Metro Atlanta student studying in London mourns ‘the world’s queen’

Standing in a crowd of thousands, but in silence, is a surreal experience. This came just hours after getting the official announcement of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

My name is Ashton Graus and I am a 19-year-old from Marietta. I am currently in London, England for university, where I am studying Advertising and PR with a minor in International Business. I fell in love with London when I visited at 13, and that led to me choosing to move here. The city offers so many opportunities, and I am blessed to be able to be in London during such a historical time.

On the day of the queen’s death, my friends and I had rushed back to our apartment after classes to sit on our couch and watch the news. Earlier in the morning it had been reported that the queen’s doctors wanted to keep an eye on her due to her health. When royal family members were recommended to travel to Balmoral Castle, we felt there was more to the story. It’s hard to comprehend the impact the death of one person can have, until you are in the middle of it all.

In silence, I watched flowers being laid at the Buckingham Palace gates, crowds singing “God Save the Queen” for one of the very last times, and mourners gathering to view the official notice of the Queen’s death. Seeing people from different generations coming together to pay their respects was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced. The people there included those who were alive for her coronation, and children who will grow up with a king.

Later that evening, we went to dinner at a restaurant near the Palace. The hostess told us that a bus had been set on fire down the street and as a result, the anti-terrorist police forces had been dispatched. To me, that was a clear insight into how some people feel about the monarchy.

Following the queen’s death, 10 days of mourning took place. Flags were at half mast, and the Queen’s face was everywhere, from bus stops, to billboards, storefronts, and papers. On the day of the funeral, my friend and I left our apartment at 4 a.m. We got the chance to congregate at what is considered “The Mall,” a long road just outside of Buckingham Palace. People had already been camping for days when we arrived, and as the hours went on, thousands more continued to appear. Camera crews were everywhere, and at one point I turned my head around only to see a camera just inches from my face. It turns out that they were taking pictures of the family sleeping on the floor in front of me, so when I was scrolling through my social media the next morning, I saw my arm and leg posted on the Daily Mail.

Most of our time was spent standing, packed like sardines behind the barriers lining the road. In the first few hours of waiting, I alternated between sitting in any ground space available, and standing when the crowds continued to multiply. Cell service was essentially nonexistent with the vast amount of people there, so I restored to beating over 50 levels of Candy Crush on my phone. The hushed voices of people talking around me and the occasional announcement playing from the speakers filled the air. At one point, the royal family drove by in their cars on the way to the service from Buckingham Palace. That was the most action we had witnessed in hours. The actual funeral service was blasted from the speakers, so during part of our nine-hour wait for the procession, we listened. It wasn’t until early afternoon, after the service, that the procession took place. As the nation was at a standstill, every branch of the British Armed Forces walked in the procession.

As an American, I can’t say Queen Elizabeth was really “my’' queen, but she was the world’s queen. Having lived through the last 20 years of her reign, she is the only monarch I have ever known. Going to the university I go to, and being in the city that I am in, I have friends from Italy, Brazil, Spain, China and Egypt, just to name a few countries. Being able to hear what Queen Elizabeth meant to all of them and/or their countries was interesting. They may have their own monarchies, but the British monarchy is arguably the most well known. We have all grown up watching them from across the world, growing up alongside some of them. Watching the royal family walk behind her coffin with my own eyes was such a unique event. They were no longer just faces in pictures or on screens, they became real people to me. It made me realize that they are like every other family, mourning the loss of a loved one, just under worldwide scrutiny.

I’ve heard people talk about where they were when Reagan was shot, JFK was killed, or when the twin towers fell. For me, this is one of the times in history where I will always remember the moment I heard the beloved Queen Elizabeth II passed.

Credit: Ashton Graus

Credit: Ashton Graus