The American family is in trouble: according to a report carried out by Cornell University (by sociologist Karl Pillemer) more than a quarter of Americans are estranged from a close family member. He says the figure could be higher because people can be ashamed to admit their isolation from family connections.
The most common estrangement is between parent and child – with divorce playing a key role here. Seventy per cent of parents estranged from a son or daughter had divorced the other parent.
Other factors figure as well, including more emphasis on individualism, personal life satisfaction chosen rather than filial duty, and mobility – people move around a lot more and put old ties behind them.
Perhaps California-dwelling Harry and Meghan, the Duke of Duchess of Sussex, relate to this profile of the fractured American family. Meghan is not on speaking terms with her own father, nor with her half-siblings: her parents divorced.
Harry, who has just signed a $20m (€17m) contract with the publishers Random House for a ‘tell-all’ autobiography to be published next year, is in a similar position.
We mustn’t judge his book before it is written – assisted by an accomplished ghost-writer, J.R. Moehringer”
Patrick Jephson, who was Diana’s equerry, is in little doubt that Harry’s family will be pretty upset by the publication – nicely timed to coincide with his granny’s Platinum Jubilee as queen.
It’s a “glum prospect” for the House of Windsor. “The damage may go deep,” Jephson has written.
We mustn’t judge his book before it is written – assisted by an accomplished ghost-writer, J.R. Moehringer. But since the publishers are paying twenty million bucks for the proposed text, it’s a fair bet that it’s expected to contain some hot material. And it’s a fair bet, too, that much of Harry’s ire will be directed towards his family – perhaps most particularly his father Charles.
In alignment with the sociologists’ findings that divorce contributes to family fracture, evidently the very public divorce of his parents seems to be a root of some of Harry’s ‘mental health issues’ (as well as the tragic death of his mother).
Families ever were complicated. But family relationships are also vulnerable, and the Cornell study indicates that estrangement can prove difficult to repair.
An attempted assassination
It’s 50 years since Freddy Forsyth penned The Day of the Jackal – his thriller about the attempted assassination of General Charles de Gaulle, subsequently made into a famous film. The book was written in just 35 days, and is now regarded as a classic of the crime genre.
The movie made the career of the lead actor, Edward Fox, but greatly admired in a lesser but significant role was the Irish actor Cyril Cusack. Cusack plays the gunsmith to whom the Jackal resorts for expertise, and a movie director I know regards this cameo itself a perfection: “a man’s whole life is encapsulated in Cyril Cusack’s masterly performance.”
Cusack was a much-revered man of the theatre – Alec Guinness said he was only one of three actors in the world who he really respected. He made 90 films, with directors such as Zefferelli, Truffaut and Zinnemann. He was a complex and enigmatic character. He was not a faithful husband to his first wife, yet he was a pious Catholic, a regular Mass-goer, president of the Catholic Stage Guild, and a voluminous letter-writer to the Irish national newspapers on the subject of abortion, which he vehemently opposed.
I was keen to write a biographical profile of this fascinating Irish actor, and I approached his daughter Sinéad to seek the family’s co-operation. After some deliberation, the Cusack family declined, on the grounds that “Cyril’s religion was very private to him”. Puzzling, because Cyril had been very open about his Catholicism – his letters to the newspapers in the 1980s are evidence of that.
His grandson is Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire.
Although the Church doesn’t really approve of it, many people like to pay tributes to the dead at a funeral. Personally, I have left instructions that I wish for no such tributes at my own funeral: if such an oration were merely praise it would not be honest: if it were honest, it would be embarrassing. Just a straightforward Requiem Mass, thanks!
But there is a compromise, which I worked out for my husband’s funeral – which was to write, print out and distribute, a description of the life, which can be fully nuanced and include humour, and give that to mourners to take away.
Incidentally, someone reported on Twitter earlier this week that at Irish funerals he had attended recently, the music included Frank Sinatra’s My Way, I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady, and Crystal Gayle’s Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. Is this the trend?