Photo of my mom at 20
Photo of my mom at about age 20. Click to enlarge.

The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II this past week has me thinking about what it means to lose our mothers. Of course, in the case of the Queen, she was not only the mother of a quite large extended family, but the female figurehead of a huge Commonwealth of Nations. I cannot imagine the level of juggling it took for her to raise her own children, plus be a head of state with such enormous responsibilities. In addition, to have to live your life on such a public stage, to have your family’s every step and misstep scrutinized and judged; that no matter what you do, someone will think it is wrong. I think above anything else, her strength of character and fortitude are what I have admired most.

Tina Brown might have said it best when she wrote in her article Queen Elizabeth II Understood the Weight of the Crown in the The New York Times this past week, “Without the queen, how will anyone know how to be British anymore? …she was the last well-behaved person in our coarsening, transactional world.”

Losing this mother, this grandmother of the world, which she became to many of us, has naturally caused those of us who have lost our own mothers to remember that loss as well. And, I suspect, to experience fresh grief. This summer I’ve been writing my own memoir, and the time period I’m covering includes the time when my mother died, in the summer of 2007. Ironically, I wrote that chapter just about a month ago. Because my third marriage was unraveling on me during the final months of her life, the details of her illness are fuzzy in my memory. I had to make several calls to my siblings to write that chapter: Why did she end up in the hospital the first time again? What month was that? When was her first surgery and what happened after that? Why was she operated on the second time again? I was so caught up in the chaos of my own life here in Houston, that what was going on with my mom in Seattle was escaping me.

Photo of my mom and four sisters
A favorite photo of my mom (at the top) with four of us sisters. Three siblings missing from this photo. That’s me at the bottom. Taken 1998. Click to enlarge.

So yes, I’ve been thinking about my mother quite a lot this summer, and especially this past weekend. Most people who know me well know that my relationship with my mom was difficult and battle-hardened; I wrote about it in this blog post. But it started to turn around during a trip I made to help her have an estate sale in Apache Junction, Arizona, just before she moved in with my sister in the Seattle area. It was during those 5 days that I had to tell her that I was leaving my second husband, which came as quite a shock to her. But in the subsequent discussions we had, just the two of us, we made a fragile peace. When I opened up with her, she finally opened up with me. It never happened again, but it did happen that one time, and for that I am grateful.

Death has a way of making us take stock of our lives, of making us pay attention to what matters. As the world and Great Britain grieve for the Queen, it also may send us back into our own cycle of grief for our own losses. And that’s OK. Getting back in touch with those deeply held feelings is never a bad thing.

As I watch the royal family try to grapple with their obvious pain in public, I feel so badly for them. To have to hold it together in front of the cameras has got to be excruciating. Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, wrote an article about understanding what it’s like to have to grieve in public when your very famous father passes away. In her article, The Royal Grief You Will Not See, she writes, “My hope is that people remember this about the royal family: In the end, though they breathe rarefied air, they grapple as we all do with life and death, with the mystery of what it means to be human. When darkness falls, and they are alone, they sink into the same waters that everyone does when a loved one dies. And they wonder if they’ll make it to the other side.”

Painting of my mother
Portrait of my mother, painted by my self-taught brother in law, in 1982. Click to enlarge.

My mother and Queen Elizabeth II were of the same generation; in fact, they were only 4 years apart in age. Two women, both born into free societies—one in Great Britain, one in America. Yet one was born into rare privilege and enormous wealth, and the other into abject poverty. I’m sure my mother wondered about that, as did many millions of other women of their generation: how does that happen? How did one get so lucky, and the other get the short straw? Or maybe I should put it another way. There was one incredibly long straw 96 years ago, and millions and millions of very short straws. Clearly, Elizabeth was chosen by God for this role she played, and she rose to the occasion and fulfilled that role to her very best. As Liz Truss, the new Prime Minister said, “Queen Elizabeth II was the rock on which modern Britain was built.” But she had extraordinary female role models before her in Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria; she stood upon their very tall shoulders. For centuries, strong women have served England well. All free societies should take notice.

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9 Responses

  1. I read your blog about your Mom. It’s hard to lose anyone but even more challenging if issues remain unresolved. Glad you had that time with her even if it was short where you felt a connection. I remember as well the similarity in age my mother was to the Queen and to Grace Kelly. They entered adulthood, marriage, and parenthood at about the same time and people everywhere looked up to them as role models. Yet the disparity in opportunity was striking. Now there are few people in any position to look up to as role models. The anniversary of my mother’s death was the 9th of Sept, two days before 9-11. She died one day after my daughter’s birthday. I think she delayed her own death so she wouldn’t die on that day. She was that kind of caring person. I had a good relationship with Mom, not so much Dad until the very last hour where we did a lot of “working it out” in a very short period of time. Increasingly as I age I think I understand my parents better and miss them more. My daughter comments from time to time now about how she understands me better as she ages. I guess that’s natural. The capacity to feel empathy for the royals, for our friends, and for ourselves is a gift. People who lack this capacity also lack the capacity to experience life fully. As we watch the royals grieve and then go on in their own way, it helps us to the same. Loss is very much a part of life, but so is joy. There is joy in remembering the good moments.

    1. Thank you Jane. The beauty in some of your words is just striking to me. I especially love “People who lack this capacity also lack the capacity to experience life fully.” It’s the sentiment I grasp for and often fail to come up with when I see harsh words on social media and even in public. You were blessed to have at least one parent who gave you the love and guidance you needed, and it shows. Thank you for commenting. — Gail

  2. Dear Gail – What a moving tribute to both Queen Elizabeth II and your Mom. Indeed, mothers are extra special people. They are the very “glue” that bonds families together. That certainly was the case in our family. Unfortunately, my mother died some 43 years ago at 72, succumbing to breast cancer. Believe me, it took me a few years to finally realize she was gone and nothing within our family would ever be the same. I also read Tina Brown’s piece on the Queen’s passing. Like you, she really has a way with words.

    1. Thank you Ed. Well I am a life-long Anglophile; I guess it shows! I probably know more about their history than I do our own. Thank you also for your nonstop support of my writing and this blog.–Gail

  3. Good evening Gail. You do have a way with writing that makes a connection with the reader. Thank you.
    My mom, Juanita Trigg was also a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a mother, and grandmother (probably her favorite). She had chores on their farm and took a job at the local grocery store in town when she was 16. She married my dad and continued to work as a cashier. For decades she worked for Safeway eventually becoming the 1st woman manager of a Safeway store in MO. During her retirement years she worked at McDonald’s and as a nursing aid at the residential home. She was always learning and enjoyed being part of a group. I remember wondering how she did it all and was proud to be one of her daughters. After the death of her husband, my dad, I began regularly traveling from Ohio to see her in Missouri. I made this trip numerous times. She choose to sell the farm and move into a residential care facility in town. Actually she worked there for several years before retiring (for real). She knew many residents and staff, so she had friends there and good care and honestly I had hope she’d live to be a great grandma. Well, in October 2022 she will be a great-grandma while in her heavenly home. I was blessed to have time with her the last week of her life in the residential home. I miss her, always.

    1. Rocky,

      Learning more about your mom tells me a lot about you! I was hoping this post would trigger some remembrances regarding people’s mothers, so thank you for that. I think it is happening all over the world, and that is a good thing. Great to hear from you.–Gail

  4. Remember our mom was also a queen in that everyone gravitated to our house because of her. It certainly wasn’t because of our father She advised many people on different things and they all kept coming back

    1. That’s certainly true – Grand Central Station! Our house and Grandma’s house, they could pack ’em in, couldn’t they?

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