Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed September 16, 1997
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

After Diana

The princes will do fine, says sociologist, if allowed to express grief

Lynn Davidman, associate professor of sociology, Judaic studies and women's studies at Brown University, comments on the effect of Princess Diana's death on her two sons. She is at work on a book about mother loss in adolescence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- "Those poor boys," was the lament of many after hearing of the tragic death of Princess Diana. Those worries are well-founded, according to Lynn Davidman, an associate professor of sociology, Judaic studies and women's studies at Brown University. Davidman is writing a book about mother loss during adolescence - specifically ages 10 to 15. From interviews of some 60 adults, Davidman has found two emerging themes: silence and a loss of care for the children.

Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12, appear to be taking a healthier road, says Davidman. "They have a whole entire nation supporting them and allowing them to grieve," she says. "The people of England are being quite un-English. The usual response in that culture would be to be strong, keep a stiff upper lip and move on."

Davidman also points to the princes' maternal uncle, Charles Spencer, who noted in his now-famous eulogy that he intends to help raise the boys to show their emotions, not just their sense of royal duty. That freedom to talk about their feelings and to express them, especially during mourning, "can only help them deal with the pain, based on my research," says Davidman.

The silence surrounding a mother's death, experienced by nearly all of Davidman's interviewees, creates an aura of shame and embarrassment and feeds a sense of isolation. "It can set up a pattern of silence about talking about this very important event in one's life as these individuals become adults," she says. "This isolation can impact other relationships in one's life and work against intimacy with others, especially in sharing this important episode."

Compounding the silence is the experience of losing caring, "primarily because they've lost their care giver," says Davidman. "As a sociologist, I'm interested in how this experience is shaped by the larger society, and how post-industrial societies - like ours and England - have a gendered organization of caring."

Davidman's research has helped her break her own silence surrounding the death of her mother when Davidman was 13. That trauma was never discussed in her Orthodox Jewish household. This new book "was very difficult and very challenging. Many of the interviewees cried during the interviews. Sometimes I cried with them."