Much has been made about the extraordinary amount of attention and coverage given to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. On one hand, she was probably the most famous person on the planet. On the other, some would say she had, at best, a symbolic role in the world and at worst what she symbolized was colonialism.
Like most of us, she wore many hats – albeit one of hers was literally a heavy crown. Another was that of a grandmother to eight grandchildren.
In that capacity, I thought of the personal loss to those eight – now grown – adults.
My own grandmother died several years ago. Leaving behind seven grandchildren. She was born in 1923, three years before Queen Elizabeth. They shared a common history that spanned most of the twentieth century and some of the twenty-first.
Grandmothers play a unique role in families. They are our matriarchs who have earned our respect. As they grow older, so too does our appreciation for them. As their bodies fail, we see both their current and past pain more clearly. Knowing our time is limited, we hopefully do not take any of it for granted.
For much of my life, my interactions with my grandmother were limited to long-distance check ins that amounted to brief calls covering benign topics like the weather.
Fortunately as I grew older, we grew closer. We were pen pals throughout my college years. Played bingo at the state fair. I took her on road trips from her home in upstate New York to Pennsylvania to surprise my mother for Christmas (I put a big red bow on her.) We went to a Yankee/Red Sox game where someone offered to sell her a joint, and to the FDR Presidential Library where a very young park ranger claimed that most people didn’t realize he was in a wheelchair when he was alive. She corrected her and said they did. After all, she should know – he was the first President she voted for.
I called her almost every Sunday, often battling a hangover, to do so. Our conversations became more personal. I asked her questions about life, her struggles, and her loves. She was a joy to talk with.
She began calling me, “Sunshine” presumably in recognition that I provided some light in her life. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to call someone and upon saying hello, they sincerely respond, “Hi Sunshine” or “How’s My Sunshine doing today?”
It was one of the best experiences of my life to be there in the days before she passed. Offering some comfort via an ice chip to quench her thirst or a bad joke to lighten the mood. When she died, I was honored to deliver her eulogy. I took solace in knowing that nothing I said that day would have been a surprise to her.
What does this have to do with Queen Elizabeth?
Well I think all grandmothers are queens in their own right.
As our matriarchs, they remind us of our history, provide continuity to our story. When they pass a large hole is left that will never be filled. Most often in a family. In this case, a country as well.
It would be wonderful if every time a grandmother passed, we took the time to honor them properly. If our own children were granted days off school to truly remember their grandmother. If the press went beyond simply printing a small obituary to somehow provide the space to capture the fullness of their life and legacy.
Of course, we shouldn’t have to wait to honor them. If your grandmother is still with us, use this moment to honor your “queen” by reaching out to her. Or if she is gone, share her story with your children or have them call their grandmother. No doubt any of these honorific gestures will be received like a ray of sunshine.