The death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8th September 2022 opened up some interesting discussions on grief, mortality, the need to mourn and eventually – yes, I’m afraid so! – embrace the succession and move on.
It didn’t seem to matter if you believed yourself to be a Monarchist or Royalist or if you thought the whole scenario was an unedifying spectacle that you wanted nothing to do with; a large majority of the population seemed to get drawn into the fact the Queen was not only a well-respected Head of State but was also a Grandmother and Mother and many found themselves profoundly affected by the events of the Monarch’s passing. As the days unrolled in September there seemed to be something in the air,
Like the vast majority of the UK population, I’d never known anyone else on the Throne in my lifetime and, despite the Queen’s age and frailty, there was a genuine shock when the news came through. As everything turned to black and the media became a 24 hour mourn hub however, those on the edges of Republicanism – and I count myself among them – found themselves avoiding TV and radio and news outlets as the whole thing seemed to drag interminably with little to say that hadn’t already been said succinctly in the first 24 hours.
But then an odd thing seemed to happen. As the music stations tried to find a suitable tone and the sounds became more melancholic and restrained, I found myself becoming maudlin and introspective – even more than usual that is! – something I found difficult to disperse even if I played my own music and didn’t listen to the radio or turn on the TV.
I felt the need to go up to London on the day the Queen returned to London but my ideas of getting around the City soon fell apart as I realised that the short cuts and clever rat-runs I’d congratulated myself on knowing were now just largely boarded areas. I made do with going to see some of the flowers in Green Park.
Then later that night, my daughter sent me some photos of her in the queue for the Lying in State. She had joined it on a whim immediately after the opening of Westminster Hall and was among the first mourners to pass through. I hadn’t thought it would be something that would particularly bother her but she seemed to want to commemorate the event and the sense of sharing a loss became even more pertinent when, a few days later, she told me she’d taken my mum’s scarf as ‘Nan would have wanted to be here’. I found that really moving and got quite emotional thinking about it; it just crystallised some thoughts of my own.
Without really showing any particular interest prior to her death in 1997, Gail had become quite emotional when Princess Diana had died and had insisted we go up on several occasions to see the flowers. Having often been quite disparaging about the Royal family from time to time, Gail surprised me by taking some things along herself to lay in the vast display that sat in front of the gates of Kensington Palace. I couldn’t help but think what she would have thought about this momentous event. Regardless of anything else, there was no denying the historical aspect and Gail had always loved history and the succession of Kings and Queens and I knew she’d have wanted to show her respects or be involved in some small way.
I instinctively felt that I should follow my daughter’s lead and go to the Queen’s Lying in State as it is something Gail would have wanted to do and would have wanted me to do for her, so after several abortive attempts when the queue seemed too long for me to reasonably stand, I joined the queue early on Sunday morning; the day before the funeral.
I’d changed my mind so many times before I actually left the house, I couldn’t rightly say why I did what I did but I was undoubtably influenced firstly by my daughter but then by the interviews with those who’d paid their respects on TV. So many said they were there representing lost members of their own family; Mother’s and Grandmothers who’d loved the Queen and had passed, Father’s and Grandfathers who had served in the forces and for whom she represented their commanding officer. I felt the shared sadness of losing someone vital and the Queen seemed to have become, in a slightly ironic way. a figure head for something else; a focal point for grief.
Queuing that day It was one of the best decisions I’ve made and the eleven hours snaking along the Thames are something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I don’t really want to say much about what I found when I got to the end of the journey – there’s little I can add that hasn’t been said elsewhere – but I will just mention the stillness; not the quiet (although that was certainly apparent) but rather the sense that entering the hall you were looking at a tableau and the mourners were moving through a picture postcard. It was a unique experience.
I returned to London and Hyde Park the following day to see the funeral on the big screens and, as often seems the way after a funeral, (however massive) the air seemed to lift in the following days. If I could be said to have been at the funeral by dint by being in the same City, then this was actually one of four funerals I attended in a little over six weeks.
We’re now into Autumn and things are slowly changing. For the first time since 2018, I’ve actually managed to do this year what I said I’d always do and that is be away somewhere for each of the Anniversaries; three of the breaks were solo and one with my kids and my daughter-in-law and son-in-law. I’ve also bought a new house and should be moving early next year.
A succession of sorts? The Queen is dead; Long Live the King.