This morning, for the very first time in my life, I awoke to a Britain without its Queen.
Today has been a quiet, dreary day here in England. When I arrived to work this morning, people were speaking in quieted, sombre tones and the conversations all revolved around the now late Queen Elizabeth II. Much of the conversation came down to the common, “Where were you?” question asked after any major event or announcement. Everyone had their own, unique story – one they will likely tell for years to come – but they all had one thing in common: a profound sadness and a feeling of loss; both for the country and personally.
Where Were You?
When the news broke that the Queen’s doctors were “concerned” about her health I, like most of my co-workers, immediately began following the live news coverage coming from The BBC. The very rare announcement, even rarer from the Palace itself, gave us all pause. There was a palpable tension in the whole building; in the whole country. BBC One suspended all of its programming to give live updates on the condition of The Queen, as well as the rest of the Royals.
The news grew quiet for a short time, but then we learned that the BBC had switched to black clothing. Concerning; but not definitive. Not yet anyway. And then came the announcement that the then Prince Charles was at Balmoral Castle, the Scottish Royal getaway, with The Queen, and that the remaining immediate family members were en route. It began to sink in that this time it was serious. Certainly, it was more serious than the public were being told at the time, which was very little past her doctors stating she was “comfortable”. That word, “comfortable” sends chills down the spine of anyone who has had loved ones pass away in hospitals or care homes. Being made “comfortable” is thinly veiled code for “there isn’t much time left”. I dread the day I’m ever made comfortable.
This was the time when an entire nation began its long wait with bated breath.
It wasn’t until I was home from work, alone as my fiancé was working her evening shift, that more news began to surface. The Princes Edward, Andrew, and William were arriving at Balmoral, and even Harry was flying in from the continent. Dour expressions adorned their faces and, at least to me, it looked as though all the Princes had red, glossy eyes. The images did nothing to quell one’s nerves.
I couldn’t sit comfortably. I’d try and lie back on my sofa but then I’d fidget my way to edge, leaning over with my elbows on my legs. I caressed a fresh cup of tea for comfort – royal breakfast tea from Hampton Court Palace – it seemed fitting and solidaric.
Just as it reached 6:30 p.m., six anxiety-ridden hours after that initial announcement from the Queen’s doctors, just after the final sip of my favourite tea, I heard those deafening words.
Programming had been slated to resume after 6 p.m. on BBC One so when it did not, alarms were already sounding in my head, as I’m sure they were for most keeping track of it all. And then, just as it reached 6:30 p.m. a picture of Buckingham Palace appeared on the TV with the Union Flag at half mast. This was the moment it started to become real. Just a second later the picture switched back to the BBC News logo, what is usually a vibrant red now mournfully grayscale, as I heard the sound of shuffling papers. Shortly, the BBC journalist Huw Edwards, who had been commentating the live news all day, gave the fateful announcement.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words. Spoken well in the dulcet tones and Welsh twang of Huw Edwards, the nation – and I – was informed that our reigning monarch of over 70 years, our sovereign, The Queen has died.
The moment I heard those words the tears instantly came, and continued on through the National Anthem, playing over a picture of a very regal Queen Elizabeth II.
It’s a moment we all expected to come soon, after all The Queen was 96 years old. After the death of her husband, Prince Phillip, The Queen had showed signs of ailing health. In recent days she had become thin and less mobile, appointing the new Prime Minister Liz Truss in her Scottish home of Balmoral Castle for the very first time in the long history of her reign, breaking with tradition; something The Queen does not do lightly. The inevitable was clearly close. But still, the words struck me down inside, the same way they had mere months ago when my own grandmother, also Elizabeth, passed away after a long battle with dementia. It doesn’t matter how much you expect it, how prepared you think you are for it, those definite, irreversible words attack you the same nonetheless. My first day without my Queen feels so…surreal. It’s been like I’m walking within a dream. I suppose it hasn’t fully hit me yet. And I think I’m a little shaken from the level of grief and pain I feel for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Three generations of my family have been born under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We’ve never know a United Kingdom without The Queen. Furthermore, quite ironically, we’ve never known a United Kingdom with a King. The Queen always felt so eternal; constant and ever-present. Fifteen Prime Ministers and Governments this nation has seen under her perennial watch and yet she remained constant. The Queen had always been this stabilising force in a rapidly changing world; especially as her reign began so shortly after the end of World War II.
The world around us, driven by accelerating technological advances, has changed – and continues to change – at a breakneck pace. Many people felt – and feel – left behind in a world that has moved on from their values, be them good or ill, and many of those especially in the older generations simply can’t keep up with the rapidity of change that advances like the internet have facilitated. But throughout it all, the people of the United Kingdom had one person who they could turn to, who was always there, watching over us, holding the true ideals and traditions of Britain alive and safe. And whether you believe that to be true or not, whether you believe that to be good or not, that is how many in this nation felt. The Queen was perennial; eternal; a source of constancy and reliability. In a century defined by its tumult, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was an eternally stabilising and reassuring presence.
