Shrouded in Sorrow, Princess Caroline Makes a Shaky Public Appearance

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

There were no flowers, no foreign dignitaries and no coffin. Still, when a weeping Princess Caroline emerged from Monaco's Saint-Pierre Cathedral on the principality's National Day (Nov. 19), it seemed an eerie reprise of the morning she buried her husband, Stefano Casiraghi, 30, six weeks earlier. Dressed in black, her eyes hidden by sunglasses, Caroline was able to climb the 15 steps to the cathedral without assistance. But by the end of the 50-minute Mass, the 33-year-old Princess had abandoned all pretense of a brave front. Bowed and crying, Caroline climbed into a waiting Mercedes where her brother, Prince Albert, could be seen consoling her.

In her first public outing since Casiraghi was laid to rest, the Princess appeared as shaken as she had following his death in a powerboat accident Oct. 3. The devastated Caroline was an unsettling sight for those who have become accustomed to the remarkable strength she has shown since the death of her mother, Princess Grace, in a 1982 automobile accident. Then, it was Caroline who became the maternal surrogate, publicly taking on many of Grace's ceremonial duties while privately tending the family's emotional wounds. Now, her father and siblings are rising to her support. "The tragedy has brought the family much closer together," says a childhood friend of Caroline's.

Prince Rainier, 67, frequently dines with Caroline and was the one who broke the news of Stefano's death to her three children, Andrea, 6, Charlotte, 4, and Pierre, 3, Albert, 32, has successfully represented his father at such international events as the Nov. 12 coronation of Japan's Emperor Akihito. But perhaps the biggest surprise has been the changes in the family's perennial bad girl, Stephanie, 25. Dropping her jet-set image, Stephanie often sleeps at Caroline's and helps care for the children, including walking Andrea to and from school.

Caroline, who has not been to her office at the palace since Stefano's death, regularly walks the few hundred yards from her pale pink villa, Clos Saint-Pierre, to the Chapelle de la Paix, where Stefano is entombed under an as yet unmarked marble slab. On Oct. 27 she went to Fino Mornasco, Stefano's hometown in Italy, where she joined her in-laws at a Mass at Sanctus Stephanus Church and witnessed the unveiling of a plaque that reads, TO STEFANO, ILL-FATED CHAMPION IN SPORT AND LIFE.

Although many observers have expressed alarm over Caroline's frail appearance, the palace will not comment on her physical or emotional well-being—or on any of her visitors. Former beau Roberto Rossellini (Ingrid Bergman's son), 35, an old friend of Stefano's, has been seen at her home. Rossellini, emphasizing that their sorrow is shared, will only comment, "I was hit hard by his death." Those who speculate on Caroline's amorous future do so "in remarkably bad taste," adds former palace spokeswoman Nadia Lacoste.

Indeed, Caroline's primary concern is clearly her children. While in Fino Mornasco, she showed them some of Stefano's childhood haunts. For their sake, friends believe, she will eventually rebound. "Caroline is a very strong woman," says an intimate. "It will be nice to see her working and living again."

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