Driving home from work last week it was surreal to listen to local news coverage of the live press conference in Chanhassen, MN, knowing that the whole world was tuning in to my home town. Local law enforcement was addressing the public outside of Paisley Park, home of the rock legend Prince who, of course, had just died. The grief for us Minnesotans is unique and multilayered because Prince, while being an intensely private man, was also deeply embedded in his Minneapolis community and its suburbs where he was born and raised. After the renovation of the Minneapolis fixture the Uptown Theater, a local movie critic mentioned in passing that Prince occasionally slipped in to watch a film. (It became my habit after that to scan the audience to see if he and I had the same cinematic taste.) He had his own private table at the Dakota Jazz Club downtown. Some of my friends live a few doors down from one of his rental properties. I had even heard that he would once in a while do some door to door evangelizing for his small church located in St. Louis Park just minutes from my own home.
But nothing has made Prince’s humanity more real to me personally than my recent discovery that Prince and then-wife Mayte Garcia lost a child to a rare and incurable disease in 1996. Prince was virtually silent on the subject, but I read Matye’s words with complete understanding as she talked of how the death of their son, Boy, contributed to the collapse of her marriage. “I believe a child dying between a couple either makes you stronger or it doesn’t. For me, it was very, very hard to move forward and for us as a couple I think it probably broke us.” When my own daughter died I walked the same path. My husband and I were lucky. We made it. But there were ugly, ugly moments, Mayte. And we didn’t have the pressures of fame and public scrutiny that you and Prince had to shoulder.
The tributes to Prince are numerous and I have smiled at some of the wittier recollections of people like Liz Meriwether who had the privilege of working directly with him on an episode of New Girl. But these pieces, as lovely as they are, also remind me that fame is isolating. My own personal journey taught me that grief is isolating and Prince had to deal with both. I don’t know how much of Prince’s personal loss contributed to his need for privacy, but I feel a deep sadness thinking that perhaps his fame made it that much harder for him to grieve for the loss of his child. I wonder if all of the hype and idolizing of him obscured the fact to his associates that at end of the day each and every one of us have this in common; we all suffer.
I also don’t know anything about how Prince grieved. It never occurred to me to expect a Prince sighting in the Minneapolis cemetery where my own daughter is buried. I don’t know when he finally got the courage to take down the swing set in the yard one of his backup dancers said he put up in anticipation of the birth of his child. I don’t know if he could bear to eventually change the play room he showed Oprah into a room with a functional purpose. I don’t know if he ever wondered on Boy’s birthday what life would have been like if he had lived. I don’t know any of these things, but I hope that he found some way to be a parent to his child or at the very least hold Boy’s memory in a sacred place inside him.
Prince’s fans are mourning the loss of a rock icon and a musical genius and, of course, he was these things. But I mourn for him as something far more elemental. I mourn for him as a husband who tried to hold his marriage together in the face of unimaginable loss. I mourn for him as a father who had to do the unthinkable and bury his own son. Rest in peace together, Prince and Boy.