There are some people we just assume will die young. We've become accustomed to it. We imagine somewhere in the sky is a great banquet table filled with JFK, his brother and his son, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Princess Grace, Marilyn Monroe, and of course, Princess Diana.
Of all the deaths of one taken young, the one that impacted me most personally was the death of Diana, the former Princess of Wales, not simply because she was a role model for many both in her beauty and her activism, but because my life bumped into her death in a most extraordinary way.
We'd gone to New York City on a preplanned trip to see the U.S. Open tennis tournament in early September 1997. While the first part of our week was spent primarily watching matches at Flushing Meadows, we were settled comfortably in our suite at The Carlyle in Manhattan by the morning of September 6th, when Diana's funeral was broadcast to televisions worldwide, including ours at the hotel. Room service and bathrobes seemed the only sensible choices, and grief was on the menu.
Diana had been there not long before collaborating with Christie's auction house in New York City for her dress auction, which raised over $3 million dollars for cancer and aids charities. During the June 1997 auction, Diana also stayed at The Carlyle.
The room service steward wheeled in a cart with breakfast just as the services were starting, and sobbing, told us how he'd just waited on Diana two months earlier, and how much the hotel staff had loved her visit during the dress sale. He pulled up a seat and watched with us for a while, something that seemed for the circumstances entirely appropriate and professional, as the entire world had come to a stop to watch, and mourn.
Throughout our stay, staff at the hotel were quick to comment on how much they enjoyed Diana's visit, how gracious she was, and how sorrowful they were at her untimely death. They thought I resembled her, likely due to the Dianesque short blonde bob I was wearing at the time, and the fact that I was decidedly younger then. (Doubtful it was the Spencer blood passed down to me by a great-grandmother.) The doorman commented on it every time I passed. Ah, Diana. They truly loved you at that hotel.
Two days later we were sitting in a pew at St. Patrick's Cathedral for the New York City memorial service honoring Mother Teresa, the nun from Calcutta, whose death closely followed Diana's. We listened with thousands of others as religious and civic leaders honored the memory of the 87-year-old founder of the Sisters of Charity, including then Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the late John Cardinal O'Connor. As we'd done every day that week, we stopped to light a candle and to say a silent prayer for the memory of both women who'd become friends in life.
When we finally departed for the airport, we were driven by the man who'd driven Princess Diana during her stay at the Carlyle. Again, he freely shared with us his affectionate feelings for her and his sorrow at her death while we made our way through New York traffic.
Had she worn a seat belt? I asked him.
"No," he responded. "She never did."
I reached back and fastened mine. Tight.
This article was originally published as "Such a Death" on June 27, 2009, and is being reposted in recognition of the anniversary of the death of Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales, thirteen years ago on August 31, 1997.