An open letter to Prince Harry

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Dear Prince Harry,

The two months after my mum died do not exist in my memory. The first memory I have after she died in July is my birthday in September. What I did, who I saw, what I said or thought in the time between July and September, I will never know. I stumbled through life as I do when I get up in the night and forget to put my glasses on.

I have previously referred to the time as like being sucked into a black hole, and you probably understand that. You have called the time before you grieved “total chaos” and I am lucky that I only suffered through that period for about two months. I was so privileged to get twenty years with my mum – you had just over half of that. It was helpful that we were aware, if only for a week, that we were going to lose mum – it was a complete shock for you, and must still be. And when I needed to grieve, I could shut myself off and process everything – you are a member of the Royal Family, everything you do is scrutinised and your grieving process has been a public one.

You should be incredibly proud of yourself

I’ve been on the verge of punching someone too. I used to go on long walks by myself and punch the air – because I needed to punch cancer and I couldn’t. I’ve also been so incredibly empty that I didn’t even have the energy to be angry. A world without your mum is not one that you want to get out of bed for, and sometimes even anger is too much effort. Have you ever had no oxygen left in your lungs because you’ve run too fast? I used to live in that state 24 hours of the day. But like you, I saw a counsellor – and like you, it was the best thing I did to address my grief.

The most refreshing thing about chatting to my counsellor was realising that everything I was thinking and feeling was completely normal. She talked me through the stages of grief, and although my emotions still catch me by surprise all the time, it’s easier now to recognise why I’m suddenly angry or sad or lonely. My counsellor encouraged me to dedicate time to processing my grief, helping me to realise that my brain was physically reeling from the pain of losing mum. Spending time thinking about her hurts every time, but it also brings me so much joy as I remember the laughter, the lessons learnt and all the love we shared.

No one is ever alone

You and I share a birthday – September 15. I can only imagine September 15, 1997 – as my own mother celebrated my third birthday, you turned 13 and it was the first birthday without your mum by your side. Maybe you barely even remember it? This year I will turn 23 – it will be the third time my mum hasn’t been present for my birthday, and it still won’t feel normal. Will it ever be normal that she is gone?

We have another thing in common: I’ve recently started boxing, too. Isn’t it the perfect way to get rid of the anger that consumes you? Often, my boxing coach remarks on how frustrated I seem, which at first I couldn’t understand – at 7am on a Monday morning, why on earth was I so angry? The week had only just started! But I gradually started to understand that it was the constant anger that I will now live with for the rest of my life. The anger at losing mum, how unfair life has been, how heartbreaking it is that she is gone – I channelled it into those punches and as they got physically more powerful, I also found my inner strength and resilience.

Let’s talk about this

I have an immense amount of respect for you, William and Catherine for your Heads Together campaign. Already, the public opinion on mental health has shifted considerably, and you’ve made it #OKtoSay that you’re suffering from mental health issues. You’re are changing lives and no doubt will save some without even realising it.

Like you, I’m now in a place where I feel able to help others and is the reason I’ve started this website. However, that won’t always be easy. I am hugely passionate about my website, but thinking and talking about losing my mum will never be easy. So why do it? Because – as you have articulated so well – mental wellbeing is essential and tackling the taboos and stigma will enable young people to live happier, healthier, freer lives.

I believe that young people who have lost a parent when they are young need a safe space to talk through the taboos of loss and death, and to see that they are not alone in their grief. For their friends and family trying to support them, this website provides a collection of case studies to learn from as they attempt to be supportive and caring. 2017 is the year to change the conversation, and your work with Heads Together is exactly what the country needs. I am proud that you are a member of my Royal Family and are using your position of influence to make positive change. My promise is that I’m going to do everything in my power to join you on your mission and help young people who need to talk.

Beth Rowland

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