The Good That Can Come out of This Grief; A MESSAGE OF HOPE FROM DIANA'S LOCAL BISHOP .

Article excerpt


THE British have always been a reserved nation. Refusal to display emotion is almost a defining national characteristic. We have prided ourselves on our stiff upper lip showing our feelings in public is something that only foreigners do.

Few would have guessed any such thing, if they were to judge us by our behaviour over the past sad week.

I walked, with my wife and two young sons, among the crowds besieging Kensington Palace, beside St Mary Abbott's Church; I saw the flowers overflowing, I saw people lighting candles and setting up small shrines, I smelt the joss sticks, I heard people wailing in grief.

All this was very un-British. We have mourned as a nation before. The death of Winston Churchill united us in grief; the death of Queen Victoria, for all her great age, must have left everyone with a similar sense of immense loss.

Yet then the grieving was formal. Only now is the public expression of grief so unrestrained. Perhaps this means we have changed as a nation. Diana was informal, unstuffy, untraditional - a person who wore her feelings on her sleeve and who was not afraid to bring much-needed emotion into public life.

If we have learned from her life and her death to be a little less frightened of showing our feelings, that can be no bad thing. As a nation we have always found it difficult to articulate grief. In the old days, formal language and formal religion - and formal belief - perhaps made that less of a problem.

People knew what they were supposed to do in the face of death: they encountered it more often. They knew how to deal with it. It was an unusual family in our grandparents' and great-grandparents' time that had not lost a son or daughter - to say nothing of older children killed in the world wars.

Today we do not encounter death so often. We have persuaded ourselves that it happens only to others - to the old or the very sick. When it comes suddenly, to a person who is young, beautiful, healthy, we are the more unnerved by it, and the more frightened.

It brings home to us something that 20th century man has run away from and shut his eyes to - that we all must die.

And we have no formal, established way of dealing with that sorrow and that fear.

In the days following Diana's death, we saw the nation trying to articulate its grief. It was emotion in the raw. The flowers tried to express what people could not put into words.

The messages that my family and I read, pinned to those flowers overflowing the paths outside Kensington Palace, were simple: 'Diana, we loved you', 'Queen of our hearts'.

They may have been artless, but they were from the heart; the nation was trying to express its feelings and to find some meaning in her death.

That mood remains. The nation is united and searching for something. Here is an opportunity surely of some kind: it would be tragic if that mood withered and faded, and brought no lasting change.

The Church had two tasks last week: first, to help people say what they wanted to say; and second, to offer those who wanted it the Christian understanding of life and death. …