[This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I wrote this letter shortly after her funeral.]
In your message of September 5, 1997 you wrote:
I’ll be up early tomorrow, as I’m sure will be millions of others, to watch the funeral of the Princess of Wales. I am devastated by her death and have cried every day and somehow can’t come to terms with the reality of it or why I’m taking it so hard.
I’ve cried, too. Why is it that we in America are taking Princess Diana’s death so hard? She was a young woman of extraordinary beauty, but we don’t usually feel a personal loss when other young, beautiful celebrities die. We might feel sympathy for the family, perhaps, but not this grief.
It must be somewhere in all of the rest of the story.
We were enchanted by her fairy-tale romance with Prince Charles, certainly. All of us grew up on “happily ever after” tales, and as we grew older and it became harder to believe in magic, we desperately wanted the magic to be possible for SOMEONE. For it to happen to a real prince and princess made believers out of all of us again. There was a lump in the whole world’s throat on their wedding day. Later, we rejoiced in the birth of their children.
When the “happily” dropped out of the “ever after”—when their marriage was no different from any other failed marriage—we still had faith in Diana. We admired her dignity, her integrity, and her devotion to her children. If the story of the Princess of Wales had stopped there, though—if she had retreated into the privileged life of palaces and protocol—we would have remained interested in her but not this fond of her.
Diana continued to captivate us by what she decided to do during the “ever” of the “after.” She took her boys out in public from time to time and made them stand in line like everyone else. She forced the media that hounded her to turn their cameras on her causes, bending some of their attention to the problems of her nation and the world. She took the dried stems of her heartbreak, disillusionment, and broken dreams and made them bloom in her hand. Then she gave the flowers away.
And therein, I think, lies the reason for our grief. It’s not that Diana was young and beautiful; it’s that she treated the young beautifully and had a beautiful compassion for those in need. She befriended the common people, and now we, the common people, have lost a friend. We mourn for her family; we mourn for her country; and we mourn when we think of all the good she had yet to accomplish.
If the unprecedented worldwide sadness over her death and focus on her funeral make millions want to be more like her—more caring as human beings, more bent toward works of charity—then her true beauty will not die with her. The flowers that sprang forth all over Great Britain this past week will bloom all over the world.
With you in sorrow,