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Could collages and fairy stories ease our grief for Diana?; AMANDA WARD JOINS A BEREAVEMENT WEEKEND FOR THOSE STILL IN MOURNING.

THE voice of the small, dark-haired woman trembled as she began to speak of emotions she'd tried hard to suppress.

Addressing a roomful of strangers Jackie spoke about how much she respected and admired her heroine Princess Diana.

A fine-boned hand clutched to her throat she whispered: "I could really identify with Diana and feel, in a way, her death has taken over my life. I feel scarred in many ways by her death. I'll never get over it."

Jackie was a late arrival at the bereavement weekend retreat aimed at helping people still grieving over the death of the Princess of Wales.

For me Jackie's words were the most moving tribute uttered at the two- day event entitled the Diana Weekend.

I've been a Di fan ever since I'd visited London as a birthday treat when I was 12 and watched her wed Prince Charles.

I'd avidly followed her life, her romances and admired her bravery ever since. And I had felt sick to my stomach when my boss rang with the terrible news at 6.30am that Sunday morning, nearly a year ago.

I had reported on her funeral and cried when Elton John's haunting ballad rang around the silent London air outside Westminster Abbey on that sad day.

So Jackie seemed to echo my thoughts exactly as we approach the anniversary of Diana's death on August 31.

The weekend had been advertised on the Internet and 23 people, including therapists who'd had to deal with the aftermath of Diana's death, had gone to Bleddfa in South Wales, to take part.

The event cost of pounds 60-a-head including lunch, though one man had dropped out because he was still too depressed, said organiser Lee Donald.

Those attending were a strange mixture. And proved once again that Diana, Queen of Hearts could touch anyone, at any age.

The group, mostly women, met on Saturday morning at 10.30am in a converted barn. It seemed an unlikely place at first to reminisce about the People's Princess.

They included a young man in his mid twenties, a pretty blonde girl in a long blue skirt, two teenagers aged 15 and 16 who'd come with an adult, an American woman, an elderly man and his companion, a forthright middle aged bloke, a silver-haired nun and a woman with a blonde bob.

Some participants had travelled hundreds of miles. Others had just popped down the road after finding out about it from James Roose-Evans who is founder of The Bleddfa Trust, which is running the event. James is also a non stipendiary priest.

The first day began with James admitting he didn't feel any personal loss at Diana's death.

James says: "But I do feel something extraordinary happened to individuals and the psyche of the nation."

HE went on to describe those extraordinary scenes that will live with many of us forever.

He spoke of the silence of the crowds as they paid their floral tributes at Kensington Palace, the collages, the candles laid in her memory, how he saw one man in his fifties sobbing like a baby in the arms of his wife.

He described how the Princess lay: "Like a Sleeping Beauty in the middle of an island in a lake, like something from an Arthurian legend."

Ann Shearer, analytical psychologist and writer, said: "She carried something beyond herself for so many people. Everyone felt as if they knew her. When we saw the wreath saying 'Mummy' we have our own thoughts about relationships with our parents and the losses we've had."

The nun spoke of her memories: "I felt a sense of shock when I heard the news. But I didn't expect such a reaction afterwards.

"I went to Kensington Gardens, saw the flowers and signed the condolence book. I thought 'Why am I here, is it because everybody else is?' Then I thought, no, it felt right."

After lunch we set to work. Magazines were laid out on trestle tables with tubes of glue and paper. We had express our feelings by choosing images which summed up Diana for us. Then we examined each other's.

One woman had simply cut out "Goodbye England's Rose" on a garden background, another filled her paper with poignant images of Diana's face from childhood to maturity. Someone else had her peeking through a blue curtain.

The next day Bronwen Astor began her reading by putting forward reasons why we could identify with the Princess: "Diana was described as a fashion icon, a strong woman, compassionate with tremendous gaiety and a rescuer."

People who visited Diana said she made them feel better." She was Bronwen said: "A Christlike figure who appeals subliminally. She bore our own sins, our weaknesses and sufferings." Admittedly there were some exercises I found hard to fathom that afternoon.

Such as standing in a circle, shouting our name and doing an action to it, and then repeating everybody else's.

Equally baffling was having to write a fairy story about our own life with ourselves as the main Princess. This exercise we had to keep to ourselves.

But Jackie's story moved me. She'd just been to see the Althorp museum and wanted to share her experience with the group.

SHE said: "When I went to Althorp I was struck by the similarity of the feeling to when Diana died. There was a hush in the air and people had such respect for each others' feelings as we walked around.

"No one pushed or shoved. You hear so much about violence so to see humans pulling in one direction is quite something.

"When you see the flowers it's staggering and the smell of roses is extraordinary. The condolence books from all over the world show the impact she had."

Then, having said her piece, she set off on the seven-hour journey home.

James closed the weekend with these words: "The thing is to grasp the essence of Diana underneath the fragmented woman she was, so the candle in each one of us goes on burning as we go on in unjudgmental love."

The experience was an unusual one, intense and exhausting.

But, in my own way, it was a chance to pay my own tribute to this unique woman.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Ward, Amanda
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 22, 1998

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