiment and Diana, whatever her flaws, was a wonderful, involved parent.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana

She saw her job as being to mould the boys in a different way to the royal family and knew she had only a short few years to do it, before duty took over. She had had a terrible upbringing herself, devoid of close parenting, despite all the wealth, and was adamant about bringing up her boys differently.

That is why both are now sensitive, kind young men and in William's case, a fantastic father, and by all accounts, a loving husband. Harry has expressed his desire for children also.

Diana would have been a super grandmother. Glamorous of course, but caring and present. She could have been a great foil to the Middletons. She should have lived to do it.

The Conditional Perfect Tense. The 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' tense. Everything about Diana is framed with rose-tinted glasses and a soft haze around the edges. In reality, Diana was falling apart in her final days; she was chaotic and made poor decisions and had ditched all advice.

So what? The facts change nothing.

There is a new generation now and perhaps it's best to leave them at it. Diana fundamentally changed the way the British monarchy operates. It is more accountable, open and with greater expectations of its members.

They are expected to Do rather than just Be. So, is her job finally done and is it time for us to consign her memory to the same history books in which Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother reside?

After two decades, are we done with Di?

Mourning rituals vary the world over but all acknowledge that there comes a time to move on. In the Catholic tradition, there's the Month's Mind, and then perhaps an anniversary Mass.

The Aztecs believed mourning to be an art form, and employed professional mourners - wailing women to get everyone to let it all out. We had similar 'keeners' in Ireland until the middle of the last century.

The Victorians of course, had rules for everything and mourning had strict social customs. A wife mourning her husband was obliged to wear heavy black crepe with a widow's cap for a month, followed by black silk or wool for six months before deigning to don lavender or grey for the rest of the first year. Victoria herself never got out of the deep mourning black for the full 40 years she was a widow.

Today we have Facebook which operates practically as a memorial site for some people. They'll post pictures of their loved one on special dates and invite 'likes' to buoy them up. Celebrities are no different. On any given day, you'll see posts on Twitter and other social media 'reminding' us it's a year, or five or 15 since so-and-so died. There'll be a slew of 'RIP' or 'OMG' comments below that or maybe pictures or quotes of the person. So, even though she lived mostly in a pre-internet age, Diana is no less immune to the online tapping into her life and death. We no longer have to wait until a TV channel or news editor decides it's time to run a memorial item; it's constant if you know the right hashtags.

Even now, there are dozens of 'Diana' accounts (none of them, apart from the charity @DianaAward, verified). They post gushing sentiments about her life, dresses, work, children and boyfriends.

Are they 'mourning' or just cashing in on followers?

William and Harry, who actually followed her funeral cortège, were dismayed and bewildered by the mourning of the crowd as they walked.

"The wailing and the crying and people wanting to touch us… I was 15 and Harry was 12", said Wills. "It was like nothing you can really describe, it was very unusual. They were shouting and literally wailing at us. Throwing flowers, yelling, sobbing, breaking down, people fainted, collapsed."

Somewhat poignantly, Harry added: "I couldn't understand why everyone wanted to cry as loud as they did, and show such emotion as they did when they didn't really know our mother."

The single best decision taken following Diana's death was to bury her on an island at Althorp, her family home. It is now closed to visitors and never took on 'shrine' qualities, unlike the 'Flame of Liberty' statue at the Pont de l'Alma tunnel where she met her end.

Unveiled in 1986 as a recognition of the friendship between France and America (it's a life-size replica of the Statue of Liberty's flame) it is covered, to this day, in tatty photos of Diana, padlocks, candles and graffiti. Most people believe it was purpose built for Diana.

This week, the gates of Kensington Palace are once again adorned with wilting flowers and pictures covered in plastic bags.

Maybe we should take our cue from those fine boys, and say a final 'Rest in Peace'.

@sinead_ryan

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