As we remember Her Majesty, she reminds us of who we are as a nation.

Following a lull of several years, January 1944 saw renewed attacks on London by Nazi bombers. Hitting key parts of the city, including Parliament and New Scotland Yard, and causing hundreds of casualties, the so-called ‘Baby Blitz’ lasted four months and led to the cancellation of the Last Night of the Proms. The iconic national event has been broadcast every year since, even the pandemic failed to curtail the performance. So, the decision this year to cancel the Last Night as ‘a mark of respect’ for the late Queen is without precedent.

Other events have been cancelled. Football fixtures, rugby matches, horse racing events, theatrical shows, the Trade Union Congress, even postal and train strikes, all cancelled out of respect. But respect, although an honourable sentiment, is not the same as grief. Respect is an act of propriety; grief, as Queen Elizabeth herself made clear, is an expression of love.

Grief about Her Majesty has been expressed in the many tributes of affection made in the media, not just in the four nations of her United Kingdom, but in other countries also (Le Parisien (France), ‘We loved her so much’; Extra (Brazil), ‘Goodbye to the world’s grandma’).

The around-the-clock coverage of the Queen’s death is without historical precedent. Never in our history have we had 24-hour coverage of the death of a monarch, whose whole life had already been so comprehensively documented by radio, television and the press.

But this extensive reflection is not mawkish sentiment. It is integral to our nation’s healthy grieving. Those newspaper articles reflecting on her life, the radio interviews with people she met, and the TV documentaries illustrating the things she said and did with images taken from her own family albums do more than help us show our respect. Whether by intention or happy accident, they instinctively serve to help us come to terms with the fact that a person of genuine significance in our nation’s life has died.

And this is how it should be. When a family is bereaved, it’s natural – and healthy – for members to gather and recollect, share memories, anecdotes and images of the late person’s life. And in the remembering perhaps to discover new aspects of their meaning in the life they have lived. Remembering is healthy grieving, and what is healthy for families is surely healthy for nations.

So, our collective remembering is important because the death of Queen Elizabeth II is not just the death of a much-respected nonagenarian. Hers is the death of a sovereign, and a sovereign’s death, particularly one who has been part of our lives for 70 years, is a moment of nation building. It is something few of us alive today can have experienced and it is something to which few of us know how properly to respond. Yet intuitively, both royalists and republicans recognise that, with the Queen’s death, we have lost someone who, more than most, has embodied values that shape our national identity.

The life of service that Queen Elizabeth lived was one of commitment to duty, laced with kindness and humour. And we loved and respected her for the fact that her life embodied our own best life, even as we so often fail to live up to our ideal. Not that Queen Elizabeth was perfect in every regard. Like all of us, she had times in her long life when she mis-stepped. Yet in remembering her, and the fact that she symbolised what we know to be the best of ourselves, she returns us to the values and ideals that matter to us as a nation.

Queen Elizabeth’s public life began in London during World War II and was lived in the full glare of the media’s attention. As that attention morphs now into reflection, Her Majesty’s legacy to her subjects is the reminder of who it is that we can be.