Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas Message Reminds Us of the Pain of Loss, Even in the Midst of Celebration

Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas Message Reminds Us of the Pain of Loss, Even in the Midst of Celebration
Joan, June, and Me at Jeremy's Wedding (9-25-2001). Credit: Credit: Jennifer Oliver O'Connell, used with permission

Merry Christmas to all! Whether you celebrate the day or not, it is a glorious one that can be full of joy, wonder, and amazing bounty. I hope you are surrounded by those you love.

Even with that embrace, sometimes it makes the absence of those we have loved, but have lost, much more pronounced.

Queen Elizabeth II of England gave her traditional Christmas address to the people of Great Britain, and alluded to that loss as she encouraged Britons to embrace the season, in spite of the pallor of death from the “ongoing pandemic.”

Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas Day message shared the pain she felt after the death of her husband as she encouraged people everywhere to celebrate with friends and family, despite the grief caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Saying she understood the difficulty of spending the holiday season “with one familiar laugh missing,” the monarch delivered her address beside a framed photograph of her arm-in-arm with Prince Philip, who died in April at age 99. On her right shoulder was the same sapphire chrysanthemum brooch she wore in the photo — a glittering statement pin that she also wore as a newlywed.

“Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones,” the queen said in the prerecorded message broadcast when many British families were enjoying their traditional Christmas dinner. “This year, especially, I understand why.’’

Queen Elizabeth lost the love of her life and partner for over 70 years in April. My dearest friend lost her sweet husband to COVID in January. So, for the first time in her life, she is also experiencing that “missing.” Sometimes, as the years go on, you fail to recognize it; then, it suddenly dawns on you. As my late Uncle Charles so aptly said, “Death comes like a stranger.”

Holidays have never quite been the same since the passing of my sisters, 10 years apart. June died 13 years ago from cancer. Joan died four years ago from a heart attack. They happened to be twins.

It’s made for a strangely discombobulated Christmastime, especially the last three years. After June died, for 10 years Joan flew into Los Angeles either for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so a huge part of my holiday celebrations involved preparing for her visit, and seeking out things to do and explore, as well as movies and television series we wanted to watch in our downtime. As one of her friends said at her Homegoing, “Joan made doing everything, or doing nothing, fun!”

And she loved my fur babies. Joan had cats, but also loved dogs, so Panda (may he rest), Puppet, and Maddie got extra snuggles, kisses, and spoiling when she was around.

Joan was a photographer, and loved to find new discoveries and haunts to document. I think I got to know the lay of the land of Los Angeles much more because of her adventuring spirit and willingness to explore.

Joan and Puppet, 2015. Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, used with permission

Now that spirit is no longer with me, and it’s left a gaping hole.

June died in 2008, after a long battle with a T-cell lymphoma that ultimately spread to her lymph nodes. June and her daughter Gabi lived with me in Los Angeles for a number of years before that, and she was living with me and my brand-new husband when she passed away.

Jen and June (8-4-2007). Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, used with permission

So, June was also a big part of a number of Christmas celebrations. I used to throw an annual Tree Trimming party, where I asked people to bring an ornament of a certain theme. While June did not love to cook, she could throw down; and her deviled eggs were unmatched by anyone I know. She would make her special recipe, and help out in the kitchen, while also enjoying all the unique ornaments I received, and meeting my old and new friends.

The Christmas before she passed away, she was extremely sick, but somehow rallied herself and made those deviled eggs and helped with a few dishes. Then she went to her room, but held court with anyone who wanted to come in to visit. Above the din of the noise of people in and out, I remember hearing her conversations and laughter with some of my friends who had befriended her over the years. Afterward, June said she had the most wonderful time, and was thankful that she felt well enough to participate.

Today, I am thankful for that Christmas memory, as it is the last one I had with her. I do miss those deviled eggs, but most of all, I miss her.

Both June and Joan were a huge part of the traditions and celebrations that helped make Christmas special. Despite knowing in my heart the reason for the season, much of my celebration now feel strangely hollow. I am not sure if that will ever change.

I imagine the Queen may be feeling a bit of that, particularly having spent seven decades of Christmases with Prince Philip. It’s comforting to know that one can be partners in faith as well as partners in grief with the Queen of England. But it is also a comfort that she is setting an example for her own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, as well as her people. You choose to live life fully. You continue to fulfill your duty. And you direct others to hope, even in the midst of your hopelessness.

Queen Elizabeth II is a powerful example of fortitude, strength, and the Christmas spirit.

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