Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dealing with the Loss of Grace

For a number of reasons, mostly his kind and friendly temperament, Prince Albert II has never been viewed as an exceptionally “strong” monarch. Before he came to the throne many worried what would happen once the firm and familiar figure of Prince Rainier III was gone. Albert seemed like too nice of a fellow to make the big, tough decisions required of a prince who is expected to actually rule his country. There had been no such trepidation about Rainier. He was the man who had gone head to head with Aristotle Onassis and won, faced down Charles DeGaulle and even exiled his own sister when she acted against him. Yet, Rainier was a man who felt his feelings hard and Prince Albert had more inner strength than most people gave him credit for even fairly early on. At no time was this more demonstrated than at the darkest moment for the family: the tragic death of Princess Grace.

Rainier III was positively devastated. One of his best friends had died the year before and, contrary to what some dishonest tabloids tried to imply, Grace was the love of his life and the center of his world. Everyone saw the sad Mediterranean monarch, head bowed by grief, walking behind the casket at the funeral, doing everything according to protocol, even attending a second requiem mass several hours after the first (something not so many are aware of). His heartbreak was evident but he seemed to be bearing the burden solidly. Yet, what the public did not see was how inconsolable he was in private. Immediately after it happened Prince Rainier simply shut down. His beloved wife was gone, his baby girl in the hospital -it must have seemed like his world was falling apart. It was in that most terrible of situations that Prince Albert, only 24 at the time, stepped in to fill the breach.

For several weeks after the passing of Princess Grace it was Prince Albert who covered for his grieving father. Although obviously he was extremely struck by the tragedy as well (everyone said Albert was the most like Grace and he was the apple of her eye) he nonetheless shouldered the burden for his father. He dealt with the officials, the courtiers and it was he who took the phone calls from the multitude of friends of Princess Grace that came pouring in after the news of her death hit the news. He put off going to New York to study international finance so he could deal with the tragedy and he showed a side of his character that not many had had occasion to see before. The sympathetic young man was effectively acting as a guardian for his grief-stricken father, screening him from the intrusion of the world at such a time until he could compose himself. Princess Caroline also stepped up to help her father at the time. She took charge of the palace, overseeing the staff, the maintenance and even ordering meals for Prince Rainier. She would also often go to the hospital to sit up overnight with Princess Stephanie. When he was able Prince Rainier also visited several times a day if only to stop and play cards.

Not surprisingly, Princess Stephanie had a particularly terrible time dealing with the situation. Her uncle, John Kelly Jr. said, “Stephanie is suffering not just from her injuries but from the trauma of being there when it happened. I think maybe in some way she might be blaming herself for not having done something to save the situation”. Obviously, that would be quite a burden for a seventeen-year-old girl who had been arguing with her mother just before the crash and then had to deal with all of the hurtful rumors that spread afterward, adding even further to the pain common in such circumstances known as ‘survivors guilt’. While the others had duties to keep themselves busy, even if only helping take care of their father for Albert and Caroline, Stephanie had many long hours in her hospital bed to relive every detail of the tragedy in her mind over and over again. The overnight stays by her sister and the visits by her father, several times a day, certainly helped. They had always been close and the tragedy only drew them closer as it did the family as a whole. Once stable enough himself Prince Rainier led the way in their coping as a family, taking them away from the glare of Monaco to the island of Nassau where they could spend time together coming to grips with what had happened and trying to occupy themselves with other things when possible.

Many people wondered how Rainier would carry on without Princess Grace. He had never loved being in the spotlight and had been the shy type ever since he was a boy. Princess Grace, the actress, the socialite and international celebrity, had in many ways been the public face of the Monegasque monarchy during their marriage. She excelled in dealing with people and Rainier had given her a great deal of freedom in handling things in which he knew she was better suited than he was. How could he go on without her? Of course, he did, and the tragedy perhaps showed all of them what they could cope with when they had to. Princess Caroline stepped into the role of ‘first lady’ admirably, working together with her father to fill the space that Princess Grace had occupied in public life. Albert continued on with his preparations for his destiny to become Sovereign Prince one day, despite the worries of people that he was too nice, too accommodating and eager to please to be the sort of tough monarch that the people of Monaco expected. Those who said such things did not know how he had shielded his father in those terrible days after the accident. He was made of tougher stuff than anyone had imagined. Those closer to the family noted that the tragedy had a maturing effect on him.

Princess Stephanie has probably had the toughest time carrying on after the tragedy, which is understandable. Her meteoric ups and downs over the years have caused many to blame it all on the absence of Princess Grace. ‘If she had been around things would be different’ was the attitude. That may be true or it may not. Both the Grimaldi girls have always been very strong willed and both parents learned that once their minds were set to something there was finally nothing that could stop them. Of course, had the accident not occurred Princess Stephanie would perhaps have at least been spared some of the emotional trauma she had to endure that the rest of the family did not and that may have caused her to make different decisions in her life. However, we can say that Princess Stephanie, perhaps because of the tragedy, has displayed a desire to live her life (to quote a song of hers’) because it can be cut short without warning. She has also carried on the tradition of her mother in her charitable work and her compassion for others, regardless of their background or personal choices. In that regard, I think Princess Grace would certainly be proud of how all of her children have done since she has been gone.


  1. I always especially enjoy your posts on Rainier and Grace and this one in particular was very moving.


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