Finding strength in my ancestors during a Pandemic

My dearest friends,

What an interesting and curious time we are living through, as we speak... as I type this blog.

It's no secret that this Pandemic has brought with it all kinds of mixed emotions, including panic, fear and overwhelm, to say the least. It has made many feel powerless, scared and unsure. It has forced many out of work, into quarantine, and for some, it has even made them face death. This experience has quite literally shifted most of the world to stop and process many of their unhealed wounds and look at ourselves in the mirror.

But, if I'm being fully honest, something I have also been trying to focus on, is the fact that this Pandemic has truly given the world an opportunity to find examples of gratitude, love, hope, healing, resiliency and strength, amidst what feels like absolute uncertainty and even darkness.

Specifically, the last few days at home have reminded me that there's always light within that darkness... that one cannot exist without the other. But also, that it is our job to seek out that light and allow it to shine and be seen in the world.

Yesterday, I spent most of the morning feeling really anxious. I woke up, was inundated with news alerts about the virus and somewhere in there, had forgotten to intentionally breathe, which is not good for people who struggle with anxiety, (like me). In that moment, I could feel myself spiraling a bit. I was not sure how to get back to the grounded place I usually exist in.

But then, something shifted me.

I got to talking to my mom about the current state of the world and one of the first things she said to me was, "remember how your ancestors dealt with the Spanish Flu and the disastrous conditions they lived through in their lifetime."

Interestingly enough, I had heard this story she was referring to about my ancestors many times, probably for the last 10 years or so. However, I had never really given it much in depth thought. It had never really sunk into the corners of my mind of how serious it was and how scared they must have been.

But this time, in the midst of processing my own mixed feelings due to this modern day Pandemic, I was suddenly hit really hard with empathy, with gratitude, with confusion and with curiosity of how my ancestors got through that incredibly challenging time, in 1918.

My mom and I sat for most of the afternoon, talking about the story as I mostly asked her questions to try to understand what it looked like for poor immigrants to live through such a deadly time.

I wrote down all the details my mom could remember and had gathered from one of my aunts (who loves to research the ancestry of the family) and sat down to write my own compilation of this story. My own little capturing of how the Spanish Influenza ultimately tore my family apart, but did not break their spirit.

Below, is the story I came up with. Yesterday, I shared it on my Instagram account (@introspective_living) and got a lot of replies from people thanking me for sharing it. So, I wanted to do the same with you all (here) too.

In short, this story gave me hope when I felt helpless. It gave me perspective when my brain felt overwhelmed. And it gave me strength in my moments of weakness.

Here is the story below. I truly hope it will uplift you, if only for a few moments out of your day. Because stories are important and we should be telling them.

In the year 1918, my great grandmother, Maria was living in Boston with her 5 children and husband, Giovanni, (after immigrating from Italy years before), when the Spanish influenza rushed through the population like wild fire.

One of the deadliest pandemics in history, hundreds of people were dying daily from the Spanish flu.

At the time, Maria’s 2nd youngest child, Anita, (my grandmother) and her husband, Giovanni, (my great grandfather), would fall prey to the mass spreading of the sickness. In efforts to provide relief, the Red Cross came into their house and ultimately took sick little 2-year-old Anita away.

Maria, being an Italian immigrant, spoke little English at the time and was left with confusion, panic, fear and feelings of utter distraught. Her child had been taken away from her and her husband was on the verge of dying. Maria could make little sense of what her new found life in America was unfolding as.

The stories I’ve heard from my mother and aunts vary a bit, but we think that my grandmother was away from her mother for anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. Ultimately reunited with her family, only for Maria to simultaneously process the influenza sweeping the life of Giovanni away from her, as he died.

Maria, was now a single, poor, Italian immigrant woman living in a new country without a husband or any certainty of what the rest of her life would look like.

Today, I’ve been reflecting a lot with my own mother, as we try to make sense of and process the current state of the world with a modern day pandemic in our midst. Within this reflection, I’ve come to feel quite connected emotionally and spiritually with my ancestors and the dire times that many of them lived through— most of which, I cannot even fathom.

I have been desperately trying to understand the deep inner strength that my great grandmother must have accessed in one of the darkest times of her existence.

I share this story because I think stories are important. Some of us might remember the facts that accumulate during this historic time we’re living through years from now, but I think what I’ll remember is practicing “social distancing” with my 65-year-old mother, listening to her fill my ears with tales of my ancestors— their struggles and their strengths.

I’ll remember their unique ability to get through even the most hopeless of times. I’ll pay gratitude for the wisdom they are still teaching us in the modern world.

And more than anything, I’ll call on my great grandmothers strength when I feel scared, anxious or unsure of how to help others. I’ll remember that she probably never knew the best words to say either, but she persevered regardless. And life’s extreme challenges never took her spirit away. If anything, they only made it stronger.

During this incredibly life altering time, I send you all strength, hope and faith. And I know Maria does too.

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