When talking about grief, Freud commented that people often know whom they have lost but not what they have lost. If you are to come to terms with a bereavement, he thought it was vital to understand the ‘what’ as much as the ‘who.’
That is surely true of the death of Her Majesty the Queen. We all feel sadness at the loss of someone we all felt we knew and was part of our identity. We also feel pride at the long life of someone deeply respected not just on these shores but around the world.
But part of the grief is not just the shock of losing someone familiar but also fear about losing the values she stood for.
As a government minister I often thought about leadership – the quality that makes some able to inspire and others wish to follow. The name that most crossed my mind most often was Margaret Thatcher whose courage and conviction I always believed did so much to transform our country. But there is another type of leader, someone who leads not so much by the problems they valiantly solve but by the example they set.
That type of leadership was once described to me by a monk in China as ‘leadership through values.’ Nelson Mandela demonstrated that because the most important thing about him was not what he did as president of South Africa but the forgiveness and reconciliation he espoused.
President Obama was another – the fact he became president was far more important than anything he actually changed in office.
Her Majesty the Queen also demonstrated leadership through her values. Some may consider a hereditary monarchy an absurd notion by today’s standards.
Yet somehow the stillness that a constitutional monarchy provides at the heart of our constitution keeps the gladiatorial combat of modern politics in perspective – both making it possible but also containing it.
Despite the fact the Queen had no control over our political futures, I have never seen grown men quake so much as in her presence. On the many occasions I met her, both one on one and in Privy Council meetings, she was thoughtful, amusing and self-deprecating.
What was fascinating was the way she acquired her authority not because she decided laws or could send people to the Tower. Instead she earned it through her wisdom, experience and the values she stood for.
For me, the most important of those values was service. In an age when we have become very self-absorbed, constantly fretting about our personal wellbeing and mental health, she showed the most reliable path to happiness is through the happiness of others.
Rather unfashionably she stood for faith, duty and service. She lived those values so demonstrably that she secured the future of the monarchy, which an extraordinary four-fifths of us support.
But she also inspired millions with those same values as a role model despite leading very different lives.
I have no doubt King Charles will do the same. I have not met anyone more passionate to change the world for the better (although it was always chilly going to Clarence House in the winter because his concern for climate change meant he refused to have the heating on).
He has spent his life trying to make a difference. But as he said so movingly in his first address to the nation, he knows he must now do this as a unifier rather than an agitator.
We are incredibly lucky to have in him someone who has thought so long and hard about his role – and that continuity with his mother’s selfless service will continue to be the rock we need as a country in these turbulent times.