Grief never disappears from royals’ or commoners’ lives

One wonders ... Do we get better at understanding grief of all types when we have lived as long...
One wonders ... Do we get better at understanding grief of all types when we have lived as long as Queen Elizabeth? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
She turns 95 today, but it seems wrong to wish Her Majesty many happy returns.

It is too soon after her husband’s death. And, while she might not have wanted him to live in his frail almost 100-year-old state, I am guessing she will be missing his presence, nonetheless.

I have no right to make such presumptions. I don’t know her. Nor can I draw on the experience of being married to someone for 73 years.

My own marriage lasted a paltry 18 years. I knew he had to die, that his cancer-ravaged body was done. That didn’t stop me thinking, weeks after it was all over, that I would trade anything for just another day with him. Madness. The madness of grief.

I wonder if we get any better at understanding grief of all types when we have lived as long as Queen Elizabeth.

Does each fresh grief awaken the old ones? Does it become any easier to deal with those little darts to the heart every time a grandchild says something naive and you wish they could be permanently cocooned from losing that candour and innocence?

Do you lose the urge to convey amusing snippets to your dead nearest and dearest or ask their advice? Do you stop what I call advance grieving, where you deal with your sadness about the deceased’s absence from any important event before the occasion, so it frees you to enjoy the moment?

Does the Queen grieve for a life she might have had as a commoner? She may have avoided the grief of losing a job, but does she have sadness about having a job she hasn’t felt able to leave yet?

I am still not used to grief, big and small, even though I assume it first struck me more than 60 years ago when I was 4 and my mother died. My memory has blacked out the immediate aftermath.

I kid myself about my coping mechanisms now.

I have been dry -eyed about the disappearance of our 2-year-old cat, Joey, this month.

‘‘Make sure you are home by eight,’’ were the last words we can be sure he heard. Silly words from my companion, the crazy cat gentleman.

After smooches all round, Joey bounded down the hall and to freedom. That was it.

I think he is dead. My companion, who initially tried to convince me Joey is off on a grand adventure in the wilds nearby, is not convinced by his own rhetoric. He has emptied and removed the cat feeder from the kitchen.

I thought I was doing OK until, a few days after Joey’s departure, I found I was about to head into civilisation with my top on inside-out. I’d just returned from walking up the paddock to make my glass-shattering calls to the cat (my defence is, they usually worked) while shaking his treats packet.

Then there was my dental appointment. I was determined to present in a sensible way.

Before my previous appointment, keen to disguise the fact I had been scoffing a sticky cafe treat, I headed to a bus hub loo to brush my teeth. Leaning into the basin for a spit, my head came under the soap dispenser sensor, sending a splat into my hair. Should this ever happen to you, do not be tempted to add water to the mix. I am not sure how much of the resulting lather remained when I got to the dentist, but he remained discreetly silent. (I reluctantly accept congratulations from those who have done the frenzied hand-in-and-out dance trying unsuccessfully to get soap or water from dispensers in these over-engineered contraptions.)

This time I avoided any cafe naughtiness, setting off virtuously by bike in my waterproof trousers.

However, it turns out the 9.30 I had entered on my calendar should have been 8.30. Yes, of course I got the text messages about my appointment, but didn’t bother reading them because I knew what I was doing. I rescheduled without mentioning the cat.

When I snarled at my companion for tuning in to TV2 (we were on TV1 and it was just an ad for the other channel), my concern turned to hysterical laughter when he said despondently ‘‘ the cat’s gone, and now I’m stuck with an idiot’’. Touche. My long-time refrain when things go wrong is ‘‘I’m surrounded by idiots’’.

‘‘She’s in the angry phase of grief,’’ I heard him say conspiratorially later, coming over all Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to one of my daughters-in-law.

The Queen can take charge of her TV, and servants will ensure she keeps appointments with her clothes on correctly. Steering clear of idiots might be more difficult, but at least she can have the comfort of cuddling a corgi.

 Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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