"Grief is the price we pay for love”, Queen Elizabeth II said in a message of support to the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
We, the public, were reminded of this poignantly after the death of her husband, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2021, usually accompanied by the striking image of Her Majesty, sitting solitary in her mourning at his funeral.
And now, her very own. Unexpected as I am sure it was, the past 10 days of pomp, formality and ceremony alongside the expected, collective outpouring from her subjects in the UK and around the world.
Rationally, why would you expect a woman of 96 to live forever? A woman who was photographed smiling, working just 36 hours before the official announcement of her death - surely the most ‘famous’ woman in the world - as she has been for decades.
We expect it, even though we know it’s inevitable and irrational to think the second Elizabethan era would never come to an end. 70 years of service - the only Monarch 9 out of 10 UK citizens have ever known. The same Monarch we celebrated literally weeks ago, at her Platinum Jubilee - and just 17 months after the loss of her husband of 73 years - unfathomable, yet still, immortal?
And we all have a story, a memory, a meeting - some of us nothing except never knowing anything else. The icon above us all, unmistakable, for a lifetime, and our parent's lifetime too. She was none of us, yet all of us. Brand GB - The nation's Grandma.
Growing up, I was always surprised when other kids didn’t have 4 grandparents. Grandparents that are alive, nearby and part of your everyday lives. Granted, I recognised I was unusual by the fact that both pairs of mine actually lived next door but one to each other too. I was born in a hospital just half a mile away from where we all lived - as were most of my family - I was Christened, lived, schooled and got married within the same 3 mile radius until I was 22 years old. My entire and extensive family all lived not just in the same city, but pretty much on the same estate.
I was 12 when I lost my first grandparent, 17 when his wife followed him. I remember we were surprised that she lasted those 5 years. In these instances of lifelong marriages, it is completely possible to die of a broken heart. My other grandparents were much younger, so I was lucky to have another 30 ish years with them. As the firstborn grandchild, the relationship was special in so many ways. I worshipped them, and I think, they me.
There comes a time when the ‘last petal falls’ and it changes everything. Links to cousins, and other periphery family members, all fall away when we lose a Matriarch or Patriarch, yet ironically, we are all brought together by funerals. Each time, life changes irrevocably and the elders left become more important. My Grandad died almost 2 years after he lost both his daughters within 8 weeks of each other. Having to go and tell them both that my own Mother had died, just weeks after they had lost their youngest daughter is something I cannot forget, and will hopefully never have to do anything similar again. As night follows day, my Nanna was never the same again and passed away herself 18 months later.
And that’s where it hits you, and that is where my heart lies - not with the collective grief of a nation, but with a family who whilst highly privileged, are as human as the rest of us and live their personal lives under a global spotlight.
Nothing will ever be the same, that constant is no longer - even the Corgi’s are leaving ‘home’ - William and Harry, reminiscent of their own Mothers passing, even the Queen's nephew, Lord Snowdon, who lost his own mother, Princess Margaret and his Grandmother, the Queen Mother, within months of each other twenty years ago. The 7 and 9 year olds - one day, skipping smiling into their brand new school, the next… And of course the irascible 4 year old who has to stay at home and when told of his Great Grandmother's passing asked ‘Can we still go to Scotland on holiday now?’
When my ‘last petal’ fell it meant everything and still does - it’s almost ethereal that I now almost never frequent that 3 mile radius that was my entire world for so long - because I have little reason to. The cross country train that by coincidence goes down literally past the end of my ‘Nannas back garden’ - and often stops there before it reaches the station - just yards away from another lifetime - so near yet so far. Everything changes, the clocks stop, everything we knew is finally gone. It is like losing a limb - an entire branch of a family tree at least. My own ‘irascible 4 year old’ even asked if he would still get his ‘Birthday pennies’ now Nanna Nancy had died.
There is much talk of the collective mourning for the Queen being based upon our own private losses and family dynamics. Let’s be honest, there are lots of family matters that stay under the lid to protect senior members in their dotage out of respect. What happens when they are gone? Errant Uncles finally cast away where their behaviour belongs? There are also many people who have lost loved ones throughout the pandemic and were never able to say their goodbyes effectively, let alone over 10 days.
We are mourning the loss of a great Sovereign and leader, but when the last petal falls, it is always so much more, for all of us.