Friday’s news that one of the greatest stalwarts of our nation ever HRH The Duke of Edinburgh had died peacefully at home has caused a wave of grief across the nation, and the hugest outpouring of love and sympathy for Her Majesty The Queen. Losing someone after 73 years of marriage, who you’ve loved since you were thirteen years old is as profoundly sad as it gets, and will undoubtedly cause the deepest and greatest sorrow, all with the world’s eyes and press fixed upon her, now without her “strength and stay”.
What struck me on Friday, after a text message from one of my family, alerting me to the news, was how much grief currently sits in all of us, just under the surface. I put BBC1 on and after two minutes they played the National Anthem, and I found that I was crying. I didn’t expect to cry. The BBC presenter was almost in tears, perhaps they’d been surprised by the news and found themselves unexpectedly in the ‘hot’ anchor seat. During the day I heard from others who’d cried too, in the car, at work and at home. The man who’d always been there as a constant in all our lives, had quietly slipped away, his time on earth and his duty done.
Prince Philip was one year older than my late Father, who also served in the Second World War. The Duke epitomised so many of that generation, and he has been a steadfast father figure of our country for so long, in reality, unless we’re very, very old, ALL of our lives. Maybe it’s not just his passing that’s affected us, as along with the loss of Captain Sir Tom Moore earlier this year it’s a slow dawning realisation that as the last of these extraordinary war heroes pass we notice that we’re losing a lot of what makes us British too. Our stoicism, our Brit grit, our tolerance, our humour and our sense of dignity, loyalty, public service, patriotism and duty. Perhaps above all, in this fast paced technological world what it means to give our word, and mean it, keeping it just as he did at the Coronation swearing to be her “liege man of life and limb” forever.
Reflecting later, I realised that the sad news of the day has also triggered and unexpectedly released some of the hidden and unrecognised griefs and losses which so many people are feeling. The sad news, broadcast globally in seconds, unwittingly exposes the cumulative effects of the situation we’re all in, highlighting so much of what’s currently lost to all of us due to Covid-19, be it freedoms, businesses, connections, health and loved ones.
The Duke’s funeral, like so many hundreds of thousands of others in the past year, will be a muted, scaled down affair, for the immediate family only. To so many of us he was a dedicated and very great Consort, and his immense legacy of public service and duty will stand out in our country’s history for ever. We owe him, and indeed his whole generation, so much.
To his family Prince Philip is irreplaceable, as are all husbands/wives/partners, fathers/mothers, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, cousins and children, and just like everyone else in the UK the number of attendees to the funeral is restricted to just 30. Perhaps the Duke would have been glad of that, it’s well known that he didn’t want any fuss.
I went to the funeral of a much loved family member earlier this year. I was so glad to be there but it was a strange affair, leaving so much unsaid and undone. No hugs, no singing, no wake, no laughs. Weird, unnatural and although not particularly cathartic, I was so glad to be there. Afterwards we stood in the churchyard like the pieces on a chess board, wondering who would move first, a few steps forward and a few steps back, and no one getting close. The scenes will stay fixed in my mind forever.
Collectively we salute and mourn the passing of a unique and dignified man, while empathising deeply with his widow, the most famous woman in the world, and with their whole family for their incalculable loss.
We’re immensely grateful for his loyal service and love for our Queen and their family, for his work ethic (he only retired age 96), for his environmental concerns, and his humour and uniqueness.
Raw grief IS a solitary journey which everyone feels in a different way, however strong support and love sustains the process and that helps. Later on other interventions and support is both possible and helpful. Perhaps this huge outpouring of love and care is in part both a recognition and a message for everyone who mourns, and it also symbolises and highlights the absence of essential close social connections with others, that’s been missing for all of us for over a year, AND the interrupted grief of a nation and world in the grip of a pandemic.
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The Grief Tree is a unique transformational programme specifically designed to help those who are struggling to cope with loss in their lives. They might be aware of their losses, or there might be hidden losses which have never been acknowledged. www.thegrieftree.co.uk