The Queen died today, Thursday, ending the longest reign in British history. Strange words to type, not least because she seemed so immortal to so many. An ever-present, death-defying, emblematic stalwart of the UK.
We were prepared for it in the afternoon, with an official statement saying that doctors were concerned for her health. Much stronger words than usually used. Then her children and grandchildren came flocking to her bedside and this seemed more of a signal.
I had BBC Radio Six Music playing at dinner time, and sat at the table with E in the dining room. C was working late, away from home today. When we finished our pasta, I hopped up to get yoghurt and fruit from the kitchen. Pop music faded away from the radio on the windowsill and was replaced with a sober voice.
Rumours and suspicions had been drifting around since that afternoon statement, with some suggesting that she had already died and everything was being put in order. But it wasn’t certain. Maybe she would rally again and limp on for a few more days or weeks. Everything felt weighted, heavy, like she was certainly now on the way out, but the timeline was sketchy. I learned initially about it through Twitter, looking at my phone while slumped in the car boot with the dog in a supermarket car park, waiting to go and collect E from school.
At that point in the afternoon, the day already felt far more significant than a couple of days earlier, when yet another prime minister was sworn in. That had felt so oddly unhistoric and insignificant. A new prime minister should feel important, but it didn’t. Oh, yes. Another one. I wonder how long she’ll last. It was all comparatively trivial alongside this moment. Liz Truss was the Queen’s 15th and final prime minister. In a break from tradition, the politicians had travelled to the Queen at her Balmoral home, where she was said to be experiencing mobility issues. Welcoming Truss, in those still Press Association pictures taken by Jane Barlow, she looked frail, the back of her outstretched hand seriously darkened, likely through IV drip. The other clutching a walking stick. Yet her eyes were still highly alert, still doing her duty, still getting on with it.
With that sober radio broadcaster’s interruption in the kitchen came a sinking certainty. Oh, shit. This was actually it then. A short statement saying that she had died, followed by the national anthem. A wave of tingling shock as the familiar song played out. A jarring sense that this moment was historic, yet present, yet historic. Nothing can define or bookmark an era like a monarch who has reigned for 70 years. An urge to document it was suppressed. I went back to the archway through to the dining room, where E sat waiting, and told her that the Queen had died.
I prepared her as we drove back from school that afternoon, saying that the Queen was really old and now really sick and it was possible that she might die. She said she understood, but it’s a hard thing to process for anyone, and especially a small person a few days short of her fourth birthday. I put the telly on. Welsh BBC newsreader Huw Edwards in a black tie looking sombre. I rewound to the point of him breaking the news a short while later and found it unsatisfying. An almost abrupt switch from her being alive with quiet commentary over pictures of flags flying against grey skies, to him breaking the news with the official statement, then repeating it. Was a little more of a pause needed there? An over-informality to his style and forward-lean, elbows on desk, arm stretched out a little too casually? It didn’t have the gravitas and power of the appropriately sullen, perfectly timeless radio broadcast.
When I sat back down with the yoghurt and fruit, E asked a question about the Queen, perhaps something about what she was thinking when she died, but phrased more confusedly than that. Not quite clear. I asked her if she wanted to try again with her question and she declined. I said it was ok, that death is a hard thing to understand. Nobody really does. Lots of people believe lots of different things.
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