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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Swindler

thoughts on grief and Princess Diana

When I was six years old, Princess Diana died. It was the first time I ever witnessed grief. People talked about Diana like she was a member of our family, like she was everyone’s best friend. My aunt bought the People magazine cover memorializing her death. There was a Beanie Baby, the ultimate sign of 90s icon status. She was talked about around dinner tables. And now she was gone.

When I was six, I was obsessed with the children’s show The Big Comfy Couch. I would curl up next to my mother and watch it every single afternoon. I loved getting a peek into Loonette and her doll Molly’s world. At night, I would lie on my floor and try to make myself into the hands of a clock, just like Loonette would. I would climb onto my not-quite-as-big but definitely comfy couch with my own doll, imagining a world like Loonette’s all for myself. It was perfect.

Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997. I started the first grade a few days later. 

There are a lot of changes for a child entering the first grade. I was starting at a new school. The school day was now a full day instead of half. My backpack now contained grown-up, important things, like a matching binder, notebook, and pen (everything in that hot pink that seemed to be the only “girly” color option in the late 90s and early 2000s).

But the most significant change would be to my afternoon TV schedule. My mother could have broken this news to me one hundred different ways. She could have explained that The Big Comfy Couch would be on while I was now in class, emphasizing early the importance of getting your education. She could have lied and told me that we no longer got PBS; it was, after all, the only channel I liked that we got, and I knew that we, unlike most kids, didn’t get the “good channels.” She could have told me that the show was canceled without any further explanation; who was I to understand the decision of a television network? She could have really said anything, and to this day, I don’t fully understand why she went with the option she did. 

My mother told me that The Big Comfy Couch was canceled because the woman who played Loonette was Princess Diana, and she was dead, unable to continue on as Loonette from the grave.

And because I was six, and this was my first encounter with death, and I knew nothing about the actual duties of a princess, I believed her.

Until I was in college.

You read the right. I, with my whole heart, believed that Princess Diana played the beloved Loonette on The Big Comfy Couch until I was twenty-one years old.

Twenty-one years old. I could vote and buy a drink at a bar, yet I never doubted this side hustle of the beloved Princess.

I had never stopped to question the audacity of this belief. It wasn’t like I spent hours thinking about the TV show. What reason did I have to second guess my mother? My life moved on. It wasn’t until I was in college, reminiscing about our childhoods with my roommate, Molly, and we got into an entire argument about Loonette that I learned the truth.

I had been lied to. Of course, Princess Diana had not moonlighted as a children’s show character. 

My mother had a history of stretching the truth, but I never once thought she would dare mislead me about something as important to me as The Big Comfy Couch.

My mother died almost eight years to the day as Princess Diana, August 21, 2005. I was the same age as Prince Harry when his mother died, twelve. 

Grief can do funny things to your memory. Even as I type this in 2024, I realize how far we are from 2005. It has been almost 19 years since I had a conversation with my mother. It is a long time to try to keep the memory of someone alive.

And yet, somehow, grief allows us to do so. 

It is bittersweet. The memories that we hold on to versus the ones we lose. Why did my brain hold so tightly to the lie that was my beloved Big Comfy Couch but forget so many other, more important things about my mother?

As I get older, I understand better why my mother lied about Princess Diana. Change is a really hard thing to comprehend, especially as a kid. How do you explain the passage of time and school hours to someone who can’t read a clock (much less contort their body into one!)? How do you explain to your child that a beloved public figure has died? How do you tell your kid that DVR and streaming platforms are years from being invented, so if you are not in front of your TV at the right time, you may never see that episode again? 

My mother most likely didn’t think twice about her Diana comment. How was she to know that this would become a core memory, a touchstone of that period in my life. I will never forget when Princess Diana died because I know it was right before I started the first grade, right when I had to say goodbye to my favorite TV show.

Sometimes, it is easier to explain away loss. Making Diana Loonette was a clean break. It was definite. She is dead; there is no more show. In one sweeping statement, she explained the loss of a beloved woman and series. It is hard to understand death, it is hard to comprehend loss, it is hard to figure out how to grieve. So, we logic our way out of it.

It is not that I lie to people about my dead mother. I am, for the most part, really open about her life and death. But it is exhausting to correct someone whenever they ask where my parents live, if my parents visit, or if my parents…fill in the blank. It is always parents plural. I don’t want to tell the random woman at the grocery store that no, no, it is not parents; there is, in fact, just one, as my mother is dead.

When you tell someone your mom is dead, people don’t know what to say. And how are we supposed to know what to say? How do we know what to do? How do any of us know what to do?

Because of my Big Comfy Couch trauma, I will forever relate my mother to Princess Diana. I can’t think of Diana without thinking of my mother.

There are a thousand conversations I wish I could have with my mother. But I want to forever leave this Diana memory intact. I don’t want to know if she remembers telling me this. I don’t want to know why this seemed like the most logical explanation to her.

Because I know that she knew I was, in my own little six-year-old way, grieving. Grieving the change of schedule, grieving the innocence of childhood, grieving my old school, grieving my old friends. In just a few years, I would be grieving my mother. That is a lot for a child to carry. There is only so much loss one little heart can take.

For my mother, it was not about a TV show. It was about protecting her child from the harsh realities of growing up.

Today is my mother’s birthday. I always try to take time away to honor her memory–to cling tightly to the things I remember, no matter how insignificant they seem. To honor her memory this year, you will find me curled on my own big comfy couch, icing my back after, once again, trying and failing to do the Loonette clock stretch.

1 comentario

24 feb

“For my mother it was not about the TV show. It was about protecting her child”📌

These words right here are a reminder that a mother will do anything possible to protect her child. Loved reading every little bit of this

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