Saying goodbye to Queen Elizabeth
Published 3:19 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2022
My English mother often pointed out in photographs of the late Queen Elizabeth II, that “We’re only five years apart,” generally in regard to appearance.
“She’s gone quite gray, hasn’t she?” was one comment. “You know she’s only five years younger than me.”
“She still has such lovely skin,” was another. “Of course, she’s five years younger than me.”
Perhaps that is why the inevitable death of Queen Elizabeth, bringing full realization to our own remarks over the years—“It’s going to be so strange when she passes; she’s the only Queen I’ve ever known,”—has made me miss my own mother, who passed in 2014.
Because, you know, she was “five years older.” It was bound to happen.
It has been a privilege to watch the outpouring of quiet respect from the tens of thousands lining the streets through Scotland and Ireland. The images being broadcast show a family publicly exposed in their grief, receiving fortification from countless strangers that grieve along with them. I can’t imagine that in the passing of my own mother. I can’t imagine what that must be like to lose an iconic parent that the entire world knows, but not personally.
My mother witnessed this young girl—“just five years younger than me”—ascend the throne while my mother was still living in England. She witnessed Elizabeth’s painfully shy father, humiliated by his speech impediment, being thrust upon the throne after his brother abdicated. My mother used to say, “It was so painful to hear his speeches. It was so difficult for him to speak that your heart just bled for him.”
And then, just six days after leaving her beloved father behind as Princess Elizabeth left with Phillip for a tour of Africa, word came that her father had succumbed. The newsreels show her returning immediately, her small figure draped in the black of mourning, stepping off the plane.
I can only think that the staggering outpouring of respect that we now witness comes from a place that also recognizes a life devoted to dignified service—a life she was never meant to live, especially at such a fragile, young age. She watched her father dedicate himself, often painfully, to his unexpected role as king, and, to me, it seemed she dedicated herself to honoring his example.
Now Charles, as King Charles III, appearing perhaps more vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him, has unabashedly spoken of being bereft in his grief for his beloved mother, and has assured his country, speaking with conviction, of his intention to honor her.
“Wherever you may live in the United Kingdom or in the realms and territories across the world and whatever may be your background and beliefs, I shall endeavor to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life.”
Many have wondered out loud what sort of king he shall be. From all appearances, he’s already quite a good one.