Celebrating her 100th birthday surrounded by her family today, Eileen Shearburn held the telegram from the Queen she received last week.
She opened it last Thursday but within hours her joy at receiving the card turned to sadness as news of the Queen‘s death was announced.
The loss of a monarch of her own generation is difficult for her to comprehend.
“I can’t believe it, even now I can’t believe it,” she said.
“But still, she’s in a better place. When the time comes, you’re in a better place, aren’t you?”
Her family believe Mrs Shearburn’s telegram was among the last sent by the Queen.
The card, bearing a photograph of the smiling monarch, now holds special significance.
The message, signed by the Queen, reads: “I am so pleased to know that you are celebrating your one-hundredth birthday on 13 September, 2022. I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion.”
With Mrs Shearburn’s eyesight failing, her daughter Su read the telegram aloud as the family gathered to mark her birthday.
“That’ll be a treasure forever and ever and ever,” Mrs Shearburn said.
“You’ve only got to look at that picture, wonderful isn’t she?”
Mrs Shearburn’s house in Colchester, Essex, is full of pictures dating from the Second World War, when she worked as a nurse.
She met her husband – Rex, an Army officer – while working in India. As a military couple, they met the Queen at garden parties.
“She was natural, there was no side to her, she was one of us,” Mrs Shearburn recalled.
At times she felt her life was lived in tandem with the Queen’s. Her son was born the same year as King Charles, and her daughter was born months before Princess Anne.
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When her husband retired from the Army they lived in Windsor for several years, close to the castle.
It makes the loss of the monarch feel personal to her and she knows the telegram will be treasured by her family for generations to come.
“She will go on forever in our thoughts,” Mrs Shearburn said.