Most Americans are probably quite tired of so much media coverage of Queen Elizabeth. And her somewhat unexpected death at 96 when only 2 days earlier she met with the UK’s outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to accept his formal resignation and then the new Prime Minister Liz Truss – “asking” her to form a government. All according to British law and custom. Both Johnson and Truss traveling to Balmoral Castle in Scotland for the nearly back to back meetings. Which of course were private. But we all saw the photos with Truss and the Queen’s trademark, delighted smile.
Since I wrote that first paragraph late last week, there have been memorial services in Scotland after the Queen’s Royal Standard draped casket traveled slowly through the towns and countryside to Edinburgh. Large crowds paying their respects along the route. After a flight to London, the Queen was driven slowly through the streets of London to her official home at Buckingham Palace. More mourners from all parts of the UK and beyond lined the way. Then – just a day later, with her children and grandchildren walking behind her casket – her final ride from the Palace to the oldest part of the Parliament Buildings – Westminster Hall. Which dates from the 11th century. Where ordinary people from all over the world can file by Queen Elizabeth’s casket 24 hours a day until the state funeral on Monday. As I write this – the online Queue Tracker Live estimates the line extends 4.9 miles. A wait of at least 9 hours. Update going into the weekend — the Queue Tracker Live warning of 24 hour waits and a cold night.
I’m an Anglophile so if I could – I’d be in that queue. But I’m supposed to be working on my soon to be launched podcast. So here I am at home – watching BBC, Sky News, and CNN coverage wall to wall. Watching the BBC ‘s live international stream now and then of the Queen’s coffin lying regally in that ancient hall while so many of those ordinary people – old and young, some tearful, some bowing or curtsying – walk quietly by. Hard to turn away when my heart is in London. I’ll pay my own quiet virtual respects over the weekend.
The first alert that the Queen had died came over my iPhone. From Sky. The print looking very small and lonely on that screen. It said simply, “Queen Elizabeth has died”. I said quietly – almost viscerally – “oh no”. There were no other alerts. For more than 5 minutes the screen was quiet. I was watching BBC. Nothing. I quickly began streaming Sky News on my iPad – in time to watch the reporter at Balmoral read the announcement which had just been handed to him. He almost couldn’t get through it. It took BBC at least 5 more minutes before the anchor read his own, halting announcement. Perhaps the delay was to give the on-air people a moment to digest it. But they couldn’t.
I had an overwhelming feeling that everything familiar had just ended. That the sky was falling. A feeling some of the reporters later said was common among older Brits. She was their queen yes. But at 96 she had become the world’s grandmother. A constant in a world changing so rapidly that when we went to bed at night we no longer knew what it would look and sound and taste like when we woke up in the morning.
I don’t think my husband – who grew up in a small New Jersey town – has the same relationship as I do to the British Royals. He didn’t grow up in Boston. Where so many of the stately old brick and cement homes in Back Bay and on Beacon Hill were built to resemble the London neighborhoods many early 19th century Americans once knew. Where the streets I walked on had the same names as those in London. I doubt my husband read the same historical novels in school. And I know he never wanted to live in London. As I always did.
The historical films and tapes of Queen Elizabeth from her girlhood have been fascinating. Her grainy black and white coronation is the first nearly live international TV many Americans can remember. I always thought it was live – actually the first live international broadcast. So did my husband – who also recalls the grainy shots. But more important – it was my first personal memory of Queen Elizabeth and the modern British monarchy. In Boston we studied tons of British, Scottish and Irish history but never, seemingly, anything current. At least I don’t remember it. (Or much of the history).
There’s been lots of discussion during the coverage this week about the future of the British monarchy. Even though so many young people have come out to honor the Queen. But of course they are honoring a person. A special woman who seemed part of everyone’s family despite being the Queen. Will they also honor her son?
I’ve heard and read many more eloquent words about the Queen than I can ever write. But – like so many other people – eloquent or plain spoken – I feel the door closing on an era. MY era. Life will go on. Charles will be the King he was raised to be. William will succeed him if the monarchy survives. But it won’t be the same. There will be no delighted smile on our Granny’s face. No one dressed in bright colors who always does and says the right thing. No constant in our spinning ever faster world. Queen Elizabeth is gone….