Recently, I have heard many people talk about their emotional experiences following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The number of varied responses I have heard fascinates me, and, interestingly, many reactions were deeply judgemental of others’ emotional responses. But is it really a time for judgement, or is it a time to come together in grief (be it mild or profound) and to grab the opportunity to unite?
Judgement of others
The sudden announcement of an extra Bank Holiday brought whoops of joy from my kids, while my thoughts immediately went to my poor practice manager and the logistical nightmare this would be for her and so many other employers and self-employed workers.
A decade ago, Her Majesty planned this Bank Holiday with the understanding that 25 million of her people loved her so much that they had a need, not just a desire, to watch her funeral, and with the acknowledgement that, before that, over 250,000 wanted to file past her coffin as she lay in state. Some people’s reactions to this were of relief that they could pay their last respects to someone with whom they felt a deep connection. One of my colleagues said she would cry if she couldn’t watch the funeral. Another said that she would weep if she saw any snippet of the funeral anywhere. Such were some of the varied reactions to the death of the Queen.
What struck me most is that, for some people, this has been the greatest grief they have ever felt. And just because others of us have seen our parents or other loved ones die, which is such horrible, life-changing and heart-shredding grief, it doesn’t negate the fact that this may be the most intense grief the other person has ever felt. Who are we to say, “You think that’s bad? You should feel this way!”?
Grief is not a competition.
Rather than thinking I have the “one-upmanship” on bereavement, and scoffing at their mildest of grief, surely I am the person best placed to understand them
The person who cried hysterically when the Queen died did not make my grief any worse. It was already as bad as it gets. So why should I deny others of their need for comfort and understanding? How would their stiff upper lip have made my parents any less dead? It wouldn’t.
So, if someone wails at the news that the Queen has died, stays in bed crying for days, queues for more days to see her coffin and then spends a day watching her be laid to rest, rather than thinking I have the “one-upmanship” on bereavement, and scoffing at their mildest of grief, surely I am the person best placed to understand them. Similarly, if I am the oracle on grief because I have “been there twice”, then I should have understanding in abundance of their feelings and be able to comfort them easily.
Six years ago, when my mother died, I was distraught. She was 80 and amazing. It still strikes me as funny that, as soon as people know your mum has died, they rapidly follow with the question, “How old was she?” To me, and those of us in “the club you never want to join”, her age was of no real significance at the time. Now, I understand that it is the questioners’ reflexive and clumsy attempt to make it “OK”: “they lived a good life” or, my least favourite, “at least they had a good innings”. (My parents had less than no interest in cricket.)
Rather than judging others for their weeping upon the death of the Queen, we could use this time as an opportunity to bond rather than judge others for their depth of emotion
What I remember more clearly from that time, and with warmth and comfort, was how there were three of us “recently bereaved” parents at the school gates every afternoon for pick-up time at primary school. For one of us, a sister had died of cancer at the age of 40. The other’s son had died of a brain tumour at 19. Yet, while my mum’s death was part of the natural order of older people dying before younger ones, neither the other woman nor the man belittled my grief as less than theirs. I was humbled to receive their hugs and comfort even though I felt their grief was more tragic and their loss more “wrong” compared to mine. They, however, felt that grief is so unbelievably awful, there is literally no way to measure it. So we were all equal. We took comfort from one another.
Just like the expanse of the infinite universe is beyond human comprehension, so too is the infinite pain we feel when our loved ones die. Infinity is immeasurable too. Grief brings us together in the club you never want to join. So rather than judging others for their weeping upon the death of the Queen, we could use this time as an opportunity to bond rather than judge others for their depth of emotion.
What a symbol of true idiosyncratic Britishness. For those days, I wondered if the satellites shifted their view of the Great Wall of China and instead focused on this massive gathering of stoically patient people united in grief despite their differences. Friends were made in “The Queue”. Even romances started in The Queue. There was sharing of stories, food and blankets in The Queue, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II brought people of every culture together in one perfectly snaking line.
This spectacle had been orchestrated by Professor Keith Still, a crowd science expert, and his team of masters students, with the authorisation of Queen Elizabeth. There was even a queue to join the queue to join the queue! And all this was planned a decade in advance!
Some people queued for over 24 hours to see Her Majesty lie in state, while others flew across the Atlantic to join the queue. I even heard that one man queued twice to see her, and he was overjoyed that he managed to do this. He said that each time he walked through Westminster Hall, he had a different experience. People said that this experience was the best day of their life, the greatest thing they have ever done. Others said it brought them closure from the complicated long-term grief of a loved one, and others felt it was a pilgrimage (of sorts) on behalf of a dead loved one. I couldn’t see any report of anyone regretting it or having a “meh” moment afterwards.
I’m just suggesting that we look inside ourselves and find a place where we can forgive others for feeling grief which might be less painful and less personal than our own
A few days later, I listened to someone who said it had made their “blood boil” to see people cry hysterically when Princess Diana died. Few other scenarios come to mind where our blood boils with anger because someone is crying and distraught. It has to be that sensation of competitive grief which causes such anger and judgement. Yet feeling this “blood-boiling” anger and disdain for others will never bring us peace.
I’m just suggesting that we look inside ourselves and find a place where we can forgive others for feeling grief which might be less painful and less personal than our own.