Her final ceremonial progression through the streets of London raised haunting memories of her first, on a brilliant morning 16 summers ago. That was when a watching world fell in love with the beautiful princess, her new husband by her side, being borne in a carriage toward an enchanted future. Her return journey last Saturday morning carried her, alone, moment by moment, step by cadenced step, inexorably into the past.
In one sense, though, Diana, Princess of Wales, was not gone. The day before she was blessed and buried, her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, made a rare, hastily arranged televised statement putting, after days of puzzling silence, the royal seal on the pain that so many ordinary people had already registered so sharply: "No one who knew Diana will ever forget her," the Queen said, looking directly into the camera lens. "Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her."
Nor, in a similar way, was Princess Diana alone during her final public appearance. She was joined by more than a million people in central London who lined the route of her funeral procession; by the 2,000 mourners inside Westminster Abbey who had been invited to attend her funeral service. Tens of thousands more gathered along roadsides to say farewell as she was driven roughly 70 miles northwest of London to Althorp, her family's ancestral home. And across the earth's 24 time zones, hundreds of millions interrupted their waking or sleeping schedules to gather around television sets.
The pictures they received were arresting and regularly heartbreaking: the pomp, circumstance and pageantry so characteristic of the historic solemnities staged by the British monarchy, but with a contemporary difference, both hip and humanizing, that marked Diana's singular imprint on the House of Windsor and on the world's notion of royal behavior.
Even her coffin captured this mixture of the traditional and the personal. It was draped with the royal standard; on top of that rested a spray of white lilies, Diana's favorite flower. And there was something else: a bouquet of white tulips from Prince William and a wreath of white roses with a card bearing the handwritten word Mummy from Prince Harry.
Diana's cortege was joined along the way by five of the men in her life: her ex-husband and former father-in-law, Prince Charles and Prince Philip; her brother Charles, Earl Spencer; and her two sons, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, who will turn 13 next week. They walked behind her coffin, and then so did five representatives from each of the 110 charities with which Diana had been associated. A few were in wheelchairs, a few more on crutches. They were not the sort of people ordinarily invited to march in royal processions, but they were Diana's people.
So were the glittering guests lining up outside Westminster Abbey, waiting to get in. The spectators looking on, many of whom had camped out at this prized location for two days and nights, quietly applauded the celebrities they spotted, among them Tom Hanks, Luciano Pavarotti and Diana Ross.