It was one of those defining moments. Near reminiscent of the morning we watched one and then two towers collapse; when we got the news Diana died in a car crash. Not apocalyptic like that, but still shocking and time-defining. The newsflash came across my phone, and I knew I would always remember where I was when The Queen of England passed away. A frozen moment in time.
Obviously, she was pretty elderly — as my youngest sister would say, “older than dirt” — but she was an institution that I had known my entire life. In fact, 80% of the country had only known one Monarch in their lifetime, and that was Queen Elizabeth.
She had always been there, calming and stabilizing the nation. You could count on her for common sense and an appropriate response to whatever was required. Her horses and her corgis and, most recently at the celebration of her 70th year on the throne, her lovely scene with Paddington Bear and their marmalade sandwiches that absolutely tickled the world.
The day before she passed, she welcomed in the new government and a lady Prime Minister no less. I noticed how the Queen was, as ever, suitably dressed in her tweed skirt — very becoming for Balmoral Castle, where she was staying — and she still had her effervescent smile on her face.
But the twinkle in the eyes looked a bit tired and I saw some bruising marks on her hand that made me think she had been receiving some sort of treatment. I didn’t think she was ready to go, however. But who knew. She was. As ever, she popped off with no nonsense, no messing around. She just quietly passed, surrounded by the love and blessings of her large family.
And what a fabulous ending to a long and glorious life of service to the throne, to her people who loved her and to nations around the world who respected her deeply. No long periods of illness or decline for her, nope. She had a good celebration of her 70 years upon the throne and then she decided it was time to go and let her not-so-young son take over for a bit while he still could. Class act, I say.
I haven’t lived in England for any period of time since 1988, but I felt moved to honor the Queen in my own way. I cut a red rose from my garden and placed it in a special gold-rimmed, china cup that honored her Golden Jubilee. I then dug around in my china cabinet, found my special antique plate from her coronation 70 years ago and I constructed a little memorial to her, as many others have felt moved to do. The outpouring of love and sadness of her people is shown around the world with flowers, cards, memories propped up outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and, of course, Balmoral.
The new King, Charles III and the Queen consort greeted the grieving public outside the Palace, and Charles even allowed a kiss on the cheek from one of the ladies there. A sign, perhaps, of a more modern-day monarchy, allowing more signs of deliberate emotion and less barriers between them and us?
In any case, I heard the crowd singing “God Save the Queen” (which we have sung my whole life, starting in kindergarten). Then the song in the crowd changed to “God Save the King,” and I was reminded how there can be no break in the line from one monarch to another, regardless of any will to mourn. Charles was assuming his rightful place in line to the throne and his son William then assumed Charles’ former title of “Prince of Wales.”
After Princess Diana died so young and in such a shocking way, I remember hearing mumbles that the monarchy might be becoming a thing of a past, increasingly just a figurehead for the country, a backdrop to present its amazing history to the world at large, little more than a draw for tourists. But I think the Queen left things just as she would have wanted for everything to carry on in its appropriate way and for generations to come.
The images of her grandsons William and Harry walking out together, wearing black, greeting the mourners and chatting like brothers should reminded me of the importance of mending bridges and looking at the larger picture. The Queen would have loved that image more than most, I think, and perhaps she even orchestrated it from her position on horseback from St. Elsewhere with generations of her beloved corgis by her side. Their father would need their support now more than ever and, as established young men in their own right, they needed to step up and make it happen.
I shall be traveling to England in the coming days and I’m sure the weight of the grieving mourners will be visible at every turn of the street. My father tells me the country is going dark the day of her funeral, Monday, Sept. 19 — almost like a holiday, but not — and people will be turning out for the funeral march, no doubt lined deep from London to Balmoral. He noted that even the pubs would be closed that day!
The people will also be able to pay respects to her in Westminster Hall, London, prior to the funeral from Sept. 14 until the 19th, which I know will inspire amazing lines of people, or queues, as the English would say. I shall not be in London on those days, but I will watch the ceremony on television and, no doubt, be impressed, once again, by the exceptional talents of pomp and circumstance from my native country and how they will very likely do Queen Elizabeth proud on the days the country says their farewell to her.
On the day of her funeral, members of her family will walk behind her coffin, reminiscent of the walk behind Diana years ago. Eventually the state hearse procession will travel to Windsor Castle, where she will be finally interred beside her beloved Philip.
I’m glad I will be in England for a few days after her funeral. It will be almost like saying goodbye to my grandmother. I’m glad also that the Queen passed quickly under her own terms and in a place she loved, having efficiently seen to the business of the country (accepting the new Prime Minister to office), and not dawdling too long after her incredible 70 year-on-the-throne celebration.
We shall always remember the twinkle in her eyes and her love of a marmalade sandwich. And her long and wonderful life well-lived.