The Princess and The Crown

The rest of the house was quiet. There was no one with whom to talk, or cry, except her. I think it worked. There was something about that tiny little body, with its heat concentrated and radiating, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been alone in the dark with the television blaring.

It was Saturday, 30 Aug., 1997, shortly before 6:00 PM Central. Princess Diana was rushed to Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpétrière. The news reported that she had been in an accident due to her driver trying to elude the paparazzi (while drunk and speeding). At this point, she had not died. Early reports said that Diana was suffering from a concussion, a broken arm, and a cut thigh. From that moment forward, I was glued to the TV. The tears didn’t fall immediately, but when they did, our family cat, the aptly named “Princess,” wandered into my room. I was lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows, and as per her normal, laid on my chest so that she was in a perfect position to knead my shoulder and slobber. Turnabout is fair play. My tears began to land on the top of her head, and when she heard me, she didn’t move for almost eight hours. There was something about her tiny little body with its heat concentrated and radiating outward, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been completely alone. By 11:53 PM, Diana was dead.

Because of the images coming from Britain and France, and keeping my own lights off, I had to look up what time it was in Houston. In my memory, these events were also in the middle of the night, because the times reported were midnight to 6:00 AM.

In doing research for this entry, I learned something else heartbreaking:

In 2019, Dr. Richard Shepherd, Britain’s top forensic pathologist, concluded that Diana died of a tiny, badly placed tear in the vein of her lung. ‘Her specific injury is so rare that in my entire career I don’t believe I’ve seen another,’ Shepherd wrote in his book, Unnatural Causes. Shepherd believes Diana’s death could have been prevented by one small change- a seatbelt. ‘Had she been restrained, she would probably have appeared in public two days later with a black eye, perhaps a bit breathless from the fractured ribs and with a broken arm in a sling,’ Shepherd wrote.

I am certain that the public will never know why Diana got into a car with a drunk driver, or why she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The questions, especially so long after the fact, are irrelevant. It smacks of victim blaming, when Diana was hounded by paparazzi from the moment she started dating Prince Charles, even speculation before it was announced led people to camp outside her house.

Though The Crown on Netflix did not make me weepy (much), it is a very different experience watching a story when you already know how it ends. I imagine countries full of people in their collective mourning, watching Diana come into herself, starting to live the life she wanted, rather than caught in a mouse trap, and why her tragedy looms so large.

And in a small way, this entry memorializes my Princess as well. She is long, long dead, and that is the memory I most associate with her- the quiet determination she showed in trying to make me feel better as the people’s princess slipped away.

During the funeral, I was away on a choir retreat with about 50 other people. It was in Galveston, surrounded by the warm beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. When the march of the casket toward Westminster started, we were all gathered together, watching on the world’s smallest TV. You could have heard a pin drop for hours.

And yet, as much as I enjoyed having 49 other people with whom to grieve, I knew exactly where I wanted to be….. lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows.