What’s the reason behind public grief as millions are mourning Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s death?

From the elderly to small children, millions of people are mourning the demise of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away on September 8 at her home in Scotland. She was 96. The sad demise of the Queen led to an outpouring of emotion and public grief showed what Britain’s longest-serving monarch meant for the commoners. 

London transport chiefs estimated that over 750,000 people could join the queue for the queen’s lying-in-state. It is expected that more than a million people will be travelling to London over the whole 10-day public mourning period including the funeral, which is scheduled to take place on September 19. 

Around 33,000 people filed past the monarch in the space of 24 hours when her coffin was laid at rest in Edinburgh’s St. Giles’ Cathedral on Monday and Tuesday. 

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On Friday (September 16), entry to a queue to see the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth was paused for “at least” six hours as people were waiting in line to pay their respects in Westminster Hall.

The UK government said that a holding area in a park at the end of the line along the Thames had reached five miles (eight kilometres). Over tens of thousands of people already paying their respects ahead of the state funeral. 

Some are fainting, and many are in discomfort, but despite all the evident issues, people are ready to wait in queues, even for overnight hours, to see the coffin and pay their respects. People know that they have to wait maybe 24 hours (as displayed by the electronic signs, trackers, etc), but they are still waiting. 

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What’s the reason behind public grief? 

But why is it happening? Why are people not even close to the Queen grieving for the loss of someone they knew and loved? The situation highlights the question of whether or not strong feelings of loss for someone you have never met even be considered grief. 

What is grief? Grief is a response to the loss, particularly to the loss of someone or some living thing that has died. We grieve for those with whom we form a bond or affection. It is said that the state is focused on the emotional response to loss, but grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions. 

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What do the experts say? 

In a report by Nature, Michael Cholbi, a philosopher and ethicist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said as quoted that most grief research has focused on the loss of parents, close friends or spouses. 

Cholbi said that the one-sided relationships between a person and a well-known public figure are called parasocial relationships. 

Cholbi said, “I certainly think that parasocial relationships can give rise to grief. I don’t see why we should anticipate that grief would only arise, only make sense, within the context of reciprocal relationships.” 

According to the report, some researchers attribute parasocial grief to a loss of possibility. Philosopher Louise Richardson said, “The experience of grief is a kind of disruption to the experience of the world overall. When it happens, there’s a kind of shattering of your assumptions.” Richardson is a co-director of a project at the University of York, UK, called Grief: A Study of Human Emotional Experience. 

She basically cites a theory called the assumptive world, which suggests that a person has strongly held and grounding assumptions about the world. 

She said, “The kind of losses that we grieve over are the ones that disrupt that assumptive world, which can explain feelings of grief about the death of the Queen.” 

Cholbi also suggested that if people have invested their identities with public figures, then they will mourn their loss. It does make sense.    

“This is the loss of someone that has played a part in their own values and concerns. So it feels like not just kind of a loss of the person, but in a certain way, a small loss of an aspect of oneself,” she added. 


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