For almost two months, I was under a ‘gag order’ as were my colleagues. We knew the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were making a visit to The Cridge Centre for the Family on October 1st as part of the 2016 Royal Tour. We could not even share the excitement with our families until the government made an official announcement on September 12th.
As a contractor in the Cridge Brain Injury Services, I was invited to not only attend this glorious visit, but to also meet with one of the Royals so they could learn more about our program. The theme was ‘Overcomers’. We were asked to introduce the Duke and Duchess to our hardworking overcomers so they could share their story of what life was like before coming to the Cridge, what program they accessed, and how this made a difference in his or her life. Each group (6 in total) had to submit the name of an overcomer who had been a part of the Cridge and benefited from our individualized services.
In preparation for the visit, the small groups were handpicked and included two board members, two staff and a client. Our group represented brain injury and included myself, a close colleague, two board members, and a client that I have had the privilege to work with for several years. One of the board members was Hilary Pryor. Hilary wrote and produced A Change of Mind, a documentary on the societal impact of brain injury. My client and I are in the documentary. (Hilary borrowed the title from my book and also pays tribute to my late husband in the film.) My understanding was that we would be introduced to one of the royal couple and it was our client who would be doing the talking. This was to be about their story… not ours.
Our group was chosen to meet with Prince William. As His Royal Highness entered our sphere it only took seconds for me to move beyond the ‘star struck’ response I was having to focussing on his warm and caring attitude. He was authentic in every word he spoke. He shook each person’s hand and as Shelley Morris, Cridge CEO, introduced each of us and explained our roles in the organization, Prince William quickly, yet thoughtfully, asked us each a question about what we do. What did His Royal Highness ask me? “What would prepare you or lead you into a job like this?”
Photo: Here Prince William is shaking hands with my client. I am tucked in beside him.
Instantly, I was up against his authenticity and my knowing that this meet and greet wasn’t to be about my story but rather about my client’s. I had to think quickly because I had two choices. 1) Ignore what His Royal Highness asked and move him on to speak with my client or 2) give His Royal Highness an honest, but super condensed answer. I went with #2 and replied, “Well, it really wasn’t a choice. My husband, who was a police officer, suffered a brain injury in the line of duty and died and I went on to get formal training to help others.” Prince William acknowledged this graciously and due to time constraints, we had to direct his attention to my client. Interestingly, I had mixed emotions about my interaction. First off, I am such a conformer that I felt bad that I broke rank and shared a snippet of my life story. But, then I had a sense that ‘divine guidance’ had been at play because he asked me that question when he could have asked a million others or not asked me anything. And finally, I felt a deep gratitude for His Royal Highness closing the gap between his world, my world, and the world of my client. How did he close the gap and what difference does it make?
Whenever we can close the gap between what looks like ‘their life and his life’ we give hope to people. You may think that sounds hokey. Prince William’s life is very different than mine and even more different than my client’s and all that he has endured. But all three of us had something in common. Loss. We have all experienced the depths of grief and walked through the dark shadows of fear not knowing how on earth we could survive, or if we would. Each of us knows the pain of heartbreak and while that was the unspoken part of our conversation, we knew it existed.
Prince William was genuinely interested in our program and how this benefitted my client. His interest gave us validation and hope on so many levels. For the Cridge it validated our good work and brought hope that in some way our best practices would be brought to other charities doing similar work. For me, it validated that I am serving my purpose in life and brought hope that I have it within me to do even greater things. For my client, his interaction with Prince William validated that the hard work, and I mean hard work, he has put into his rehabilitation and recovery has paid off. It also gave him a huge burst of hope that he too, can go on to make a difference and help others; this has become his dream.
I am not so naïve to think that Prince William will have any recollection of meeting us or even what we said. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are re-energized and inspired to go out in the world and continue to spread hope to others. My interaction with His Royal Highness and his question to me has changed me. It changed me because I feel stronger in my resolve to use my story to help others and it showed me that being authentic always makes you a winner!
Photo Credits: The Cridge Centre for the Family