The first person I thought when I heard that Prince Philip had died was Elizabeth, a Queen in the greater world but only and always a wife to the man who’d been by her side for longer than I’ve been alive.
The second thing I thought that Harry and Meghan better stay in L.A. and not show their “respects” to the grieving monarch.
Well actually, I expect that Harry will come to say goodbye to a grandfather he reportedly loved very much, and who was closer to him than his own father. Meghan, though, should keep her California vibes back on this side of the pond and allow what she referred to as “the Firm” to grieve in dignity.
Of course, Elizabeth being Elizabeth, she’d never tell Meghan to stay away. She learned her lessons after the death of Diana and has been much more tolerant of wayward young women who put “self-care” over their institutional duties. It is an alien thing to the Queen, this modern narcissism where we need to do for ourselves before we can do for others. Sacrifice is Elizabeth Windsor’s middle name, a word that sounds as anachronistic to most of the younger generation as dial-up internet.
Philip’s death, which really doesn’t affect any of our lives at a visceral level, had an unexpected impact on me. He’d lived a good life, a long one, a very consequential and in some ways quite courageous one, so there wasn’t that regret that comes with tragic loss at a young age and unfulfilled expectations. The Queen’s consort was a very privileged man.
But unlike some people who fall into a privilege in unexpected and entirely unwarranted ways, he was born royal and understood the obligations that come with the advantages. He might have taken the privilege for granted, but he also accepted those obligations with the same sense of stoicism. It wasn’t a chore to support his wife at all of those public events, decades and decades of them. It was payback for the exceptional life he’d been allowed to live.
Elizabeth and Philip were married on November 20, 1947, which means that when he died on Friday, they had been together for almost 74 years. They’d already been married 14 years by the time I was born. People have lived their entire lives within the lifespan of their union. That is exceptional.
In these days of emotional brevity, when our affective interests have the life expectancy of an African Violet or a snowflake in the Sahara, the ability to cleave onto one other single person in your life is a rare example of beauty, resilience, humility and dedication. I think that the most important element in that formula is humility, because putting yourself second in any relationship (with the reciprocal understanding that you are placed first by your partner) is the key to longevity.
Ironically, I have never been married, nor have I been in a relationship that has lasted more than a few years. This could be due to many factors, but it’s probably the banal result of being born in the 1960s and coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s where “feeling happy” became something akin to a sacrament. Now, if it doesn’t “work out,” we simply leave. In abusive situations that is a necessity and an improvement over the old “Keep Calm and Carry On” philosophy, but only in abusive situations. In all others where the glass slipper no longer fits, we could take more than a few lessons from our elders on how to deal with conflict and disappointment.
My own grandparents, Mamie and Mike, were married for only 32 years, but that was because my grandfather died in 1968. His wife survived him by 17 years and never remarried. She kept the faith.
My parents, Lucy and Ted, were married for only 22 years, but that was because my father died in 1982. His wife survived him by 32 years and never remarried. She, too, kept the faith.
I feel a deep sense of loss for a woman with whom I have nothing in common, but who reminds me of what we’ve lost in a society of throwaway moments and shallow emotions. I’m sure the psychologists out there will accuse me of simplifying the complicated nature of human relationships, and I will bow to their superior expertise and their doctoral degrees.
I just know that the contrast between those who wallow in self-serving grievance, like Harry and Meghan, and those who accept the joys and sorrows of life with as much dignity as humanly possible, like Harry’s grandparents and my own, is emblematic of who we now are. And if that makes me a bitter old maid, bring on the cats.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times in Philadelphia and can be reached at email@example.com.