‘It’s a collective experience’: A psychotherapist explains why people are queueing all night to see the Queen

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Public mourning rituals such as a lying in state are important for people grieving the loss of the Queen, an expert has said

Unprecedented crowds have gathered across the country over the past few days to pay their respects to the late Queen Elizabeth.

People in Edinburgh queued for hours for the chance to file past her coffin as it lay at rest at St Giles’ Cathedral.

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And now tens and thousands of people over the coming days are expected to wait to see her lying in state at Westminster.

But what is it that drives people to wait for days to pay tribute to a public figure - and what do the experts say about mourning someone like the Queen?

People have been lining up for hours to attend to Queen’s lying in state and to watch the cortege with her coffin pass.People have been lining up for hours to attend to Queen’s lying in state and to watch the cortege with her coffin pass.
People have been lining up for hours to attend to Queen’s lying in state and to watch the cortege with her coffin pass. | PA

Why are traditions such as lying in state so important?

By Friday, the queue to attend the Queen’s lying in state had to be paused for six hours after capacity was reached.

Since the queue opened on Wednesday at 5pm people have been waiting for hours for the chance to file past the Queen’s coffin. On Friday minimum wait times were expected to be around 14 hours. The first mourners in the queue arrived two days before it opened.

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Mourners will be able to pay their respects until 6.30am on Monday 19 September, the day of the Queen’s funeral.

Speaking about why people might decide to queue overnight, psychotherapist Noel McDermott said: “Fundamentally it’s a collective experience which because of the context become ritualised to give meaning to it beyond the concrete activity.

“Bereavement fundamentally causes an existential crisis of meaning and public mourning rituals help to bring back meaning through collective human activity that emphasises shared experience.

Noel added: “Being with others sharing similar feelings, or at least them being able to empathise with the feelings we have, reconnects us, the loss disconnects us and the public mourning reconnects us. In this way we can begin to process any difficult feelings that have emerged. Psychologically, death and birth are connected in that the feelings associated with both need human engagement.

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“A newborn child is in need of human warmth and contact to process and contain its raw emotional state and a newly bereaved human is in a similar raw emotional state and in need of human warmth and kindness”.

Crowd line the Royal Mile for the procession of the coffin of Elizabeth II from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles' Cathedral. PIC: Oli Scarff/Getty.Crowd line the Royal Mile for the procession of the coffin of Elizabeth II from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles' Cathedral. PIC: Oli Scarff/Getty.
Crowd line the Royal Mile for the procession of the coffin of Elizabeth II from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles' Cathedral. PIC: Oli Scarff/Getty.

How can the death of a public figure affect people?

Often it can feel strange and surprising to grieve for someone you never met, and people can feel like they don’t have the right to be upset.

Cruse Bereavement says among the reasons why people may be grieving over the Queen is because they feel like they knew her and that the world feels changed.

On its website it states: “With someone like the Queen, who has been part of the shared public landscape for so long, not being around can make the world feel like a less safe and certain place. This can make us feel vulnerable.”

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With public figures there are often opportunities to express your loss at public events, and to pay tribute - for example books of condolence, and the planned nationwide minute of silence on Sunday, as well as the two minute silence on Monday which will be held at the end of the funeral.

While sharing the experience with others at events such as funerals is an important aspect of grief, individual ways of remembering that person are also vital. Noel McDermott said: “It’s also important to find unique and personal ways to express your loss. Ask yourself, what did this person mean to you? What did they represent? Is there a song, an event, a memory that is cherished by you? Can you remember that and take time to share it in a way that for you honours the person?”.

Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the sovereign's orb and sceptre, lying in state on the catafalque in Westminster Hall (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the sovereign's orb and sceptre, lying in state on the catafalque in Westminster Hall (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the sovereign's orb and sceptre, lying in state on the catafalque in Westminster Hall (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

He added: “The loss of our monarch has been made more complex because that institution for many no longer contains meaning. It lacks the capacity to connect and provide empathic healing and allow people to project their humanity and needs onto the institution. We have become attached to the interpersonal dramas and the individual stories.”

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