‘Grief is the price we pay for love’.
HM Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022)
The poignancy of words attributed to the Queen in the aftermath of 9/11, almost twenty-one years ago to the day. It was the quote which accompanied a full-page black and white photograph of our late monarch, the front page of the commemorative issue of The Daily Telegraph on Friday, 9th September 2022, the day following her death. I combed the town for copies of that very paper, historic in its truest sense. No other would do. For as long as I can remember, The Telegraph has been the newspaper of my family. It was delivered every morning, at home, and part of Pop’s daily ritual until the end. A different world now, it is the newspaper to which I subscribe online, and whose paper copy I seek on days such as this. Once again, its front page could not have been more fitting, capturing the love, respect and sadness of a nation.
Sold out everywhere I tried, I was a little taken aback in light of a wealth of tabloids, and more than a little panicked! I have collected duplicates of my favourite newspaper marking every historic event since Becca and Manny were born. Each has a trunk, overflowing, documenting significant days in their lives. How I would have loved somebody to have done that for me … Suffice to say, I was prepared to cover the distance but, thankfully, an inspired thought took me to a supermarket garage on the outskirts of town. Three copies remained and I spared a fleeting thought for the chap immediately behind me as I scooped up all three, any instincts of altruism lost in the moment!
What more timely reminder of how one’s world can change in an instant? Nobody knows what tomorrow may bring. So it was that, returning from the blistering heat of Rome on Wednesday, 7th September, I was greeted by a dismal, rainy Scotland. No matter, I was exhausted and craving a day to adjust; a day of normality. Not to be. As I fed the washing machine for the umpteenth time, it was lunchtime and I heard the news on the radio: the Queen’s doctors were concerned about her health. Rapidly, there came the update that Her Majesty was under medical supervision and her children were mobilising in a bid to reach her bedside in Balmoral. From that minute on, I never left the television, the mood of foreboding heralding the dreaded but inevitable news as history unfolded, unabated.
A week has passed since that day. Thursday, 8th September 2022. Etched in history for all time – and in the memories of all who have lived through it. On my own, I was completely submersed in the coverage. Shocked. Stunned. Disbelieving. Reflective. Each day, I planned to write; to put my thoughts into words but, instead, my usual bits of paper gathered as I scribbled down quotes and potential angles. Every day more emotional than the last as we bore witness to a family, bereft, yet bound by protocol and duty. Every day, more exhausted, their grief etched on their faces as they struggle to do their beloved mother proud. Stoic, to bear witness to their pain has been heart-rending. The new King was, clearly, at breaking point yesterday, his sister – who has been by her mother’s side throughout – more able to conceal. I am in awe at the courage of them all. While this country has lost its anchor – the longest-serving monarch in our history, beloved by a nation – they have lost their mother, their granny, their great-granny, one of their own. Their love for her is unquestionable. It is there for all to see as, collectively, they pull together and carry on in the spirit of a remarkable woman and her equally remarkable late husband.
I thought about writing a factual piece but that’s not my forte. Besides, it has all been said – and repeated several times over! Favouring the organic approach, I choose, instead, to write as I think, believing in the common thread … Almost immediately, following the news, I questioned the words I would use to describe the Queen? I wrote down courage, humility, determination, sense of duty and constant. Brave, without question – and calm – one of my lasting images of her is that of Trooping the Colour in 1981 when a man in the crowd fired six shots at her as she rode, side-saddle, past. Blanks, albeit, but as her horse, understandably, spooked, she didn’t flinch, gently gathering the reins and offering reassurance. Of a generation now all but gone, her like is the reason we won two world wars. Sadly, we shall not see that like again.
I am so grateful that I grew up with parents who shared a respect for history and tradition. Trooping the Colour was a permanent fixture in the yearly calendar while there were several books on the shelves relating to royalty. One which was a particular favourite of mine was a huge, well-worn hardback brimming with lovely photographs of the Queen and her sister growing up. Whether at Royal Lodge, Balmoral or on their ponies, I was fascinated. Such stunning images documenting the childhood of a striking little girl. For Queen Elizabeth was very beautiful, particularly as a young woman. Naturally beautiful. Much has been said of her sparkling blue eyes and her smile, part and parcel of a lady with character and a wonderful sense of humour. The continuous footage since her death has only served as a timely reminder.
Photographs and memories … In the days since her passing, I have hardly been able to drag myself away from the wealth of archive film being shown. Always acutely aware of the importance of documenting memories, the ability to capture a second in time – forever – is, for me, the most wonderful thing. It is, though, the old ciné films – the private footage of family holidays over the years – which I have found most moving. The poignancy afforded by the absence of sound … How beautiful she was but perhaps it was that she was so happy. These old films are full of laughter and fun and I am filled with envy that generations to come will forever be privy to such cherished family moments.
‘I’m glad to go, I cannot tell a lie …’
The Sound of Music (‘So Long, Farewell)
Somehow – and most appropriately – that beloved song came into my head, the words of ‘Brigitta’ suddenly so apt. For, these old ciné films and photographs were, indeed, a reminder of how happy the Queen seemed throughout most of her life; a life at whose centre had been Prince Philip from the moment she set eyes on him at the age of thirteen! When he died on the 9th April, 2021, a huge part of her died with him. Yes, as was her nature and commitment to duty, she carried on but that sparkle became increasingly rare as she became increasingly frail. She had honoured her pledge. She had fulfilled her duty. Devout in her faith and the belief that she would be reunited with her beloved Philip, it was time to go.
I had heard or read, some time back, that the Queen wanted to die at Balmoral. The home, the countryside, the memories she cherished most, the plans were in place to honour her wish of being driven, in death, down through Scotland affording the opportunity for all to bid her farewell on her final journey. That wish was granted. The hand of God? How else does one explain the stormy weather of Thursday the 8th, pausing only to reveal a double rainbow over Buckingham Palace – and, too, one over Windsor – as her death was announced? The sheath of light which lit her coffin on its journey down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace? The glorious Autumn sunshine as she was driven through the gates of Balmoral for the very last time on Saturday morning, her beloved Deeside poised to embrace? What further reminder that we are mere players on a vast stage? Our moment, temporary. Humbling.
As Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, lies in state, bathed in the history of Westminster Hall, the country is paused, awaiting her funeral on Monday. The nation is grieving as thousands upon thousands queue for hours to pay their last respects – to someone most have never met. No matter. She was a constant; our anchor; a ‘still, small voice of calm’ in an increasingly frightening world. Above all else, however, she was a mother, a granny, a great-granny, a much-loved family member and friend and her loss has served to re-awaken old wounds; the grief, never far, at the loss of our own loved ones. Such was her power.
Queen Elizabeth II embodied the ‘Great’ in Great Britain. Her son, King Charles III, now carries the burden of forestalling its demise in her wake. No meagre task. May his beloved mother rest in peace, complete, once more, with her dashing prince, and may God save the King!
In closing, of the many tributes I have heard over the last few days, I found the following one of the most poignant …
‘Tonight, feels like we’ve, all, come to the end of that book which was always on our bedside table. We, all, read the chapters. Some were good, some sad. Some full of drama, some surprising. We, all, loved that book and, although we’re sad the book has ended, it was the end we hoped for.’
This is Trish, signing off.