She had three basic looks—the coat dress for day wear, the skirt and sweater set for Scotland, and gowns for the most formal occasions. The gowns and coat dresses varied in color and sometimes pattern, of course, but they seemed to be a silent affirmation of her constancy. I will always be here, they seemed to say.
Reassuring, but of course, that was not to be. At age 96, on September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II of England passed away, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and mourned by a nation that saw her as part of their own extended family. QEII was the only monarch many Britons had ever known.
The Queen was a solid, commonsense presence in the world—kind of like the pope, a figure of dignity and stability no matter one’s nationality or religion. As a young monarch, she brought grace and lightness to her nation. As a matriarch, she became what all older women can become, a source of solidity, of wisdom.
For 70 years, the Queen was there, resilient in the face of whatever was thrown at her. Working with 15 prime ministers—including the newest only this week—was unique to her position. But her accomplishments and heartaches after age 50, though extraordinary, reflect what millions of women over 50 face.
There were the highs of her children’s marriages, a steady flow of grandchildren, and a solid, continuing career. But there were also lows, such as the deaths—of Princess Diana; of her sister, Princess Margaret, at age 71; of her own Prince Philip only last year. And there were the messy divorces with their attendant scandal. Foremost, of course, was the bitter parting of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. There was also the implosion of Prince Andrew’s marriage to Sarah Ferguson (“Fergie”). There was a point in the 1990s when it seemed there was nothing but seamy bits of gossip coming out of Buckingham Palace.
The catastrophic death of Princess Diana was arguably a low point in Elizabeth’s reign when the country viewed her as not sufficiently sympathetic to “the people’s princess” and the role Diana had played in their lives. But Elizabeth adapted to the mess that modern marriage made of the Church of England’s rules and mores; to a gradual acceptance of her son and heir’s emotional attachment to his first love; to other world leaders who did not always comport themselves with dignity.
And like many older women, Elizabeth became a force to be dealt with. Not governing but reigning, she never gave up her day job. There’s an order of difference, of course, but when “regular” women retire from their work, they also retain the very real role of mature woman, whether it’s as the wise counsel to the family or the source of comfort and levelheadedness for friends.
Perspective and a sometimes steely presence. Imagine the view of life after 70 years of reign. We really don’t have to imagine it; the oldest among us have our own long lens through which to take measure of the world around us. And like Elizabeth, we don’t put down the work of our lives until the very end.
Queen Elizabeth spoke volumes with silence. Some of us are a bit more talkative, but the effect is the same: We are here, we contribute, and we count.