And now that presence is gone.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson actually articulated this feeling rather perfectly in his tribute to The Queen when he said, “She seemed so timeless and so wonderful that I am afraid we had come to believe, like children, that she would just go on and on” and that, “It is only really now that we grasp how much she meant for us”.
When I was born The Queen was already 62 years of age. To me, she had always been this grandmotherly presence. And, like a child, I too naïvely believed she would always be here. A comforting constancy in a chaotic world.
The effect that The Queen had on the United Kingdom will be felt for generations to come, much in the same way Queen Victoria’s reign and the Victorian era still ripples throughout British society. But the loss the nation, and I personally, will feel in the coming days, months and years will only grow as The Queen recedes more and more into the annuls of history.
In Britain we are surrounded by her image on a daily basis; on our stamps, on our money, on our post boxes. And soon all of that will begin to change. The Queen’s image will, soon, begin to fade away from our daily lives as it is replaced by that of our new monarch, His Majesty King Charles III.
For many in this country, and around the world, Britain has become synonymous with The Queen. It’s as though, like Britannia, Queen Elizabeth II was the personification of Britain. Especially modern Britain. She was a huge part of our national identity. With her passing, it feels like a significant part of my own national identity has died with her. And I don’t think that feeling is unique just to me. And it’s a feeling that I know I will need to come to terms with.
Grieving is a word we often withhold just for family or close friends, those people we know and love in our personal lives. So it feels strange to me that I am now grieving for a person of whom I never met, of whom had no knowledge of my existence, but of whom I felt so intrinsically connected to – and defensive of – through my national heritage and my national identity.
I don’t think the love for a monarch, especially one as long reigning and beloved as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is or should be relegated to tradition or be labelled old-fashioned. I think that love, admiration, and devotion of the monarch and the monarchy is alive and well in the United Kingdom. From the footage just shown today of King Charles III arriving at Buckingham Palace for the first since ascending to King you can see just how many people still feel that connection to the monarchy, and through them their cultural and national heritage.
As I prepare to sit down on the very same sofa upon which I heard that sorrowful news yesterday, to listen to the new King’s first televised address, I find myself contemplating the reason I even wrote this. I hope, sincerely, that it has helped those bemused by the concept of grieving for the death of a monarch understand why so many of us in the United Kingdom, and around the world, are upset so — why we are grieving so — as a nation and as individuals, and why Queen Elizabeth II meant so much to so many people. The pain I feel, feels very personal to me. More so than I had anticipated. But I also think I wanted to write this moment down in my own history, to never forget the impact it had, and is having, on me. I wanted to document my own personal experience with this momentous tragedy. I wanted, in some way, to immortalise the sorrow and grief I feel right now. And I think, as I draw close to the end, I needed this catharsis. This exercise is releasing all these emotions that have overwhelmed me in the past 30 hours.
Now, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the country has entered into a period of national mourning leading up to the funeral of Her Majesty The Queen. But it won’t just be the nation as a whole mourning, each individual who has been affected by Her Majesty’s passing will mourn in their own personal, often private way.
Within this time of deep mourning, I would personally like to ask that people respect this time and respect each individual person’s feelings and privacy. Respect that, no matter how you felt about The Queen or feel about the monarchy, that an entire nation is in mourning, grieving, both individually and collectively, over the loss of their leader of over seven decades. Now is the time for compassion and unity.
Yesterday was a massive shock to me, personally. And today I can feel the sense of mourning setting in. That sudden shock and overwhelming grief is beginning to pass, and the more long-term mourning and sadness is taking its place. I suspect this feeling is here to stay for quite a while, and will resurface anew once the aforementioned changes begin to take place. But there is a comfort in the sadness. To know that this person meant so much to me, on a personal level, and always will be a source of fondness and nostalgia does bring a comforting warmth. I call back to that quote from the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson that, “It is only really now that we grasp how much she meant for us”. And I find so much truth in that.
But as the feeling of sorrow begins to recede, I hope to feel a new sense of connection to the new King. I look forward to seeing how my personal relationship and with His Majesty King Charles III evolves.
But let it be said that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will always have a special place in my life and my identity.
A New Era
We often forget in the present that we are living within history. At this moment we are witnessing the history of the United Kingdom, the ink still wet, as the curtains on the second Elizabethan era draw to a close and a new, third Carolean era (originating from the Latin name for Charles — Carolus) begins.
God Bless The Queen.
God Save The King.