“When I first read that the Queen had died, even as a grief specialist, I was amazed at my reaction,” says Carole Henderson Grief specialists on this week’s episode of Metro.co.uk’s mental health podcast, Mentally Yours.
“I was immediately in tears. It was surprising: here was this lady that I never met, who was quite old, who died… I didn’t expect that reaction.’
Carole’s reaction to the death of Queen Elizabeth II will sound so familiar to many in the UK and beyond.
Many of us will have been surprised at how we felt – whether by the strength of our emotions or the lack of emotions.
The following days complicated things.
From the moment the news broke, the nation as a whole was thrown into a period of mourning. Even if you don’t personally feel grief over the loss of the Queen, you are suddenly part of an experience of collective grief; one in which brands pay tribute to the monarch, events are shut down and complicated feelings towards the royals are not easily accepted.
Could this forced mourning period have an impact on our mental health?
“Yeah, I think that can have negative implications because we don’t have control over these external things,” explains Carole.
“It’s about hearing and seeing all these things, which doesn’t necessarily align with where I’m at right now…it doesn’t necessarily help me.
“It may be a drain.”
On the other hand, when you’re experiencing grief, it can be powerful to have a crowd of people running away with you.
“Collective grief is nothing new,” says Carole. “When Princess Diana died, there was a huge collective grief – you could almost feel it in the air.
“And more recently, there was the collective mourning after 9/11.
“If you look at when Russia invaded Ukraine, we may not have identified it as grief per se, but how many people sat there and thought, ‘I have to do something, what can I do?’ almost fidgety energy?”
“It was all sadness. Grief is a set of conflicting feelings we have when change occurs.”
We might also find that the Queen’s death and the ensuing displays of mourning — the funeral, the queuing for the coffin, the laying of flowers at Buckingham Palace — allow us to explore feelings of grief that may have previously gone unnoticed.
“Grief is cumulative,” says Carole. “So when you have unresolved issues – and I think a lot of us do in the wake of the Covid pandemic – it’s perfectly normal for it to come up again.
“If you think about Covid there was a loss of normality, a loss of social life, a loss of connection.
“And if you look at the Queen, it was normal for her to be there, she’s always been there. It’s on the stamp, the ketchup bottle, it’s everywhere.
“That’s going to change, and it feels strange and strange and awkward when it comes to the losses from Covid.”
Rituals like the funeral help us overcome these emotions.
“They are vital,” says Carole, noting that the fact that the funeral will be televised should help us process feelings of mass grief.
“Coming together and witnessing these ceremonies that mark this end is all part of helping us to acknowledge that this has happened and changes are coming.”
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