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Grief porn

April 20, 2017

Prince Harry opened up recently about his near-breakdown as he struggled to cope with the emotional fall-out from the loss of his mother, Princess Diana.

It was a brave statement, and one that will, you hope, help others who have struggled with mental health issues find the courage to get help.

But you have to wonder just how much we, the public, and specifically those who need to grieve publicly for people they hardly know, contributed to Harry’s  despair.

In  the aftermath of Diana’s death, the world demanded the Royal Family put their grief on display for all to see. The Royals were at Balmoral when the tragedy happened – and nothing they said or did was enough to quieten the baying hordes. The Royals were criticized for (a) going to church as usual that Sunday morning; (b) Not returning to London quickly enough; (c) not lowering the Royal Standard at Buckingham Palace.

They were a family deeply shocked by Diana’s death. No matter what the broken relationship was between Prince Charles and Diana, the fact was there were two young boys who had tragically lost a mother they adored. And who adored them. Yet they were not allowed to grieve in private. We wanted to see them. We wanted them paraded before us in their moment of deepest, direst agony.

While the world obsessed over meaningless gestures – such as flying a flag at half-mast – two young children were going through the worst time of their lives. The Royal Family was clearly struggling to deal with that very personal grief. And the world didn’t much care about them.

The most comforting place for a family at a time of such sorrow is often church. The solemnity, the ritual, the still, small voices of calm, can provide great solace for those who are suffering.

Yes, possibly the Queen should have returned to London earlier – but this was a sudden and shocking turn of events. Don’t forget, this was a caring grandmother trying to help her grandsons through a massive tragedy.  Who in the same situation would board a train to London?  There was no PR manual to help them through it. Possibly one of the most poignant news photographs I’ve ever seen was that of Prince William and Prince Harry following their mother’s casket.

Yes, there were things the Royals could have done more elegantly. There were things that weren’t said right. But there were two young boys caught in the middle of all the finger-pointing and recriminations. As the world made its way to the gates of Kensington Palace to leave their bouquets, too few considered what was happening to them. We have a right to expect certain things of the Royals: they should attend public events; they should lend their names to charitable fundraisers. They should give leadership in times of war or when the country is suffering. They should also be there for times of celebration.

But the pomp and circumstance aside, they are still mortals. They should be allowed their private grief and not be judged on how they mourn.

Because 20 years on, you have to ask if the public’s need for the Royals to mourn in public  isn’t in some way to blame for some of what Harry went through.

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