A nation mourned

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey
Tributes to the Queen

The 8 September will be remembered as a day the world was forever changed for many. An era drew to a close with the announcement of the death of our beloved Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a rock of stability for the past 70 turbulent years of huge social change.

What can we say? Well-deserved tributes and condolences from world leaders and common people alike have poured in globally. But words are never enough to express the depths of our grief. We have lost someone who has been a fixture on the world scene, and it is difficult to imagine a Britain without her. She will go down in history as one of the world’s most beloved and respected monarchs.

At only 21, almost five years before she became Queen, then-Princess Elizabeth made a commitment to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.

For more than seven decades she more than fulfilled that promise. Hers was a life that epitomised duty, dignity, decency, elegance and grace. She brought a sense of stability through challenges both to the nation and the monarchy. For her service, we owe her a debt of gratitude beyond measure. Most have not known a world without Queen Elizabeth II. Recently, we recognised she was frail but somehow had convinced ourselves she would go on forever. So, her death came as a shock, as waves of grief flowed over the entire country and the world.

As I write this, we are entering a period of national mourning, and the funeral, rituals and outpouring of sorrow and thanksgiving will give the nation an opportunity to come together to grieve.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “We have lost the person whose steadfast loyalty, service and humility has helped us make sense of who we are through decades of extraordinary change in our world, nation and society.”

But this is not only a national or international loss. For many, this is personal. As former Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it: “This is our country’s saddest day. In the hearts of every one of us there is an ache at the passing of our Queen. A deep and personal sense of loss… far more intense, perhaps, than we expected.”

Many will feel a range of emotions from shock, sadness, disbelief, confusion, anxiety, perhaps even anger. It feels like we have lost a member of our own family. We may not have known the Queen, but she felt part of our lives.

At seven, I recall watching her coronation with about 20 others around a 15 inch, black and white TV. Since then, she has always been there, a constant in the lives of my and subsequent generations’ lives.

To many, it feels like we’ve lost a mother or beloved grandmother.

God save the King. Life will go on in the hope that King Charles III will continue his mother’s legacy. Even so, we face uncertainty, because change is never easy and whatever replaces what is lost is always different.

I wish His Majesty well, but we must recognise that life has changed for us all.

Where do we go from here? I believe that the Queen in her wisdom has left an extraordinary legacy. During difficult times she constantly and powerfully reminded us we must be a people of hope who care for one another. As she said during the initial stages of the pandemic: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”

That, my friends, is hope!

Even as we watched her mourn her beloved husband Prince Philip, we saw courage, resilience and instinct for putting others first. Despite her loss, there was no question of withdrawing from the path of duty, which she fulfilled to the end.

Hers is a legacy of strength and confidence for the future. As we begin to readjust ourselves to life as it now is, she has shown us a path to follow, even as we mourn her passing.

We also recognise this surely is a low point for the nation, facing the economic crisis, political turmoil in Europe, and all of today’s uncertainties. And now our anchor is gone.

We must find ways to go on. In 1939, faced with war and the threat of invasion, King George VI, in his Christmas message to the nation, quoted Louise Haskins: “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

As history records, the nation rose to the challenge.

Today, we grieve and face an uncertain future. We will mourn her passing, but will go on. Whatever life brings, we must face with courage and hope that ‘better days will return’.

So, we echo the words Paddington Bear said so profoundly to the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee: “Thank you, ma’am, for everything.”

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