This is a strange time to live in the United Kingdom. Like a vast majority of Britons, I have never known any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth.
On Sep. 9, I watched events unfold as first, her doctors released a statement that they were concerned over her declining health, and then as the blanket coverage on news channels became evermore ominous.
Working in the news business, there are always signs of something big about to unfold. Government departments ended all social media output around 4pm — the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who two days before had become the 15th of Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign, was informed at 4:30pm. And shortly after 6pm, the Union flag atop Buckingham Palace was lowered to half-staff.
Then the solemn announcement that Her Majesty had died. God save the Queen.
And in that moment of great grief for her immediate family — she was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother — her eldest son, at the age of 73 and turning 74 in November, became King. Long live the King.
It is hard to understate the devotion and love that so many millions in the UK felt towards the late Queen.
In the bank notes and coins in their wallets, in their courts, in every aspect of dealings with the Government, in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Army, she was ever-present.
In the post that is delivered through the doors each day, her image is on stamps. Elizabeth is everywhere.
Her portrait appears in every government building in 53 nations that are part of the Commonwealth. When I was much younger, feistier, I quipped one time as I crossed the border between New York State and Ontario at Morrisburg, the portrait was the Employee of the Month. My car was thoroughly searched and I was handed a fine for breaching duty free import limits.
When I later took out citizenship of Canada, I swore allegiance to her. Becoming a Canadian was one of the proudest days of my life, putting my Irish nationalist sentiments aside.
I noted that with an hour of her death, a citizenship ceremony in Toronto hastily changed the working of the oath to refer instead to King Charles. Highways that were referred to in law as “the Queen’s Highway” became “the King’s Highway.
How many of those Commonwealth nations now will evaluate their relationship with the new King, their past so inextricably tied up with the personality of the late Elizabeth.
On the morning after her death, senior lawyers in UK courts automatically changed from Queen’s Counsel to King’s Council. Court cases changed from Regina versus Smith to Rex versus Smith.
Throughout the 1,200 years of monarchy first of England, then Britain and then the United Kingdom, there have only been eight queens — Elizabeth I and II, Victoria, Anne and Mary I and II.
We have switched from the Elizabethan Age to that of the Carolan era.
Elizabeth was a woman who was the most travelled Head of State anywhere and at any time.
She came to the Throne at a time when Britain and much of western Europe was recovering from the physical, economic and psychological scars of the second truly horrific and global war to wrench the world apart in a little over two decades.
When her father, George VI died and she became Queen, she was in Kenya. She was greeted on her return by Sir Winston Churchill, the great wartime Prime Minister. She was 25 at the time. When she appointed Liz Truss as her 15th PM two days before her death, Elizabeth was gravely ill — her appearance shocking to all who saw it.
During her reign she made more than 20 Royal Visits to Canada alone.
Her reign stretches from the end of the Truman presidency through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson — the only one she never met in person — to Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan — they bonded famously over their love of horses — Bush senior, Clinton, Bush junior, Obama, Trump — he longed for the trappings of state that royalty brings — and now Biden.
She was the titular head of the Church of England, the Church of Wales and the Church of Scotland, plus some 40 other Episcopalian churches associated with Lambeth Palace. And her reign stretched from Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
Windsor Castle to the west of London — even though it lies directly under the flight path to Heathrow — was the Queen’s favourite home. But with her health in final decline towards that great destiny none of us can avoid, she chose to remain at Balmoral for its tranquillity.
And how quintessentially Scottish was the scene at her beloved Balmoral Castle and estate. The Queen wore a tartan skirt and a fire burned warmly in the hearth, keeping out the damp weather of the Aberdeenshire hills even in early September.
I turn 62 soon and I will not see another queen, with Charles now on the throne, William now the heir and new Prince of Wales, and his son George in line to follow.
When my final destiny nears and there is clarity in that step beyond, I would choose to have it in rolling green hills, mistiness and a roaring fire to soothe the soul.