As the nation and indeed the world grieve the passing of Queen Elizabeth, psychotherapist Noel McDermott offers advice on feelings of grief and loss. The monarch’s passing is a genuine end of an era, she has been at the heart of British culture and life for a long time and there is no avoiding that her passing will have a tremendous impact on the fabric of British culture. Some people will feel the loss personally as grief, but many more will feel the loss on a more cultural and societal level. There will a collective grieving which will be difficult if not impossible to avoid.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve
It’s important never to judge oneself as right or wrong in grieving. Many people will say they don’t have the right to feel loss at the death of say a partners loved one, but loss is felt because we have lost the relationship that was important to us. We have a profound and hugely important capacity to empathise and project emotionally onto people we may never have met, so it’s understandable and very human to feel loss at the death of a national figure.
Grieving for a public figure
The most important aspect of grieving is sharing the experience with others and that’s why funerals are so important. With public figures in general and with this one in particular there will be many opportunities to express your loss at public events. Books of condolence for example will be opened all over the world in all likelihood, there will be national moments of silence and there will be events organised all over the four nations. Attend these and they will help you cope with how you are feeling at this time.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott advises:
“It’s also important to find unique and personal ways to express your loss. Ask yourself, what did this person mean to you? What did they represent? Is there a song, an event, a memory that is cherished by you? Can you remember that and take time to share it in a way that for you honours the person?”.
Whilst grief and bereavement are not uniquely human, the complex ritualisation of the process is. Death for humans isn’t simply about the ending of life, it is about marking that life and acknowledging our most important survival trait, that we form emotional bonds with each other. For a brief time with the loss of someone who is emotionally important to us we experience a painful period of loss of meaning and purpose and memorialising and ritualising that pain helps us to get through into meaningful existence again.
Meaning and the loss of it central to death and bereavement
The loss of an emotionally important person in our lives makes us have to work at replacing the meaning that relationship held for us. This is true whether we liked the person we lose or not. In many ways being able to complete the grieving process and re-establish meaningful relationships again is more difficult with people we dislike. This is especially true in the loss of public figures that often only allow us simplistic empathic reactions. The more complex and richer our actual relationship is to the person who dies, the more we can experience a complex and nuanced bereavement containing good and bad.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments:
“The loss of our monarch has been made more complex because that institution for many no longer contains meaning. It lacks the capacity to connect and provide empathic healing and allow people to project their humanity and needs onto the institution. We have become attached to the interpersonal dramas and the individual stories. The loss of Elizabeth as a person will be experienced by many people, but the monarchy won’t have the capacity to help most people process that loss, and it is more likely the splintering we have seen in that institution will continue more during this time”
He continues: “That may be the biggest loss after the death of Elizabeth, she was a unique and remarkable human being and it’s a challenge to see how a situation that is hereditary can survive in our times unless led by an exceptional person. This loss then may well signal a significant passing. In that uniquely British way, it’s more likely to see a slow decay. It’s likely that whilst we have a strong emotional reaction to the loss of Elizabeth as a ‘person’, whatever construction each of us makes and projects onto her, the loss of meaning is unlikely to be contained and held by the pomp that will follow. It’s also not likely we will see the spontaneous public events we saw with Diana dying. It’s more likely that we will notice more keenly that the monarchy as an institution cannot provide meaning during that time and as such will lose its human connection.”
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual – www.noelcdermott.net.