Princess Diana with her sons, Prince Harry and Prince William, in London in 1995.
Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images
Princess Diana and her extraordinary sons are back in the news given that August 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of her tragic death in a car crash while visiting Paris.
Perhaps you have been reading the numerous news articles marking this significant event or you watched the HBO special where Diana’s sons, William and Harry, lovingly shared family pictures and tenderly spoke of their mother’s dedication to numerous charitable causes.
While it has been 20 years since Diana died, I think we all agree that watching her sons talk about their mother in such an open way reinforces the idea that talking and reminiscing about a loved one who has died, no matter how long it has been since their passing, is a healthy and healing way to work through those incredibly painful and disorienting feelings of loss.
Prince William gets right to the heart of it with his declaration of how it is for him: “My mother lives with me every day.”
That’s it. Right there.
Our loved ones continue to stay with us even though they are no longer living.
Through fits and starts, we eventually carve out an emotional safe zone for ourselves as we continue to remember the person we have lost, hold them desperately in our hearts, yet continue to wake up every day and live our lives in the best way we know how.
We wish that life would wait for us as we try to process all of the conflicting emotions we feel about their death but sadly, life does not work that way. The calendar continues to briskly move forward as we, the ones who loved and cared for the deceased persons, replay the things they said and the things they did while alive.
Even if it’s only a fleeting thought, that person stays with us in some manner.
Especially their last words.
Twenty years later, we can still feel the pain as William and Harry talk about the last telephone conversation they had with their mother and how much they still regret not talking to her differently and for a longer period of time. How could they have known that it was going to be their last conversation with her? They were very young, William, 15, and Harry, 12, and their chat with her was typical for boys that age. There is no way that they could have known what was going to happen.
Yet the conversation stays with them and Harry said he will always regret “for the rest of my life, how short that phone call was.”
I think we all know exactly what he means. Don’t we all think about the last time we talked to a loved one before they died?
The words they said, the way they said them to us. What time of year it was. Or what time of day or night it was. And of course, what was left unsaid.
To this day, I can totally recall my last words to my husband before he died.
It was a Tuesday night and I was tired and I had fallen asleep on the couch as we watched television with our young son. I needed to go to bed because I had to go to work in the morning and my husband said he would wait for our 13-year-old son to take his bedtime shower.
As I kissed him goodnight, I asked him how he was feeling because he had not eaten much for dinner.
“I’m fine,” he said and squeezed my hand. “I”m okay. You go to bed and I’ll wait for Ryan to shower and then I’ll make sure he goes to bed.”
“All right,” said. “If you don’t mind. I’m beat.”
I leaned down to kiss him and I said, “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds.
“I’ll see you upstairs.”
I turned around and walked to the stair case and that was our last conversation.
You have no idea how happy I am that those were my parting words.
I can’t imagine how awful it would be if I had said something unpleasant or snarky because I was tired and impatient.
I would have had to live what I had said and that would be it. I’m sure I would regret it and I’m sure that I would beat myself up over a final negative conversation but I thank my lucky stars that it isn’t the way it happened.
I know it would be a human thing to do if I had said something short but after all these years it is so much easier to think about our last conversation as the one where I told him I loved him instead of one where we might have been cross.
The notion that you never know when you are having your last conversation with someone is always in the back of my mind when I am talking to those who are dear and loved and my husband’s unexpected and sad death in his sleep later that night showed me in a very dramatic way that words stay with you.
Oh yes, they certainly do.