Harry and the Isolation of Grief

 

Let’s talk about Harry’s memoir SPARE for a moment, shall we?

Like many of you, I have complicated emotions about Harry’s tell-all. When Harry told Anderson Cooper about the fight with Will, I thought of how upset their mother would be that her boys aren’t the best of friends.

That’s the image, after all, that the Royal family has projected all these years, isn’t it? Especially during the time Harry was single and Will and Kate were reportedly on such friendly, loving terms with him. Or so we were led to believe by the same press that has taken a battering ram to Harry since he married Meghan.

When Harry divulged that he nor Will wanted Charles to marry Camilla, I thought well, who could blame them? She is, after all, the reason Diana didn’t get the happily ever after life Charles promised her on the altar the day they exchanged vows.

As to those whining to the press that Harry is embarrassing and shaming his family – really? The man who would be King told his mistress he wanted to be her tampon and the whole world heard it. What in the world could be more mortifying than to have your sexual fantasies of betrayal broadcasted for the entire world to mock? Unless, of course, it is your brother’s sexual appetite for teenage girls. And his lies covering it up.

When Harry said he hasn’t spoken to his brother or father for quite some time, I thought about the many months my own mother quit talking to me because like Harry, I, too, was about the business of writing my story, the story of our family. Six months passed in which my mother refused to speak to me. Months in which my own siblings were like, Why are you doing this?

When Harry said he nor Will could speak of their mother’s death when they were young, and that the death didn’t draw them together, it drove them apart in many ways, I thought, yep, boy do I know that. Death separates us in all sorts of ways. Families falling apart after a death is a common and universal experience.

It was silence that divided our family, that drove me to write the memoir of my father’s death in Vietnam.

Harry was 12 when Diana died. My brother’s age when our father died. I was 9 and my sister was 7.

Harry said what he remembers most is that when Charles told the boys Diana was dead, he did not offer them comfort. He did not hug them.

The first one to hug me after I learned of my father’s death was my granny, and that was a couple of days later. In a stupor of grief, my mother thought me too old for such comforts. While she held my sister close, she distanced herself from me. A behavior that would continue for decades to come.

Like Harry, I couldn’t understand that. I desperately needed the comfort my own mother could not bring herself to provide. And like Harry, that resulted in me spending many years in therapy and eventually in writing the story as I remembered it.

Here’s what a lot of people who haven’t experienced the death of a parent in childhood don’t understand: Grief is isolating, especially for children who lack the verbal or emotional skills to articulate complex thoughts.

Writing can empower the wounded, allowing people like me, like Harry, the ability to take the chaos of childhood and to organize it into a structure we can hold in our hands, at least for a moment.

My mother did not want me to write our family’s story. In one particularly heated moment, she yelled at me, “This won’t bring your father back! What’s the point?” 

She was wrong about that. Writing can resurrect the dead in a way that nothing else ever can. Even now as I tell you this, I am resurrecting my own mother and her voice and the memories I have of the struggles we endured.

Patti Reagan Davis says she regrets writing a memoir about her father. She says Harry will regret it, too, eventually.

Perhaps.

There are definitely things I regret writing in the memoir After the Flag Has Been Folded. After reading it, one of my dear friends remarked that she wasn’t sure she needed to know all of that about me! I am not sure anyone needed to know all of that about me, either. It is uncomfortable meeting readers and wondering if they are envisioning that moment I lost my virginity, a story I might not tell if I were writing the book today.

I remember my editor telling me during the writing of the book that I didn’t know how to be anything but honest. I have no regrets about that. As I explained to my mother, “If I don’t write another word, this is the story I am meant to tell.”

There was no denying that it was my lived experience. Just as Harry’s book is his.

Whenever I teach workshops on memoir writing, the one thing I insist upon is that the writer has to be willing to tell the truth…. no matter what.

If you aren’t willing to face and tell the truth, don’t bother.

What annoys me about a lot of these pundits carrying on about Harry and SPARE is that so many people are outraged that Harry is so honest. (It reminds me a lot of how many reacted to his mother and her unwillingness to cover for those who’d done her wrong). Yet, these very same people are silent when Jeremy Clarkson writes a column about his hatred of Meghan Markle. The 62-year old said he “hates her on a cellular level.” That he looks forward to the day she is stripped naked and paraded through the streets of the United Kingdom.

Headlines are agog over Harry’s revelations in SPARE, while Clarkson refers to his written comments calling for Meghan to be shit-smeared as “clumsy remarks.”

Ah, that’s the thing about racism and misogyny, isn’t it? So easy to dismiss it as no big deal. Just a clumsy statement by a well-meaning chap.

My heart hurts for Harry, for Meghan, for Will and Kate, and yes, even for Charles. I will reserve the right to remain silent about Camilla, because my mother taught me that if you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say nothing.

My mama got over being angry with me for writing the story when she saw how much telling the truth of such a hard story helped Vietnam veterans and Gold Star families. She grew to be proud of the book, and even of herself for surviving all that trauma.

My siblings and I still don’t talk much of how isolating it was to be the children of a soldier killed in action. We grieve differently because we had different roles in the family and different relationships with Daddy. We can and do, however, speak his name now which is something we didn’t do growing up after he died.

I have learned that there is no right way to grieve, there are only healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve. Writing is a healthy choice. Silence is not.

“Your book is a hard read,” a bookseller in Atlanta said to me upon the publication of After the Flag. 

“If you think it is a difficult read, you should have tried living it as a child,” I replied.

That is really all the response Harry needs as to why he’s written SPARE: If you think it is hard to read, you should have tried living it as a young boy before the public eye. 

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded, WilliamMorrow/HarperCollins. 

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

6 Comments

Lois Breedlove

about 4 weeks ago

Your book has done so much good for veterans and their families, especially the survivors. I'm proud of you for writing it. I know it was hard work. It changed you. You found yourself in the writing of it. And yes, I think the same will happen for Harry. If the rest of the family is as fortunate as your family, they may come to a better understanding as well. But I'm skeptical that will happen. They think they have too much to lose, not realizing how much they have to gain.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 4 weeks ago

Thank you, Lois. Your words are healing. And yes, writing it changed me in ways that therapy alone could not. If money and power had been tied to my healing, I am not sure it would have ever happened in our family either. Families are messy because we love. If we didn't love, and need the love of family, it would be easy to walk away. It's obviously very painful for them all because they love one another on a cellular level...

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Twayne

about 4 weeks ago

Spot on m’lady! 👊

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 4 weeks ago

No one knows the truth of all of this better than the man who has had to walk it with me.

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AF Roger

about 4 weeks ago

Thank you.

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AF Roger

about 4 weeks ago

Love. Thank you for emphasizing the word without which life is impossible. I won't forget why After The Flag... was originally titled Hero Mama--A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost in Vietnam--and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together. I'm proud to own the original proof copy. It's not a Hollywood love story but a real one. That's what life is. Thank you.

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