Five Reasons To Mourn The Greatest Generation
Why Queen Elizabeth II’s death is such a blow to us all
I knew the Queen was ill when my WhatsApp pinged. I have a journalist friend who gets called up on days off only when there’s a huge story to cover. When that story involves a high-profile death they are required to wear black.
Picking my phone up and scanning the chat channel, I saw a sombre, captionless photo of my friend in monochrome. Despite this, and despite news updates that the Queen wasn’t well, I somehow couldn't connect these two events with the idea that illness could turn into the final, inevitable certainty.
That is, until someone at our post-work drinks casually said: “Well, that’s it then. The Queen’s dead”. It hit me like a boxing body blow. I had to make a rushed excuse and stumble out of the pub to avoid crying in front of colleagues.
Somehow, I’d never really thought that this would happen and I wasn’t emotionally ready for it. My rational brain was puzzled. Why was this so upsetting? Why was I taking this so badly? It’s taken me a few days to unravel what might be happening.
They have always been there
It is hard to imagine Britain without Queen Elizabeth II partly because almost everyone has only known it with her.
The Queen has been a constant, caring presence in most people’s living memories. My mother was 2 and my father 9 at her coronation, while my grandmother was born only 18 months after little Liz. She has been as much a part of the fabric of my reality as have tables, chairs, skyscrapers, wine and cheese. For her to suddenly go is like a law of physics being declared extinct. It is dizzyingly unsettling.
Queen Elizabeth represents the generation of people that survived the wars and helped build a better future for their families. The generation that had to survive with so little, to worry so much about the fate of their loved ones and to be brave enough to carry on afterwards.
When I mourn the loss of her, I’m also grieving for the loss of this generation of people. She felt like my final grandparent passing away.
Quiet fortitude is important
Suffering quietly and with dignity, putting a brave face on things, making the best out of a bad situation. This is how the Greatest Generation dealt with the PTSD horrors of war. Families regrouped and moved on without talking too much about the dark past.
This isn’t how we handle things any more and broadly this is a good thing. We process our feelings by talking and we heal. The unfortunate by-product of this change, however, is the loss of stoicism alongside this positive shift. Losing the Queen feels like we’re in danger of losing quiet fortitude and grit altogether.
Humour is a winning coping strategy
Facing adversity head-on with a stiff upper lip and a delightfully dry wit is quintessentially British. And while this attitude will not pass away along with dear old Liz, it is an attitude she adopted at every major occasion.
Dealing with difficult situations with dignity and wit is a tricky feat to pull off well and there are a dwindling few who seem to be able to represent Britain in this way on the international stage.
Western family structures have atomised over the past half-century. We no longer live in the same place as our parents or siblings and often have to travel long distances between our places of work and home.
The Queen’s generation has bridged the gap between this old version of family and evolved relationships: nuclear families, gay parents and close friendship groups now provide the same support that blood kin used to. And while tolerance of difference isn’t something usually applied to the Greatest Generation, both my grandmother and Queen Elizabeth showed everyone else how it was done.
QEII applied kin in the broadest definition, referring to the Commonwealth as a family of nations. Her unambiguous acceptance of difference came from the understanding that people are all the same, wherever you find us, irrespective of colour, creed, sexuality or religion.
Lessons from the past make us who we are
Queen Elizabeth advised 15 Prime Ministers throughout her reign. The first, Winston Churchill, was born in 1874 and carried a musket to war on horseback in the 19th century. The last, Liz Truss, was born 101 years later and worked for Shell as an accountant before becoming an MP. My, how times change. QEII lived through all of that. She met hundreds of world leaders, thousands of Commonwealth citizens, and became the world’s most experienced diplomat through sheer staying power.
Queen Elizabeth understood both the historical context of power plays and how this would affect the actions of world leaders. She also kept in touch with ordinary, everyday people, in large part because of the very ordinary, everyday challenges her own family faced.
Losing Queen Elizabeth means losing that thread of continuity that remained intact across three centuries and multiple generations.
Elizabeth II: an appreciation by Simon Schama
The message due to go out from the Queen's private secretary was "London Bridge is down": code for the death of…
The depth of sadness I feel is surprising. Writing this article has helped me process how large an event Queen Liz’s passing actually is. She’s symbolic, representing so much of what I’m proud about when I say that I am British. Her presence has also felt personal, like a grandparent creating that vital connection between past and present.