The Queen

Social scientists see most events as random. So although waking up several times last night to check the time so that I wouldn't miss my 5:15 a.m. ride to the airport wasn't random (I always do that), the delay at Bob Hope Airport was.

No big deal, usually, but this flight was to connect to another in Dallas with only 50 minutes of wiggle room. An hour delay meant I'd miss my connection.

Oh, you want to know why the delay.

A flight crew person didn't show up to work.

I could easily rant that because someone tied one on the night before that one of my patients, a person who really could have used some help, got bumped from my patient list in the process.

I can't be flying and doing therapy; no technology to do that, not yet.

But let's not rant. The random GOOD part of this was that when I landed in Dallas (on-time in the end, tail winds) having no idea when I'd get back to Chicago, I learned that American had already booked me on another flight, not trusting tail winds to speed us along, I guess.

No ordinary flight, either. This plane was a 777, meaning it was the size of a football field, probably ultimately headed overseas, via Chicago-New York.

So that meant that we had our choice of movies to watch on those little 8 X 8 inch television monitors etched into the backs of the seats in front of us.

AND, since this flight was also delayed (engine trouble, so reassuring is it not) I would be able to see the entire flick, well, almost the entire flick, since the officious voice of either a flight crew member or the pilot interrupted the screening about a dozen times to remind me of the lousy weather in Chicago or to talk about smoking engines or to urge me, please, to fasten my seatbelt. Like I wouldn’t.

You might not wish to read on if you plan to see The Queen any time soon, although I won't give away all that much. But I think we'll make either Fridays Film or Book Review Friday following this. I'll give you a heads up on what I'm going to review in case you go out on Thursday night and skip Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy. Oh you'd never do that? So never mind. It's okay.

I saw The Queen on the airplane and couldn't believe this good fortune. The movie is so appropriate to review right now as it follows along with our theme of death and dying (last post). Talk about random events that feel so not random.

The movie is about Queen Elizabeth II's way of grieving the loss of Lady Diana, the People's Princess.

If you recall the beautiful, charming Lady Diana Spencer's marriage to Prince Charles was already in dissolution at the time of her death. Diana was no longer a member of the Royal Family following that tragic car crash in Paris. It was rumored that perhaps the Royal Family even had a hand in that accident, there had been so much bad blood between the royals reported in the press.

Queen Elizabeth II (an unbelievably great performance by Helen Mirren) steadfastly refuses to go public about the death and wants nothing at all to do with a public funeral. She makes no public statement, rather tells Tony Blair (also a wonderful performance by Michael Sheen) that she is shielding her grandchildren from the press so that they can grieve privately. She cloisters Diana’s children, her grandchildren, on the family's 40,000 acre estate outside of London, nowhere near Buckingham Palace where the British throngs are crying, bringing flowers. She has protected the children, ostensibly, so that they will recover from the trauma.

This recovery is not exactly a discussion of feelings, the kind of recovery we're used to in the therapy doc business. We see none of that. It is simply being out in the open air. Where people hunt. This is healing, you see.

The Queen is fried by the international media for her heartlessness and deliberate detachment from her subjects. The British are grieving, mourning, and long for a word from their monarch, yet their queen is in hiding. She is silent.

She does not fly the flag at half-mast. She makes no public statement, no appearance. She refuses, initially, to have a public funeral. If it were up to The Queen, there would have been a graveside service or some other minimalist marking of Lady Diana's passing. It is as if Diana were no different than any other commoner, had no other status in the British, no, World's psyche, this lovely, charitable, effervescent, charismatic figure many of us remember so well.

Now you may not know it, but I'm really not into giving away movie plots and will stop right here to entertain some hypothetical ideas. This is a terrific film, deftly directed by Stephan Frears. Helen Mirren is simply incredible, as I've said. I could not take my eyes from her performance. She communicates SO much with very, very few words.

Let it be a lesson.

