I am among the the 1.4 million people who purchased Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, on the first day that it became available. I was not so much interested in learning salacious details about the royal family in England as attempting to understand why Harry felt compelled to flee so dramatically from the duties and the life he had been trained to experience from the time he was born. I had already watched his interview with Oprah Winfrey as well as the multi-episode documentary on Netflix in which he and his wife Meghan attempted to explain their decision to leave Great Britain behind and begin a new life in the United States. I had my theories about Harry’s reasons for his public need for raw honesty about himself and his family, but I wanted to verify my thoughts by studying his words.
As an educator and through my own experiences with trauma I have learned that each of us bears wounds that affect how we approach life. Some people are willing to share the secrets and concerns that affect them and others believe that it is best to keep such things private. Many, like me, remain silent and stoic about our trials until they become so unbearable that we have to talk with someone or set down our thoughts in journals. If people are kind when we reveal our suffering we may learn to become more and more open to telling the darkest stories of our lives. It is indeed a freeing experience to be honest. Not having to hide behind a facade is healing, but it is also fraught with possibilities of being totally misunderstood and even spurned.
The key to Prince Harry’s motivation is sprinkled throughout his book, but it is in the first fifty or so pages that the heart of his thinking may be found. He begins with a dedication to his wife, his children and “of course” his mother. Then in a brief but moving introduction he speaks of a meeting with his “Pa” and his brother “Willy” after his “Grandpa’s” funeral. It is there that we learn of his love and admiration for Prince Phillip, a man who liked a good joke and needed to stay busy, the man who seemed to best appreciate Harry’s “mummy,” Diana. As Harry nervously waits for his father, Charles, and his brother, William, he thinks of all that his family and his country mean to him but he nervously hopes that the two men that he most loves will finally understand why he has decided to step down from his duties and relocate to another land. When they arrive and seem as clueless as ever about Harry’s feelings even after his explanations it becomes apparent that they are tied to the stoic traditions of their duties. It is then that Harry proclaims that the book is meant to help “Pa” and “Willy” see more clearly why he has chosen his new path in life. It is his ultimate cry for compassion from the family that he still very much loves.
The ultimate moment in Harry’s life centers on his mother’s death. He beautifully articulates how much he adored her and she loved him. He points out that there are no words that adequately describe what an exceptional person she was. His descriptions of his relationship with her and the shock and sorrow that he felt upon her death resonate quite personally with me. I would only have to change a few words and insert my father’s name to tell of how I felt as a child who was awakened to learn of her parent’s death in a car crash. Like Harry I softened the blow by imagining that Daddy would one day return. It was all too terrible to believe as truth. I created a fantasy in my mind even as I knew that he was really gone.
The central moment in Harry’s life is the death of his mother. Everything before and everything after has affected who he is as a person. He admits that much of his memory of her death is a blur and yet critics of his book are pointing out that some of his assertions are inaccurate. They do not seem to understand, as I do, that our memories in times of great sorrow may not be the same as those of others, but they often explain our states of mind. Harry is not writing an historical tract supported by research, but rather explaining the impact of his mother’s death. He was a little boy who was expected to be stoic and dutiful at a time when his entire world had crashed around him.
It was the end of summer vacation when Diana died. Harry was soon back at boarding school walking through a kind of fog. He seemed disinterested in his studies, mischievous in his behavior. All of it was a way of coping with the feelings that were most certainly haunting him. He became almost silly. I became withdrawn and serious when my father died. Each of us deals with death of a parent differently. All we know how to do is somehow cope or surely our loss will drive us mad. We put on a face simply to survive.
Harry speaks of a fall break when he returns home from school and his “Pa” suggests that they travel to South Africa together. He loves his “Pa” who calls him “his darling boy” and is excited that they will have time together, just the two of them. He longs for connections and time alone to process the devastating feelings that he has. Somehow there is never time for such a thing to happen. Adults around him don’t seem to understand that he is a child who is suffering and needs help. He pushes his feelings deeper and deeper inside.
Harry mentions that he saw sadness in his father and that he wanted his “Pa” to be happy. When Charles brought Camilla to visit with the boys Harry did his best to be nice to her even though he vaguely understood that she had been part of his parents’ breakup. Harry wanted to see his father smile and have joy in his life once again, so he understood that Camilla would become part of his family’s life. He admittedly did not want his father to marry Camilla, but he also accepted his father’s needs.
Harry is his mother’s son in every sense of that idea. He has charisma like she did. He spurns the stodgy traditions and prefers spending time interacting with people just as Diana did. He does not want a repeat of history with his family and so, like his mother, he is honest about his feelings, his struggles, his mental health. He believes that the forced lack of emotion associated with royal duties stunted his father and ultimately destroyed his mother. When he saw the same things beginning to happen with his wife he knew that someone had to finally draw a line in the sand and address the most toxic aspects of pretense. His book is his attempt to set things right. Sadly from the reactions I am seeing, it is clear that he has been totally misunderstood by far too many.
I admire Prince Harry for his dedication to his wife and children and his mother. I applaud his honesty and willingness to speak about difficult topics like mental health. I hope that one day his father and his brother will learn to understand and accept him and to embrace his family. I believe that he needs them and that his mother would want them to love him and protect him in ways that they denied to her. It would be wonderful if this book were to finally bring healing to the royal family. After all, at the end of the day they are just people like the rest of us and their emotions matter.