On September 9, I got up early. To be honest, I had been awake since midnight, as usually happens when I have something to do very early in the morning. I was going to join a Zoom session at 4 a.m. in which a famous novelist would give a talk, sponsored by the Guardian news service out of the UK. To pass the time before it started, I was chat messaging with my sister in the US. Suddenly she said, “the Queen died – have you heard?” I immediately went to my FB feed and also to the Guardian’s website, and it was true. Several minutes later I received an email from the Guardian saying the Zoom session I had registered for was postponed due to the passing of the Queen.
I felt a bit woozy from lack of sleep, and since then I have felt bereft. The world is a little darker. This was not just an interesting news item to me. Elizabeth Regina II was a real presence in my life.
She was a contemporary of my mother, whom I lost in 2020 (and wrote a blog about it, Number 23, “For My Mother”, Dec.6, 2020). My mother lived to see her 100th birthday (1920-2020). The Queen died at the age of 96 (1926-2022). Both these women spanned my own lifetime – I don’t remember a time (naturally) when they weren’t there. When we moved to Australia when I was 12, the Queen and the Royal Family suddenly become much bigger and more important in my life. Her portrait was on the wall of every classroom in school and we had a holiday on the “Queen’s Birthday” (a public holiday which I have since discovered was celebrated on a different day everywhere in the British Empire.) She was quite prominent in the news in the 70s because she was a figure in the 1975 ousting of Gough Whitlam, the Labour Prime Minister, by the Governor-General (a royally appointed post), Sir John Kerr. I lived through those years, when Gough instituted some very welcome reforms such as universal health care and (just as I was entering University) free tertiary education! All hail Gough! But I digress.
There were a number of Royal Visits to Brisbane during the years I lived in Australia. I don’t remember the Queen herself, but I do remember playing as a member of the Queensland Youth Orchestra during a visit of the Prince of Wales, and being invited to meet Prince Charles at a reception as a representative of that same orchestra. This must have been in the seventies. The excitement of the citizenry was quite palpable during these visits, and newspapers and TV covered their progress through the country in breathless detail. Even though at that time the days of the British Empire were numbered, there were still enough people around who remembered its heyday. Australia was still very much psychologically turned toward the UK.
Now she is gone. I feel like I’ve lost my mother all over again. My mother was “Mom”, but the Queen was “Mum” (the British affectionate word for one’s mother). She was a great lady, possibly the last such (visible through celebrity) in the world, and the longest-reigning monarch. She was the eldest daughter of King George VI, so she was “it”, tapped to succeed. I have seen on the Internet some remarks to the effect that she didn’t have a choice. Well, who really does? Can anyone say they have chosen their lives completely freely? Many factors enter into what kind of life we have. Elizabeth was fated to be born into that family in that position, and she didn’t run away or complain, she did it for 70 years to the best of her ability.
She was fully aware, even at a very young age, of her duty, and she meant to do it, to live a life of service to her country and subjects. In these modern days, that duty consisted primarily of being a visible image of the country. It must have been onerous at times, but she had integrity and tenaciousness. Her life was lived during periods of great global upheaval; she saw, experienced, and participated in many things. She lived up to the motto, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. She could always be relied upon (at what personal cost?) to keep her cool, in public at least. She was gracious to all, even people I’m sure she didn’t like or didn’t agree with. Would it have been better if she had stood up and become an activist? Some people seem to think so; certainly the British perpetrated many terrible and regrettable things during her reign. But then she wouldn’t have been the rock she was. She couldn’t participate actively in the political scene of her day, it was probably forbidden by laws and protocol. She wasn’t the Prime Minister; she was the Queen. It was a figurehead position and had been for years. So it seems nothing she did or said in the long run would have made any difference to policy. Please forgive my uninformed ravings.
She had style too. That was another thing I really liked about her. The older she got, the more colorful her outfits became. She wasn’t afraid to rock any color – magenta, emerald green, bright yellow. And not just accessories – it was an all-over look. And of course, as the Queen, she was always well-turned-out and carefully made up and coiffed. I can’t imagine her sprawling on a sofa, eating potato chips while watching “The West Wing”. Also, she had humor to go with her grace, like two jewels set together on a brooch. Some people who knew her described her as “hilarious” – I imagine she could be, in the dry British way.
So these are the things I will miss about my Mum – her style, her grace, her integrity, and her dedication. She “put her best foot forward” which is one thing my own Mom always tried to do. These great ladies. There won’t be more like them.
In gratitude to my two mothers. Thanks for everything, including being shining examples of what it means to Carry On.