The pageantry and solemn ceremonies are over. Now the eulogies that rang out majestically in Westminster Abbey yesterday for the royal matriarch will take their place in history. The funeral flowers will fade, and the Royal Family will begin charting a new, queen-motherless course.
What won't fade is the legacy of this indomitable woman. Woven through her 10 decades are lessons and messages for all generations. To read the flood of tributes recounting the life of Queen Elizabeth the queen mother is to be awed by the attributes that endeared her to the world. The public loved her not for her words she never gave interviews, and most Americans never heard her speak but for her qualities.
Her life was shaped by four D's dignity, duty, decorum, and devotion. She maintained a deep faith in God. She was unwavering in her moral principles. She remained adaptable. Above all, she retained the common touch.
One royal biographer, Ben Pimlott, notes that she knew how "to look for the best in people and offer a kind of looking glass to the virtues they would like to have."
At a time when older people are often rendered invisible by a youth-obsessed culture, the queen mother served as a shining example of the possibilities inherent in a long life.
Of all the heartfelt tributes paid to her in recent days, one of the most endearing is a simple phrase: "everybody's grandmother." Even the Russians echoed that sentiment. Television reporters in Moscow called her the "babushka [grandmother] of a nation." That counts as high praise in Russia, which regards strong elderly women as the backbone of that country.
It was the queen mother's own adoring grandson, Prince Charles, who offered perhaps the keenest insight into her character. Referring to her as "my darling grandmother," he recalled how she filled her houses with an "atmosphere of fun, laughter, and affection." She expressed an "infectious optimism about life." She was "timeless, able to span the generations." She displayed an "utterly irresistible mischievousness of spirit." She also wrote "sparklingly wonderful" letters.
What a recipe for a satisfying life.
Money and royal privilege help, of course. But some things resilience, goodness, compassion, abiding faith cannot be bought, as the queen mother showed.
She also proved by example that money and privilege do not exempt one from the responsibility to help others. As a teenager, when her family's house in Scotland was turned into a convalescent home for injured soldiers during World War I, she rolled up her aristocratic sleeves and cared for the men. Thus began a lifetime of public service.
She showed that success is not necessarily measured in one or two grand achievements but in the collective worth of countless small gestures: a helping hand, a kind deed, an encouraging word, a caring heart.
As women's lives have expanded beyond the home in recent decades, maternal qualities have been undervalued. The world is hungry for nurturers and comforters of every age. It needs all the "darling grandmothers" it can find.
"Everybody's grandmother." "The babushka of a nation." However unregal those phrases might be, count them as supreme compliments for a beloved queen whose motherly example, both gentle and stalwart, will continue to inspire.