DR MAX PEMBERTON: In mourning the Queen we honour the memory of our lost loved ones, too

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The country is in mourning. Around the world, people are joining us in our grief. The outpouring of emotion has been quite extraordinary, with many openly distraught at the Queen’s death. 

For a nation renowned for our reserve, we are pouring our hearts out. I’ve been astonished by how many people have messaged me about her death — including some I barely know. 

At work several of the nurses cried when it was discussed in a team meeting. People are truly shocked; utterly, earth-shatteringly shaken. 

Given that most of us never met the Queen, let alone knew her, it would be easy for the casual observer to think this was evidence of how overly emotional we have become as a nation. 

Around the world, people are joining us in our grief. Dr Max Pemberton says the outpouring of emotion has been quite extraordinary, with many openly distraught at the Queen’s death

But the more pertinent question to ask is: ‘Why might some people cry and lay flowers at the gates of Buckingham Palace, yet barely be able to muster a tear when an elderly relative dies?’ 

I think it takes the death of someone we are not actually close to, but who is deeply symbolic in our lives, for us to feel able to release pent-up emotions. It shows just how much we bottle up and bury deep. 

A few years ago I read a fascinating book written by a group of psychoanalysts called When A Princess Dies. 

It explored the psychology underpinning the public grief that followed the death of Princess Diana in 1997. The book argued that what we were witnessing was not mass hysteria or, indeed, anything insincere or mawkish. 

Rather, Princess Diana had — like a select few other people in the public eye, including the Queen — key characteristics that deeply resonate with us. 

When we grieve for their death, we are really grieving for something else. 

It’s less painful to cry for someone you’ve never met who triggers unresolved issues

It is less painful to cry for someone you have never met but whose story or character triggers unresolved issues. 

Diana’s death gave people an outlet for all the suppressed grief and upset that might otherwise have been directed inwards and contributed to making them unwell. 

It’s telling how Her Majesty’s death has prompted people to talk about other losses they have experienced. Few of us will have avoided bereavement, but the passing of the Queen, who ruled for seven decades, is bound to trigger grief for other key individuals in our lives, especially if we have not fully come to terms with their loss. 

I’d argue that this is part of the purpose of figureheads in society — they are symbols or, as psychologists call them, ‘archetypes’; universal prototypes onto which people’s memories, thoughts and ideas are projected. 

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) explains how grieving the Queen could be grief for something else. He says that the death triggers something else - an unresolved pain you have

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) explains how grieving the Queen could be grief for something else. He says that the death triggers something else – an unresolved pain you have

They, like the characters in fairytales, have enduring qualities that resonate with us. 

In the case of Her Majesty, she was an extraordinary force for stability and a symbol of unwavering strength and stoicism. Nothing seemed to faze her; nothing seemed to wrongfoot her. She was, in many ways, a parent figure — a dependable force in our world. 

It’s no coincidence that since her death, so many people have mentioned that the Queen reminded them of someone important to them — a grandparent, an aunt, their own mother. They may not have worn a crown or sat on a throne, but they were much-loved figures of safety and security in the person’s life, and this is what the Queen symbolised above all else. 

She found the right words to console at times of tragedy

Her loss makes us feel afraid, vulnerable and uncertain — feelings that, particularly with so much strife in the world, can seem almost overwhelming and too much to bear. 

Of course, like all ‘stable’ figures, she did change and adapt with the times, but in such a way and at a pace that we hardly noticed. 

She was the ultimate matriarch. She would calm those who were nervous, comfort those who were upset. 

She would laugh to lighten the mood and find the right words to console at times of tragedy. 

We looked to her during national crises to reassure and calm us. 

Much has been made of the fact that the Queen rarely showed her emotions, and I believe this was part of her power. It allowed us to feel it was about us, not her. 

We believed someone was in control. Is it any wonder we are so bereft now she’s not? 

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected through the collective unconscious

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected through the collective unconscious

These emotions aren’t invalid just because we didn’t know the Queen. In fact, they are incredibly real. 

Life is difficult and brutish at times. Her Majesty embodied a certain sense of safety and love that so many people are missing in their lives — a truth which is difficult to confront. The 20th-century Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected through the collective unconscious. 

Jung’s ideas have rather fallen out of fashion, but I think they provide a useful insight into the psychology behind the public’s collective displays of emotion. 

Jung argued that the collective unconscious was a mind that was shared by all people, which put our unconscious thoughts and experiences in a sort of melting pot which we could all access. 

This communal mind informs our choices and understanding of the world and explains why we share common fears, desires and beliefs. 

We have grown up with her image all around us

Sometimes a person comes along who chimes perfectly with something in our collective unconscious. So it was with the Queen and her motherly, calming and dependable persona. 

We have grown up with her image all around us. She was omnipresent. Just before sitting down to write this I posted my nephew’s birthday card and my eyes caught the Queen’s image on the stamp. The money I put in his card had her face on it. The postbox had ER emblazoned on the front. 

How can the death of the most famous person on the planet, the most photographed woman on Earth, who represented so much, not devastate us? 

But of course this is at the nub of our grief, I think. She represents something that transcends her role as Queen. 

One can only imagine the pressure and strain that being so much to so many must have placed on someone who was, after all, really only human. 

But this was a cross she bore so well, and we loved her all the more for it. We will all miss her terribly.

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