The Queen has died at the age of 96, and if you’re feeling disorientated, distressed or in a state of disbelief about the news, you’re certainly not alone.
Though we all knew this may be coming – the Queen has missed several events in recent months due to ill health – it’s still natural to feel shocked by the death of someone who’s been a constant presence throughout our lives.
The nation derived a sense of “stability and security from the Queen’s very existence”, says psychotherapist Lucy Beresford.
“Particularly in her later years, she had become the nation’s grandmother, for some the grandmother they had never had,” she adds.
“As a result, the primary feeling people will have is a sense of disorientation. Now that the Queen has died, there is another dimension to the loss which we also saw when Diana died, which is a sense of guilt, that ‘maybe I shouldn’t have such strong emotions about the death of someone I have never met’. But this is to underestimate the importance of the Queen in our national psyche.”
Most people in the UK will not have known any other monarch, so the Queen’s death could give rise to feelings of “loss, emptiness, or even anxiety and fear about the unknown,” Beresford tells HuffPost UK.
Some may be asking: what will life be like under a new monarch? Will the state of play be different under King Charles III?
The Queen’s death has come at a time when the UK is already experiencing a huge period of change, with Liz Truss less than a week into her new role as prime minister.
In an uncertain world, “having things that are predicable can be very helpful for us and even make us feel safe and contained”, says psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo.
“There are many rituals and predicable events associated with the Queen and the royal family, such as the Christmas Queen’s speech, Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Day,” she says. “These annual events may be emotional and meaningful for us, but also may be associated with our own lives, events and families. They may bring back memories of happy times, loss and change.”
The pomp and circumstance of a state funeral may also feel jarring for some, in the context of a cost of living crisis, and while it may not be your top priority list, the rolling news coverage of the Queen’s death – at a time when we could all do with some distraction and cheer – will no doubt impact emotions further.
All this means that even those who do not identify as royalists may be experiencing unexpected emotion.
“Public, collective grief can be impactful regardless of the origins or your personal beliefs,” Dr Quinn-Cirillo adds. “Seeing other people experiencing emotions will impact most people.
“We are by nature empathetic social beings. We will all experience loss of someone during our lifetime and any death may ignite these dormant feelings or may resonate with us in some way.”
There may also be a sense of “anticipatory grief” for those with relatives who have something in common with the Queen, she says. For example, you may find your mind preoccupied with thoughts of elderly family members or those in ill health.
A lot of us probably have mixed feelings, too. There are plenty of people who don’t approve of hereditary monarchy, but who nevertheless admired the Queen’s work ethic, adds Beresford. There will be those who “feel the simple human sadness of the loss of an elderly lady”.
Details about a public holiday to mourn the monarch are yet to be announced, but Dr Quinn-Cirillo says if you can’t concentrate at work or home right now, that’s to be expected. Unsettling news can “impact our current function”.
“We may need time to just sit and process the news,” she explains. “We may not be able to concentrate properly or attend to things around us.”
And if you’re not feeling personally impacted by the mourning? That’s okay, but be sensitive to those around you.
“Listen and be there for them. You don’t have to fix it or make it ok,” says Dr Quinn-Cirillo. “It can be natural to try and make a positive statement – ‘she had a good life etc’ – but actually this can be really invalidating of their feelings. Saying it’s very sad, I am so sorry for how this has impacted you is actually more helpful.”
With older family members who may feel this loss most acutely, it can be helpful to talk about some of their memories of the Queen.
“There can again be a misconception that people don’t want to talk about the person who has died, but it can be helpful to ask if they do,” Quinn-Cirillo adds.
“Simple things such as asking if there is anything they need, offering a cup of tea, or sitting with them [can help]. They may feel they want to do something more practical such as signing a book of public condolence, or visiting a church if they are a person of faith.”
For elderly relatives who may not be able to go to public vigils, she recommends asking if they’d like to hold a personal ceremony at home.
If you’re the one struggling this week, her ultimate advice is “be kind to yourself”, a sentiment echoed by Beresford. “Be true to your feelings, and acknowledge that any major ending needs to be grieved,” she says.
“Give yourself permission to feel your feelings, when they arise, and to take some quiet time to reflect if that is what you need. Or if you feel the need to talk it all out, with people who feel like you, make time to do this. An ending has occurred in your life, so treat yourself with compassion.”