On observing protocol in honor of Her Royal Highness
The Queen has died, and House Mohawk is officially in mourning.
Queen Elizabeth II, Great Britain’s longest-reigning monarch—ruling for more than 70 years—was 96 when she died on September 8. Protocol dictated that a 10-day mourning period ensued, and my wife, an avowed Anglophile, is absolutely following that protocol.
When the news broke, Robyn was in tears. The next day, in accordance with tradition, she wore the appropriate black garb to signify grief. She will continue to do so until the close of the mourning period.
Those who know her are not the least bit surprised, and know exactly how much the Queen meant to her. For those who don’t know her, well, you don’t have to understand, really; just accept it as so.
Because I completely get it. When news broke of Adam West’s death in 2017, Robyn didn’t once question the genuineness nor the validity of my grief. She held me and let me cry. She did the same thing this past December when Michael Nesmith died. She knew that both were wildly influential in shaping my interests and my personality.
And, while they may have been pop culture nobility—Batman and a Monkee—they weren’t actual royalty.
So I completely get how a famous person you’ve never met can have a profound impact on you, and how their death can leave a surprising void—especially someone like Queen Elizabeth, whose presence was constant as the Northern Star.
For seven decades—and years before that as a princess—Elizabeth served as the model of grace, poise and dignity.
During her reign, she entertained 13 of the last 14 presidents (everyone from Harry Truman to Joe Biden, with Lyndon B. Johnson being the only exception), five of the seven last popes (excluding Paul VI and John Paul I) and countless other world leaders, and worked with 15 prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill and ending with Elizabeth Truss, who was appointed—and met with the Queen—just two days before Her Majesty’s death.
Each of these individuals came from varying backgrounds and upbringings—some more refined than others—and the Queen welcomed them all, exuding the same class and etiquette for each and every one, no matter how trying some of them may have been.
Not only that, but her addresses to her subjects—and the world—will no doubt become the stuff of legends. Though radio had been utilized for decades by her predecessors, Queen Elizabeth was the first monarch to embrace television and use it as a tool, starting with her coronation in 1953.
But for the Royal Christmas Message, the Queen only addressed her nation five times on television: the start of the Gulf War in 1991; following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997; regarding the death of her mother in 2002; during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012; and regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in April of 2020.
That last one was particularly resonant. During the address, she spoke of the characteristics that had come to define her subjects, hoping that future generations will recognize that the Britons of today “were as strong as any.”
“That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future,” the Queen said.
She also noted that, while there were still bad times ahead, good days would return.
“We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again,” the Queen said.
While I can’t speak for how her subjects responded to it, I can say that even I felt better after hearing it. There was such an air of calm reassurance about her that it was impossible not to feel hopeful—and not just during that address but during every appearance she made.
But now, the woman who served as the world’s de facto grandmother is gone, and in her place is King Charles III (and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing that)—who probably could have used another 20 or so years of etiquette lessons from his mother to become half the host she was and who, perhaps unfairly, has an impossible legacy to live up to.
So I grieve with my wife, and we grieve with the world.
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.