Queen Elizabeth’s death and our collective loss

It must be a difficult time for anti-monarchists in this country.  Apparently some anti-monarchists have been making unpleasant comments on social media. That is Twitter for you and there is no situation, however tragic, that some sad souls will not disrespect with up to 280 characters of venom.

There are also a good handful of well- known anti-monarchist Twitterati   i.e. those with many followers, feeling they have to say something on her death. This I assume is partly to differentiate themselves from the hateful bunch and condemn them and also because they tweet about most things and silence from them at this momentous time would be odd. Their pronouncements are respectful and usually start with the proviso “I’m not a monarchist but….” followed by “I’m still sad about her death because she was a ninety-six year old mother, grandmother and a widow” as if you can view her like you would your next door neighbour and her role as head of the country for seventy years and beloved global leader was of little relevance.  Another approach is “you don’t have to believe in the monarchy to realise this is sad for other people who do” which is a step further saying, ‘I do not feel sad.’

If only life was this simple. I think that the lens of republican or monarchist is actually pretty irrelevant when considering the loss of our Queen of seventy years. Regardless of your belief in the monarchy or not we are going through a seismic social shift, an upheaval and change,  the likes of which the vast majority of us have not seen in our lifetime. You may not feel sadness at her death but we are more complex creatures than our political identities can ever possibly express. This is a collective loss and will be felt by all in one way or another.   

It doesn’t matter whether your cupboard is full of mugs with royal memorabilia or you think the monarchy is outdated and a waste of public money. For every single person alive in Britain today the Queen will have been the backdrop of their lives regardless of whether they approved of her position or not. This country has been a monarchy for a thousand years and that has influenced its development and that of its people. It and she has shaped our national character and our collective psyche. We cannot opt out of that.

As humans we have some basic psychological needs which include a sense of belonging and community. As Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth she reigned over hundreds of different types of people, providing a focus for belonging beyond class and race.  One unchangeable figure in our fast changing lives, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this constancy both collectively and individually regardless of any belief in a monarchy.

 The words we are hearing from commentators all express her unfailing service, her discipline, duty and endurance and why she has been so pivotal in providing stability over the past seventy years …bedrock, rock, foundation, the best of the nation.  In psychoanalytic terms there is no doubt that her leadership provided what Winnicott called a ‘holding environment’ for all of us, particularly during times of crisis,  reassuring us that  ‘all shall be well’ to use one of her own favoured terms from Julian of Norwich. We may not have noticed it or acknowledged it during her life but we are feeling its loss now.

Indeed last night Mark Austin, BBC home affairs correspondent commented on how many people said they were feeling disorientated and insecure. And on social media there is a common tweet expressing surprise at feeling sad and lost, bewilderment as to why. Someone solid, stable, wise and constant has gone from our lives.   

I am so grateful to have lived in her reign and give thanks for all she gave to us. May she rest in peace.