Like so many other women, who didn’t think they thought much about Princess Di while she was alive, my grief at her death surprised me. Many in the media expressed confusion that average people would care so much about a woman who spent more on cosmetics in a year than many of us earn. A woman who, even before marrying into a royal family, and after divorcing from it, had a life of great privilege. I myself couldn’t understand it. But just as the news from Paris thirteen years ago cut an unexpectedly personal wound in me, so too did today’s news of the death of Marie Osmond’s son.
Too young to have experienced it firsthand, my relationship to the Osmonds’ music is mostly of the retro, so-bad-its-awesome variety. The fabulously dated hair and costumes, the “little bit rock’n'roll” that couldn’t be less so. But I can’t resist the story of a woman trying to muddle through hard times, coming out strong for herself as best she can.
Sure, Marie isn’t really one of us. There is an I-don’t-even-know-how-many stories tall picture of her on the side of a building on the Las Vegas Strip. In terms of finance and name recognition, she’s several stratospheres apart. But like Princess Di, she wears her vulnerability on her designer sleeve. (In Marie’s case, probably one she designed herself.) They share an inexplicable everywoman quality that, try as they might to cover it up with expensive foundation, oozes forth its lumpy mix of unfulfilled promises and life-sustaining small joys, crying out, “I’m you!”
Marie has hit all the good Mormon mom no-no’s and tragedies: working mom, divorced, lesbian daughter, post-partum depression. (Here, too, she outdoes us real everywomen, who can only claim a couple of these.) But for every Mormon failing, there is a very Mormon success. She makes dolls. They look to me like projects from a nightmarishly difficult Honors version of RS Enrichment Night. They remind me of all the jars I’ve canned. Preserving pieces of homegrown fruit, I was also preserving dreams of being that perfect Mormon mom I can never seem to be. If love can cover a multitude of sins, perhaps that is why we Mormon women pour so much of it into tenderly made jars, centerpieces, scrapbooks, cookies, tomato plants, lesson handouts and dolls. I may not have as much patience as I need, but I do have a shelf full of old-school Mormon woman canned goods, and I hope it counts for something.
The fact of Marie’s continued public life reminds us that even if we’re not perfect, and, just as importantly, even if everyone finds out we’re not perfect, it will be ok. We won’t have to go into hiding. That’s what that giant smiling billboard on the Strip says to me: “I’m not perfect, and I’m not hiding.”
Though Mormon women like to have a general veneer of perfect, ward Relief Societies being intimate as they are, we also know who else in the ward has been divorced, whose daughter is pregnant and whose son is in trouble with the law. To a remarkable degree, we still accept each other and strive for that elusive perfection together. At its best, that’s what Relief Society is. Maybe the reason we ache for Marie and Dianna is that we want to gather them in and protect them the way we do with our sisters in the ward, but they’re just out of reach.