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On Grief

The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week has left me thinking about reactions to grief. Specifically, how a person with Autism may react to losing someone they loved.

As the news broke on Thursday afternoon I was left feeling sad but nothing I could describe as grief. Afterall, I had never met the Queen and did not know her personally, so this tempered my reaction. Online people reacted in different ways. Some seemed to be genuinely distraught, this was matched by people on the streets of London in floods of tears. It brought to mind the scenes in North Korea of performative grief – the outward acts of mourning and sadness, whether it is genuine or otherwise – when Kim Jong-Il died. I struggle to understand why someone would want to go out into the streets to cry and hug a stranger. People were acting like they had lost their grandmother or their own parent. The Queen had been a constant on the national stage for 70 years, added to that the jingoistic build up to the Jubilee this year may have led people to feel closer to the Queen than they had before. It must also be added that the Queen garnered a lot of respect and sympathy through the Covid speech and her actions at her husband’s funeral, especially when juxtaposed to the behaviour of the then Prime Minister. Still, the performative element of grief I do not understand. I do not know whether this is my own in built cynicism or is it my apparent autism.

Another reaction to the news of the Queen’s death was celebratory. People blamed the Queen for a host of crimes, ills and colonial oppression. As the head of the Royal family, she was held responsible for the actions of all British governments since 1952. Whether this is fair, I do not know. As Charles II said, “my words are my own, my actions are my ministers”. Other people were angry. They couldn’t wait to vent their spleen about the British, the Monarchy, the BBC, the Main Stream Media, people and Corgis. The celebration of a death strikes me as tactless and inappropriate. One video had people singing and dancing as the news broke. People cheering and dozens of memes celebrating the passing of “the world’s biggest, cruellest landlord” and a “parasite”.

It is not what I would do, no matter the person. Though their right to do it is absolute. Republicanism is growing, slowly, in the UK with 25% of people apparently in favour of a republic. However, that does mean 75% approve of the Monarchy. One of the constant criticisms of a hereditary monarchy is that it is unfair. Through an accident of birth, you have unbelievable privilege and unbelievable scrutiny. They have unlimited wealth while people in the UK are below the poverty line. This is how it has always been, but this does not mean that it is right.

Both of these reasons have led me to attempt a digital detox and get off social media. Too long on it and it impacts my mood.

My own reaction to grief can be viewed through the example of my dog, Percy. He got out of the house and attacked our neighbour, some random old woman and snapped at my child. We had no other option than to put him to sleep. The day I took him to the vets was one of the hardest of my life. I was in floods of tears and watching him die in my arms was devastating. Though, three weeks later and I am more or less over it. I do not have that lasting sorrow that everyone said that I would. I felt grief and then I don’t. Is this because I am not emotionally intelligent or in tune with my inner senses to recognise if I am still in mourning. I have been lucky that even though I have lost grandparents I have still got my parents. I still have my son and my wife. I have not experienced that soul shattering loss that leaves a legacy. When both my maternal grandparents passed my reaction was the same. Interestingly, it was the same as losing Percy. I broke down in tears when I saw them on their death beds and then the depth of my own reaction started to fade. I do not cry at funerals. I adored both my grandparents. They were lovely, kind, generous, honest people. Their impact on my life is impossible to define. I am who I am through knowing them. Yet, I do not think I mourned like other people. I missed them but the level of performative grief, is something that I have not done. Is it a failure to follow the rules of my culture when expressing sadness. I have mentioned it before on here, but that will not stop my mentioning it again. My paternal grandfather left a handwritten letter to be read after his passing. In it he expressed his feelings towards his family and other sentiments. People read it and the started to cry. I read it. Nothing. In fact, I couldn’t quote a single line from it and I tend to remember things that I have read.

I do worry that I am not mourning in the right way. That maybe I do not feel the way about things that I do. Am I lying to myself about my depth of feeling? Honestly, I doubt it. I do not do performative emotions. I close off things quite quickly and then keep going. When I have a catastrophic loss then this may change but I am in no rush to find out.


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