Let us say, however, that the Queen is silent on Diana’s death not because she held anything against Diana, but because the queen's concept of grieving was different. If she had her way, and she did, the Royal Family would have been silent on the issue and would have had that private ceremony, as opposed to the elaborate one we all saw on television, attended by millions.

This is a dignified approach, not splaying emotion all over front pages and television sets of millions across the globe craving a Royal Response.

Is it so bad? Is it so bad not to express one's feelings about a death? Haven't we talked here about not taking away an umbrella until it stops raining? And yet we've also talked about the importance of remembering and talking about a person's life, that this is the optimal way to grieve.

Thus it is time to discuss what real stoicism means.

No question, it CAN be highly dysfunctional. But there is a place for it. Some people aren't ready to talk about a person's life in death. Their needs have to be respected. Others truly feel that expressing negative feelings (tears, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety--you know what I mean) just brings everyone else down. Still others want to grieve privately, alone, to themselves. This helps reestablish a sense of control. Cry into a pillow when no one else is around helps them.

Sure I could talk about intimacy and posit that crying alone into a pillow has its limitations. It does little to help other mourners who might need to grieve in tandom, socially, like children, perhaps.

Mourning alone can be related to a lack of trust or empathy, also, not simply maintaining decorum. Those who do not trust, and those who have difficulty empathizing or showing vulnerabiltiy might have difficulty expressing emotion to others.

And some people really do not know that feeling bad is always a temporary condition and will pass, whereas the moment ripe for sharing may not come again. These people will prefer silence.

Still others, like Queen Elizabeth II perhaps, do not feel that someone else's death should be about them. Their own personal feelings are not primary.

People have their different reasons for different grieving in different ways.

They're all fine, friends, these different ways of grieving. It's important to respect individual differences and not to impose our own values on others. We don't really know what a person is going through. It is virtually impossible to truly be inside someone else's shoes.

That's the lesson I got from The Queen.

Copyright 2007, TherapyDoc


Mark said…
Thanks for the great movie review, you sold me, I am now looking forward to seeing the "Queen".
Thank-you also for your insight on grieving. We all deal with death in our own way and we should not be made to feel that we should react in a certain way that is the accepted norm for our culture. Grieving is a individual process that should be allowed to take it's course with the judgement of others.
bjurstrom said…
Dear Doc,
George and I saw The Queen and the whole private grieving, "stiff upper lip", approach resonated with us....At the time,(and still), maintaining a "kind of decorum is the only way I can understand stuff....I'd say something dumb like...maybe this is how people felt during WWII....And sometimes the remembering part gets complicated as I find that I end up protecting my friends from their imaginations...of my mental state...the empathy part gets weird....which is why everyone needs a therapist....thanks
TherapyDoc said…
Always happy to help. Thanks for sharing, BJ.
Anonymous said…
Linda, I just saw The Queen last evening, so I appreciated your perspective. I understand what you were saying about stoicism, but it seems that we can't live and let live anymore. We pry into public officials lives, we expect great sweeping histronics from public officials. So I understand that. I did think she and Phillip were very callous, talking about hunting with the news of Diana's death on TV. I thought is was interesting, too, how she and her consort burrowed in Balmour, getting more of the world news from TV than any other source. I also really liked Blair's reaction to the Queen's stoicism as scripted in the one part. I didn't expect him to defend her, so it was a nice surprise. Anyway, great post.Enjoyed it..and the movie. Surely Mirren has the Oscar locked up.
TherapyDoc said…
Oh, we could have a terrific discussion here about the hunting thing. I left it out so that people who hadn't seen the movie would have SOMETHING to talk about. But indeed, even that, in my way of thinking was the defense thing, allowing mourning to proceed slowly, not "overly-emotionally."

Some cultures like emotion, others don't. I think in some Greek families spouses jump into caskets as they're lowered onto the graves.
To me that's not overly-emotional, as Elizabeth's hunting thing isn't under-emotional.

Then there's that whole thing with the stag. Wow.