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Posts Tagged ‘loss’

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Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah and about the impossibility of being in love?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

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I have been crying since mid-day on Friday. I came home after brunch with my oldest child, my lovely now grown-up daughter, to hear the horrible news from Newtown, Connecticut. For the rest of the day, I sat at my computer writing an opening brief in another heartbreaking case – a father’s trial for the abuse of his six-week-old baby – and I cried as I worked. It was all I could do.

I kept thinking of Jeremiah 31:15: “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” So I thought of Passover and, then, later of Herod’s massacre as he searched for the Christ child. Matthew 2:18, writing of Herod, parallels Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
There is no grief deeper, I think, than the loss of a child. Jeremiah and Matthew capture that. A born Southerner turns to the King James Bible in times of great grief, even if he or she hasn’t been in a church for some time. It is our heritage and our culture. So the words haunted me.

As I worked and cried, I looked over at the Christmas tree in my living room. News like this never comes at an acceptable time. But it’s particularly hard at Christmas when children of six and seven still believe in Christmas Magic. When my own children were small, I taught Sunday School; and every Christmas, I taught them about the coming of the Christ Child and about the shepherds and the Magi, who traveled to witness the miracle of so much love entering our world. Children of six and seven can believe in the magic of Santa and the joy of Christ’s birth whole-heartedly in a way that we, as adults, can only marvel at. And bask in its glow.

The conundrum of human love is that it inevitably leads to loss. In what form, we cannot predict. But from the beginning of any loving relationship, we know there will be an inevitable end. Some people – and I have known my share of them – refuse to love so they cannot experience loss. To me that choice is the equivalent of refusing to live. For only by loving others can we be truly who we were born to be and be truly alive.

When my grandfather was 104 and still as sharp mentally as anyone could be, he said one day that he was not afraid of death. He said that to him, death was simply another part of life. I have lived from my beginning knowing that we are immortal spirits. I will not tell you how I know. That is too personal. But I know. And so I know that the twenty-six amazing souls from Newtown have been separated from us, but they have only been transformed, not lost. Still, the separation is a great grief. Yet as I watch and experience this profound sadness, I see how this unthinkable loss unites us, and I marvel at the strength and the good that comes from human beings in the face of great tragedy. The word that Emilie Parker’s father used in his moving speech about his lovely child is the touchstone for all of us: Compassion.

I cannot travel to Newtown and place flowers or candles or stuffed animals at the memorial. I cannot tell every parent how I how hold them in my heart, and the tears I have shed with them. But on Saturday, I did finally think of my own private way to create a memorial in to these amazing souls. And it goes like this:

I was buying food at Trader Joe’s. Our TJ’s is also next to a Chuckie Cheese, so on Saturdays the little food store is full of families who have completed the Chuckie Cheese adventure and are buying groceries before heading home. Tiny people are whizzing tiny shopping carts through a highly crowded environment and, at the same time, looking for the Trader Joe’s Monkey, hidden somewhere in the store. Finding the Monkey nets a child a sticker or sometimes a gold coin made of chocolate.

As I began trundling my own adult-sized shopping cart through the store, I dodged several pint-sized shoppers who were bent on finding the Monkey and definitely were not looking where they were going. And suddenly I realized that I was not all inconvenienced by having to look out for them. No, I was inspired by their joy and happiness, and by their confidence they would reap the prize at the end of the adventure. And I thought that if the new little angels from Newtown were powering those shopping carts, they would be excitedly on the same adventure. And I was happy at the thought.

If you let it, the joy and magic of being a child can still rub off on your adult self. My own personal memorial will be always to enjoy and give thanks when I am in the presence of the magic of children. I have to say, I have always believed in this. Kids and dogs come to me spontaneously – I guess because I never grew up. But I don’t say think you enough for being in the presence of so much joy. And from now on, I will. And I will remember Newtown and its children, whenever I do. Thank you for the magic of being a child and for letting those of us who have grown up be touched by your magic. We love you.

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