Today marks sixteen years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I always link Diana and the last day of August; in middle school my best friend’s birthday coincided with this anniversary, a fact I reminded her of every year, probably causing a dramatic and unnecessary pall to settle on the otherwise happy occasion.
More recently, what gets me is how far removed I am from the event (chronologically and, I admit, emotionally, though it didn’t feel like that at the time) and yet this day still sticks out from the summer calendar like a neon sign. It was one of the first lasting memories I made.
August 31st, 1997, began like many other life-altering days: The morning was sunny and cloudless at the beach–I was less unsuspecting than completely sheltered from pain and sadness; I was coddled, lucky. That’s why my mother’s appearance surprised me when she returned from the town payphone, having called my grandfather (this was before we realized it was necessary to have a communication device at the house): She held a tissue to her eyes, blotting tears. I stood at the top of the blue-carpeted stairs and asked, “What’s wrong?” My 27-year-old retrospect believes that I thought, at 11-years-old, “What if President Clinton was killed?” but I can’t be certain of that now.
“Princess Diana died,” she replied.
I don’t remember crying, but when I told my father this he scoffed and said I turned into a blubbering mess. What I do remember is changing into the only semblance of mourning clothes I had: a black mini skirt and a black shirt, unfortunately punctuated with one of those garish, trademarked yellow smiley faces.
After her September 6th funeral I orchestrated an elaborate paper doll funeral for the late Princess of Wales: The Tudors attended, including all of Henry VIII’s wives. I had two versions of Diana, so I fashioned two coffins from black and red construction paper. Distraught that I could not recreate the Royal Standard with my meager art supplies, I settled for covering the coffins in the Union Jack flag. This bothered me, not only because it was an inaccurate replica of the coffin, but also because I stubbornly defied Palace edicts and continued to refer to the Princess of Wales as “Her Royal Highness”; I knew she deserved the Royal Standard. (This was placed, after some dissent, over the actual coffin.) I have a picture of my finely dressed paper dolls, along with my cat, lined up in the living room, paying their respects to the cut-out representations of one of the most important women in my life.
Sixteen years later my mother still says my family has been blessed enough that our worst tragedies were the deaths of Diana and the aforementioned feline. I’ve always wanted to visit Althorp, Diana’s childhood home and where she is buried; it turns out Althorp is finally shutting its doors to tourists, which, in some ways, will better suit the memory of the late Princess of Wales. I do wonder what she would say and how she would feel about the beautiful love between her son and a “commoner”; I hope she would be thrilled at the birth of her first grandchild.
I don’t mean this to be maudlin, it’s just one of those things that sticks with me, you know? Many of my opinions of the late Princess of Wales have shifted in the past sixteen years, but I do know she is sorely missed and I hope to continue to honor her memory when I can.