More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the weight of losing loved ones without being able to grieve normally remains one shouldered by an ever-growing number of Canadians.
The death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on Friday brought renewed attention to the fact that for both his family and the public, mourning looks very different now than it did before the pandemic.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien — who lost his wife of 63 years, Aline, in September — reflected on the difficult task of losing a loved one during the pandemic as well as on his personal memories of Prince Philip.
“She is a very courageous and intelligent and dedicated person,” he said of Queen Elizabeth II.
“So she would face the storm and it’s going to be difficult. I went through that — to lose your partner. For me, it was 63 years of marriage and five years of friendship. And this is even longer for the queen and Prince Philip. But, you know, with the help of our family and so on, she would have faced the reality.”
“She would do it with grace and courage and discretion.”
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Prince Philip died the morning of April 9th at Windsor Castle.
He will not be having a state funeral and Buckingham Palace officials have said plans are underway on arranging a “modified” plan for his funeral in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
British mourners were asked not to gather in crowds or outside royal residences, and to consider making a donation to a charity rather than come in person to lay flowers at the palace gate.
Online condolence books have been set up for those who wish to participate, rather than the usual practice of queueing to sign physical books laid out for public mourners.
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Chrétien said he plans to share his condolences to the Queen in writing as well.
“I will tell her that I had great respect for her husband, who was a great public servant,” he said.
“He served all his life. He started in the army when he was a kid and he stayed in public for all his life.
“It is not easy.”
Chrétien said he last saw Prince Philip at a meeting of the Order of Merit, an order made up of just 24 living members at a time.
Each member is selected by the Queen for “exceptionally meritorious service to the Crown.”
Chrétien is one of just four Canadians who have been named to the order.
“It was exactly the day that he said that it was over. He was not to do anything in the public service –that he had done enough,” Chrétien said.
“We had quite a lunch — for him, he wanted to know my views on what was going on, particularly at that time about President Trump. So it was a very pleasant encounter because I could give him the impression of a Canadian about this unusual president.”
“Now I’m very curious about what the two of you talked about there,” Stephenson said.
“Well, it will be improper for me to discuss that but he had some very interesting questions,” he said. “You can think of any and if it was to be an unusual question, probably he asked me.”
Chrétien said Prince Philip was always curious about international affairs, especially as a European himself and a speaker of several different languages.
He was also known for speaking candidly and Chrétien recalled one such encounter during the first time he met Prince Philip in 1967.
“I said to him in French, ‘Your Royal Highness, you speak very good French for an Englishman,’” Chrétien described. “He said, ‘Young man, I’m not an Englishman, and I was speaking French before you were born.’ So I had to shut up.”
It is not yet clear whether any Canadian dignitaries will be able to attend the funeral.
COVID-19 travel restrictions and the risks of a ferocious third wave of infection have ground most travel to a halt.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told Global News last week that it is not yet clear whether a representative from the Canadian government will attend, and that the decision will be made once the Royal Family decides whether they want to invite foreign guests.