SEPT. 5, 1997
Diana's Funeral is About What Might Have Been
Rita Truschel


WILMINGTON, DE, USA I will be up at 6 this morning watching Princess Diana's funeral, just as I was up at dawn 16 years ago with millions of others worldwide to see her wedding on TV. I was not a Diana fan; the wedding was as much about Prince Charles finally taking a bride with the full array of British pageantry as it was about his lady's shy charm. People seem to forget the prince was once a popular fellow.

But in the end, having flowered and faltered in front of cameras all her adult life, all Diana had anymore was an audience without the actuality of being an eventual queen. So it seems the right thing to do to observe her last rites, to close the circle.

I didn't envy her. I thought the fuss over her hair and clothes was silly, and the intrusive speculation on her private life obnoxious. Be glad you're common if this is what constitutes the royal treatment. Much of what she did was frivolous and unexceptional. Hers was a fragile femininity, and for all the talk of her influence on the monarchy, she was a pretty conventional woman: a bride and mother, charity sponsor and glamour girl, a divorcee. Love eluded her. The 'more' she was looking for was just out of reach when she died at 36. That and the cumulative stupidity behind her fatal accident multiplies the shock of it.

Her life journey was one so many different kinds of women can identify with. Most every girl grows up knowing the Cinderella story. But we forget that fairy tales are dark, full of sacrifices and monsters. Every woman has lived with disappointment and grief. And history is full of dead queens.

Queen of Hearts
Among the privileges of royalty are affection and awe and distance from the herd. But class cuts both ways. There's a demand for duty and dignity, and distance becomes estrangement. Diana asked to be loved because she was lovely and needy, bartering her magic for the illusion of intimacy with strangers. But the self-styled Queen of Hearts was still looking for meaningful work and reportedly wandered her palace apartment alone on many a Saturday night. As in a fairy tale, the princess was pathetic until she let down her hair, but then she didn't really behave like a princess anymore.

She died pictured as the playmate of a playboy. The fabulous diamond ring found in the crushed Mercedes doesn't compensate for much. The woman of substance she might have become was still a suggestion. This year she visited Bosnia and Africa to campaign against anti-personnel land mines, in conjunction with treaty negotiations among 100 countries. She met with Elizabeth Dole at Red Cross headquarters in Washington and visited with Mother Teresa in Harlem, aligning herself with these women notable for their serious purpose and independent strength. "I want to be like you," she seemed to be saying.

Still, the princess who defied protocol to cry she was more than a mannequin continued to perfect her beautiful face and figure and carry off beautiful clothes like any of the run-of-the-mill pop stars and fashion models she admired.

She might have had it all. Her sons were growing up well. Her prestige as the mother of a future king was assured. She was still young and spirited enough to take more chances at love and a new marriage. And she seemed to have grounded herself in causes that could become a career in significant public service.

But wealth and glamour only put her in the back seat behind a drunken hotel driver, on the run from the publicity monster crazed by her new romance. She promised so much to the public imagination. Her death was so shockingly pointless. Yet the best most of us can do who knew more about her personal business than we had any right to is pay our respects by long-distance television.

Rita Truschel is a Wilmington (Del.) News Journal editorial writer. Send e-mail to rtrusche@wilmingt.gannett.com or click the link, above.




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