It was an extraordinary episode but what does it tell us? Prospect writers (and guests) try to make some sense of the events of the past few weeksby Michael Ignatieff / October 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
The British public wanted a grand send-off for her because they wanted something better for themselves
It was impossible to stand outside her death. Irony suddenly became impossible. People who went to bed on Saturday night thinking, if they thought about her at all, that she was a foolish and inconsequential woman woke up on Sunday morning to find themselves ambushed by their own emotions. She died a horrible death which upset even those who had been unmoved by her life.
The emotions which overwhelmed the country were large but they were never simple. It was never just a national outpouring of grief. Sorrow is more intense when compounded of guilt and ours was a guilty sorrow. We all had a hand in making the myths which killed her.
Our sorrow began with her and then eddied back upon ourselves. When we mourned her death, we mourned our own. People wept for their own mothers and fathers, for lost children, as if all the unconsoled losses of private life had been suddenly allowed to seek public consolation. The people who placed bouquets on the railings of Kensington Palace might have been decorating their own family graves.
One lesson of her death is how much unexpressed sadness and loss there is in our midst, how much ache and loneliness. The churches do not seem to help. The therapists do not help. We talk and talk. It does not help. In millions of us there seems to be a vast amount of unmastered grief. Her death became the catalyst for these suppressed emotions because we knew she had felt them herself. Her often confused expressiveness gave us permission to break the Windsor code of stoic reserve.
Certainly genuine sorrow was mixed with mawkishness and self-pity. An older generation wondered whether the British had lost their proverbial self-control. But by and large the grief was restrained by a determination to honour her life and dignify her death. The campaign for a peopleÕs funeral for a people’s princess became a great popular uprising, not just against the royal family but against the indignity of dying and the impoverishment of our rituals of commemoration. The public wanted something grand for her because they want something better for themselves than hospital deaths and dry-eyed cremations. The popular uprising which forced an unwilling monarch to pay public tribute to…