A FRIEND CALLED and whispered her confession to me.
It had been more than a week and she could not get over the death of Princess Diana and she was almost ashamed. She barely noticed the glamorous woman in life, she said, but she could not think of anything else now that she had died.
"My husband thinks it is ridiculous. But I can't seem to get past this," she said. "And I think it is because of those boys."
My friend was right. There are many -- mostly women, I think -- who continue to be disquieted by Diana's death. Not grief-stricken. Not wretched. Not even sorrowful, really. Just uneasy and unsettled.
It is because we are thinking of her sons. And of our own.
The official pictures of Prince William by the stream in Scotland last month contrast sharply with those taken just last March at his confirmation in the Church of England. He must have shot up 6 inches in the intervening months. And his face changed remarkably. At 15, he no longer looks like a young boy, but like a young man.
I recognized in his metamorphosis the recent swift changes in my own son. He has grown nearly as tall as his father since his 13th birthday last winter, and his face has changed astonishingly. Even he has noticed, saying in a private moment that he didn't recognize himself in the mirror anymore.
I think of what might happen to Joe if I were snatched suddenly out of his life, and it is so painful that I cannot make my mind rest on it for long.
It might be his fondest wish, when I am irritating him, to have me disappear in a puff of smoke. And I know he is launched on the world, in many ways, and my work is nearly done. But he cannot always hide his neediness and I cannot bring myself to think of the million ways he would miss a mother.
And the way William and Harry will miss theirs. The sympathetic imaginations of women with children were overheating during the mourning of Diana.
That is why the pledges of the tabloid press to refrain from publishing any but official photos of Princes William and Harry, to respect their privacy during this time of grieving, is not really a comfort to us.
We want to know if they are OK.
The press, chastened for its role in making Diana's life a misery and, perhaps, contributing to her death, is even said to be discussing a proposal to leave the children alone until they turn 21.
We would laud this restraint if their mother was still alive. Certainly Diana and the boys had a right to eat pizza, ride jet skis and just luxuriate in the pleasure of each other's company without the firing of camera flashes.
But now we are eager for any word and any sight of the boys, and ashamed to admit it.
We want to hear from some anonymous household staff member that little Harry was seen being cuddled with hugs and pets by his grandmother. That William was seen taking long walks with ** Charles, the father's arm draped in comfort on the big boy's shoulders.
We want to know that the house master at Eton or Ludgrove went to the boys' rooms late one sleepless night for a chat. That one of the boys railed in temper at his father over some minor disagreement and then fell sobbing into Charles' forgiving arms.
Anything at all that would tell us the boys are grieving openly and being comforted lovingly would resolve the disquiet we feel. A news blackout for the next six years will not do that, I am sorry to say. It will only make us worry more that the boys have been drawn back inside the remote and chilly Windsor family, and out of the sunlight and laughter and impulsiveness that was their life with their mother.
My friend asked me, tentatively, to let her know if I happened across any news reports about the boys. She was worried, I think, how I might judge her, until I told her that I, too, combed the newspapers for any word on the children.
But it is not gossip we are after. It is reassurance.
I don't want to see a picture of them shaking hands at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, when they are all turned out and polished and with their royal masks in place. I don't even want to see a picture of William kissing his first girlfriend.
I want to know if William and Harry cry for their mother and if someone comforts them. I want to know if they can turn to each other. I want to know if some aunt or friend of the family has stepped into Diana's place as the fun parent.
Word of the boys and their well-being will come, eventually, I think. I don't for a minute believe these pledges from the press to let the boys grieve and grow up out of the public eye. And I would not be surprised to see the monarchy, so stung by charges of heartlessness, making a display of caring for William and Harry.
"I hope the boys will be all right," my friend said to me.
And I hope we know it, I answered.
Pub Date: 9/16/97