Musings About Death: Thoughts on Diana, Princess of Wales
I’ve always been fascinated about–and a little obsessed by–death. Over the 33 years of my life I’ve
experienced the loss of my great grandmother, all four of my grandparents, and my mother, who
died when I was 14.
The last time I felt this bad about a celebrity’s death I was in our cabin, near Garden City, Utah.
Friends of my Dad’s were staying at our place on the way to their new home in San Francisco.
We were having dinner, and I remember listening to the news with half an ear until the story
broke that Harry Chapin had died suddenly in a crash on the way to a concert in New York.
I had seen him that February, during the same concert tour. I knew Taxi, Cat’s in the Cradle and
a few other miscellaneous songs he’d managed to get on the radio, but the concert opened a
whole new world to me. And as suddenly as I had discovered his music it was gone.
Within hours of the announcement, the press was speculating about the cause of the crash. It was
never clear whether it was drunkenness, a heart attack or a successful suicide attempt that caused
So it was then, as it is now with the death of Diana, Princess of Whales. That same summer I
witnessed the fairy tale wedding – and bought into the fantasy of her life. In a way I can’t really
describe I found myself identifying with her. I was two years younger than she was, I was
babysitting (my first real job) for the timeshare company down on Bear Lake, and though I could
never have been related even remotely, I had just been to London for the first time in January of
1984, where her engagement paraphernalia was everywhere. So when I got up, in the dark, and
tuned in my tv to watch her marriage, it was almost as if I’d gotten a personal invitation to the
Now, 16 years later, I’ve gotten up in the dark to watch her funeral. I was hoping for some kind
of closure. After all, many of my friends had lost, the same night (and within an hour of Princess
Di’s death) a friend to AIDS. But the feelings are different. With John, who had been diagnosed
well over 10 years ago, his end was inevitable. He had been in and out of the hospital more and
more frequently in the last couple of years. His death (though not the timing) was expected. But
the senselessness of the deaths of Princess Di and of Harry Chapin just beg the question of what
it is we’re doing on the planet in the first place.
I can identify more now with her and the family she left behind. Prince William is only a year
older than I was when my Mother died, though mine had been sick with MS for the entire time I
knew her, and was mostly gone from my life from the time I was 5. When my Grandfather died
two years later, I had no warning. He collapsed, and less than 48 hours later, he was dead. That
was hard to deal with.
Prince Charles is significantly older than I am, but my parents waited a long time to have me –
that makes Queen Elizabeth II in the same age range as them. She could, without a great deal of
stretching, be my mother.
Princess Diana was young, and innocent enough to be considered safe for Prince Charles, who
just didn’t seem to want to settle down. But the writing was on the wall the summer they got
engaged – the press ate up the photos of Lady Diana Spencer, holding one child by the hand and
another at her hip, the sun shining through her skirt to show off her legs. In many ways, it’s
amazing she lived as long as she did.
So, now that she’s gone, will there be a change in the behavior of the press? After watching the
funeral, and the collection of people trotted before the cameras to explain why they were there, I
don’t think so. Maybe the photographers, who ultimately drove her to her grave, will wise up for
a time and lay low. It’s nice that the papers are finally promising not to hound her sons out of
respect for her memory (or fear of retribution from her fans and family). It just seems like too
little, too late.
Why did I watch the funeral? I’m going through the classic steps for dealing with grief. While
the sense of closure I got from watching the hearse carry her into the Spencer estate for the last
time helps, I’m still angry about the circumstances. The finger pointing and stupidity of the
paparazzi, the media, and the French police just make it worse. But at least, for a few hours,
there was honor – and an outpouring of support and understanding that was worldwide.
That night in Utah, I sat up listening to a radio station from somewhere very far away from Bear
Lake, while a DJ played Harry Chapin’s song Circle over and over. I can’t listen to it now
without remembering the night he died, though it gives me less pain than it did.
I believe Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s new version of Candle in the Wind will do the same for me, given time.
Betsy R. Delaney, September 9, 1997