The 1979 election was the first one I can remember being aware of, and as an adolescent and politics student in the ’80s, it is hard to deny Margaret Thatcher’s influence on my life. Yet, I find myself strangely numb to the whole affair of her death.
She was in many ways a pantomime character, easy to hate and a delight to caricature. Much of what she did remains divisive and for me, Clause 28 will always be unforgivable Against that, for a self confessed feminist how can I in all honestly begrudge her the achievement of becoming the first female Prime Minister?
It feels like a curious response, and reminds me that grief at the loss of a loved one is often not straight forward. The “normal” understanding is that when we lose someone important to us, we mourn their loss, and eventually find a way to live without them. But how often are human relationships that simple? What is it like to grieve someone we both loved and hated? If you subscribe to the theory that the urge to form bonds with others is an innate need, there will always be a part of us seeking that bond, regardless of how the object of our affection has or continues to hurt us. It is not uncommon for children who experience neglect or abuse at the hands of their parents to describe confusion at their death, even in adulthood. Whilst they hated what the parent did, that doesn’t stop them wanting to love them as well. Even the person who learns not to look for love, because past experience has taught them it won’t be forthcoming, is protecting themselves from the need to be loved. If that person dies, they have lost all chance of that love, and sorrow combines with fury that they will never have it, that all hope is now lost.
What about the relationships that are conducted in secret, or are disapproved of; the hidden boyfriend, the same sex lover, the mistress. Grieving alone doesn’t allow you the comfort of the shared experience with those who are also mourning. There is no one to celebrate their life with, no one to share your feelings with, and no way of articulating the experience of their death in order that it can become more bearable.
Anger is often a common response to death, if only at the deceased for leaving us, and where the death was at the hands of another, rage and fury can take over and prevent the grieving process. That said, the celebrations apparently taking place around the country do not I think have any more to do with Thatcher as a person, than the outpouring of grief for Diana had to do with her. National experiences of their deaths provide shared focal points for emotions which might otherwise be too complicated to express. Something I imagine we’ll see a lot more of over the next week.