The word spare has many meanings but generally refers to a version of ‘deal gently or leniently with, show consideration for’.
That’s the mindset with which I, as an experienced bereavement counsellor, began reading Prince Harry’s recently published book Spare. His title was certainly referring to the familiar term ‘an heir and a spare’, but might also have been sending a conscious, or unconscious message to his family to ‘deal gently or leniently with’ him, and to show consideration for his feelings. A plea perhaps, to be understood.
Pre-publication, the media predicted that the book would be ‘a weapon of mass destruction’, capable of destroying the monarchy. I have found instead, that Harry’s story is, more accurately, a great example of the grief of a child bereaved in early life. If read word for word, sequentially from start to finish, the reader gets to understand Harry in the context of his whole life and therefore the unsurprising normality of his way of expressing grief. Much of his story would be familiar to anyone who has counselled bereaved boys in particular, their tendency to self-medicate in their teens, and perhaps become involved in risk-taking behaviour.
Like many bereaved children, Harry had difficulty accepting the fact that his mother was really dead. He longed for her to return with the kind of magic she brought to his early childhood, most of his intense sadness held in check until he reached the safety of a loving, adult relationship with his wife. Good therapy also helped.
As an advocate for bereaved children, I think Spare is definitely worth a read, if read for the right reasons. There are no real bombshells, possibly a few date and memory inaccuracies (“recollections may vary”) but I doubt that Harry’s story will really change people’s pre-existing perceptions about the monarchy and the main ‘players’ in ‘the firm’.
What I hope it might achieve is an increase in some folk’s understanding about grief, and the grief of boys bereaved in childhood in particular. I’ll highlight some of those important points.
- In grief we all regress and become an exaggerated version of our former selves
- Physical and emotional safety, truth, inclusion, compassionate understanding and a wise advocate enhance a child’s ability to learn how to live with grief and fulfill their potential
- Many bereaved children later grieve more deeply in the safety of a loving relationship in adulthood
- Becoming a parent often stimulates painful memories, longing and regret, along with surges of grief
- Grief never ends – it’s not an illness from which we recover.
- Over-tiredness, illness, physical or emotional stress often bring grief (and regression) back into foreground
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve but some grief behaviour can put self or others at risk of physical, emotional or spiritual harm
Read carefully, and with a compassionate mind-set, you will find examples of all of these points in Harry’s story.