(originally published April 19, 2006 and reposted in remembrance of Princess Diana, who died ten years ago this Friday. She was only 36 years old.)
I have been sorting through the boxes of memorabilia my parents gleefully drove 250 miles and gleefully carried into my house, where they gleefully said adios to my junk a little too gleefully. They no longer wanted to store my yearbooks, dried corsages, stuffed animals, blue ribbons from cow-pie throwing contests, paperback novels, or my paper dolls. I left their home long ago, but my copy of Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret was hesitant to fly the coop. We’ve been reunited. Oh, Margaret, getting your period really isn’t as much fun as you thought it would be.
Aidan watched with great interest as I went through several of the boxes. She really liked the shoebox full of late 1970s to early 80s paper dolls and their fashions. We laughed as we read the paper dolls’ names and ages, which I had written on the back of each—Steve, age 23. Patricia, age 19. Karen, age 16. The oldest paper doll was 27. I probably played with her as though she were the grandmother. We laughed at the clothes and I pointed out my old favorites, evidenced by the tattered tabs. I labelled the clothes too. There was a “disco” outfit, a “restaurant with boyfriend” ensemble, and gowns worthy of being worn in competition for Miss Teen Paperdoll USA.
As we neared the bottom of the box, we found Diana. The Princess of Wales.
Who is she? Aidan asked.
“She was a real-life princess,” I said, my voice catching a little and surprising me.
Like many young girls, she was delighted to hear about a real-life princess. I thought about how much detail to give her at the age of eight-and-a-half. Did she need to know about Diana’s profound sadness and loneliness, her eating disorders, her loveless marriage, her life in the glare of the limelight, her tragic and too-early death?
Aidan was born in July of 1997. Diana died August of 1997. Our daughter was a squalling and furious newborn the night we strapped her into her carseat for a calming car ride. My husband and I had been watching a video. We turned off the VCR and noticed Tom Brokow was beginning a special report.. It was late at night so we knew something big must have happened. Brokow related what was known at the moment—Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi, had been in an accident while fleeing paparazzi in Paris. There was no word on their conditions. We decided to watch for a few minutes before heading out to track down the sandman.
She fell asleep in her carseat after a few minutes. For hours we flipped through each network’s coverage until the official news conference confirmed the deaths of three individuals, including a real-life princess.
I held the paper Diana as I thought about that night. I thought about watching the royal wedding as a ten-year-old. We were on a family vacation and in a hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska when Charles and Diana wed. It was spectacular and dreamy—the carriages, horses, guards, flowers, smiles. Diana’s poufy dress, diamonds, her Prince. They waved from a balcony as thousands cheered. It never occured to me anything bad would happen to the Prince and Princess. Only happily ever after made sense then.
Only happily ever after makes sense to my young daughter right now. I could have shattered that for her and told her of Diana’s tears and fiery death, but I knew she would hear the whole story eventually. We all hear it, as we grow up—the whole story.
Diana was a real-life princess. She died, when you were a newborn baby. She was beautiful and generous.
And it wasn’t enough.
I pray my daughter will find her value as God’s child, as a talented and special girl who will grow into a woman someday with none of the problems of a real-life princess.