What I Found in my Grandma’s Letter

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I’ve seen a lot pf articles about past pandemics recently … ebola, Hong Kong, swine flu … and the Spanish flu. I remember some of them happening. but didn’t know much about the Spanish flu except what I read in books both fiction and non-fiction. I knew this was a dangerous flu and many died and many more were sick.

Recently I’ve been going through my mom’s papers and one of the things she kept were several letters from my grandmother. Last night I read a letter that talked about an experience I didn’t realize my grandma had had. At the time, my grandmother was 22 years old and had just had her second baby, my Uncle Jim. They kept her in the hospital (after the baby) for two weeks (as they did then) and two of her nurses died of the Spanish flu.

But then she goes on to explain what happened next.

I am posting this for two reasons – first, to remind us that we all face difficult situations. Yet, God is sovereign and is always with us even during the tough seasons of life.

Second, because I found her firsthand account of having the Spanish flu interesting and thought maybe you would too.

This is what my grandmother wrote:

Once home I seemed to be very sick and a neighbor who was a nurse came in and thought it was something about the afterbirth, but it wasn’t. My temperature was 106 degrees. Doctors were hard to get because so many had the Spanish flu, but one ordered an ambulance to take me to the hospital. Finally arrived at St. Mary’s in Orange (New Jersey) and put in the hallway.

Your dad (my grandfather) asked every man who walked by if he were a doctor. He finally found one who agreed to take charge of me and said I could have the room his wife was to occupy that Monday until other arrangements could be made.

It was a Saturday. You (my father who was about four) were at my mother’s and she got a woman to go to our home an take care of newborn Jim and your father. I was kept alive with whiskey – me who signed W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) pledge when I was 12. They also gave me mustard plasters all night long. The next morning I thought I was in heaven. Heard all the chanting voices – but it was the nuns saying mass.

I don’t know how long I was there. From the fever I lost most of my hair until I was almost bald. This episode took most of January and February. We kept the woman who was taking care of Jim for awhile. When I was able to go out, I wore a scarf on my head. My hair didn’t start to come back until May or June.

The doctor said the only reason I lived was because my body had been purified by birth of a child. Their words – not mine.

I had no idea my grandmother had the Spanish flu and neither did my brother. I’m so glad she wrote her experience so we could read it.


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