The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
Words from movies, books, evocative of palace intrigue, skullduggery, warring nations on horseback, battles fought with lances and arrows. A time of scourges and plagues. Poison in rings, monarchs laid low by the most common of illnesses. Dramatic times. Romantic times.
Our time, as it turns out.
A peaceful death in the fullness of old age, sad but dignified.
The morning her doctors “expressed concern” for her heath, I woke to dings on my phone, friends announcing the news. We are all Anglophiles to some degree. It has become one of our things, sending each other post cards from the Royal family when we find them. Writing messages and signing them “Charles and Camilla,” or the more more familiar, “Chuck and Cammie.” The Queen writes sometimes. She especially missed me at Balmoral a few summers ago.
The Cambridges missed me at sweet Charlotte’s christening. This one sent from London, dated, “10 May 2016.”
I have given my friend Jason a tea cozy in the shape and likeness of the first Queen Elizabeth. Another friend gave him a life-sized head of a smiling Queen Elizabeth II to place in the passenger window of his car. It looks for all the world like he is driving her out to Costco to pick up chew toys for the Corgis. I think she is even waving.
It was no surprise, then, to learn our most devoted lover of the English, Jason, made reservations in London the moment he heard she was unwell. A few days later, he is on a flight, determined to pay homage, to soak it all in, the ending of a true historic era. To bear witness.
And he took us with him.
He dropped pins to show us where he was so we might snake along the Thames with him as he moved in the queue, an eight hour slow walk to Westminster Hall. He send a selfie with his new friends, his mates, who were standing in line with him. A close-up image of his wide yellow wrist band, the thing that allowed him to step out of line for a moment to get something to eat or drink.
He arrived in London, dropped his bags and headed for the line on the first day of the Queen’s Lying In State. He waited in line making friends while we sat in front of laptops and TVs, trying to catch a glimpse of him. After six hours or more he had arrived at the top of the steps leading down to catafalque, and he texted us, but none of us saw him just then.
We see him later in the evening, a grainy copy of a TV shot, as he bows his head, walks away, looks back, moves on. Later he spent a quiet day walking around London with his good friend, looking at flowers and mementoes. He found a good spot at Horse Guards Road to watch the funeral procession and sent a video of the Queen as she passed him.
For all the pageantry, and no one does it better than the British, we were also watching a much beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother mourned by her family. Publicly, on display, and the state and personal impact of her passing kept me riveted to the coverage. Sorrow etched deep on the faces of those who loved her most. Charles, Anne, Sophie Wessex, often the pure images of grief.
And why are we moved so, by it? My friend, Marianne, was moved by the organ music, setting her off to weeping. She, too, is an organist, and the majestic pipe organs served to open her heart and make it tender. The pipers and the laments fading away did it for me. The tear-rimmed eyes of her children and grandchildren, too.
A woman in line, overcome with tears, told an interviewer she didn’t know why she was so upset, really, but that this loss reminded her of her own losses. Maybe that is where the wellspring of emotion comes from. Maybe this is the thing that connects us, finally in death, a queen or a commoner or a Yank, the way we can have it, that fellow feeling, the focus on something bigger than ourselves, but in refection, about ourselves, too.
Of course, the Royal Family, like all families, has troubles. Deep ones with tensions and upset, and that, too, is on display and out there for public consumption. But this is not about that. Nor is it about the viability and correctness of the Monarchy. Kirstie Young, in her moving remarks at the close of coverage on BBC said of the Queen, “She made history. She was history.”
Queen Elizabeth’s story is compelling, even though, or perhaps because, it has an anachronistic aspect to it. But as she aged, she moved with the times, too, and we saw her more frequently. Saw her playful in her role. Ask Paddington bear, or James Bond. We saw her in those big bright hats, her perfect skin, that smile.
Farewell, then, to a steady presence I did not know, but one for whom I felt real affection. I will miss her.