“Sustaining Family Stories”

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While it is true that people over the age of 60, particularly over the age of 70 and even more so over 80 are especially prone to fatalities from the coronavirus, we also have a great deal of wisdom that we need to share with those around us who are much younger. I grew up with several important family stories which taught me from an early age that life is unpredictable, that events far away can have a huge impact on our lives, and that the stock market doesn’t guarantee financial security. I believe that while I am greatly distressed by the present pandemic, I don’t experience it as something no generation before me has had to endure.

Above is my grandfather who was called into service in World War 1 for a conflict which took place across the Atlantic Ocean. He had no fervent desire to go fight, but he had no choice. The government drafted him. My generation knows that the government can draft its citizens. Many of my generation had to go across the Pacific Ocean to fight in a war that they opposed. They went.

When he returned home, my grandfather contracted the Spanish Flu. He nearly died, but my grandmother nursed him through it. Despite our cavalier approach to that flu–“we know so much more now”–we are actually in the same situation they were. The flu killed left and right. It wasn’t fair. It didn’t discriminate. But as the older generations repeatedly told us “life isn’t fair.”

My father’s mother invested the life insurance money from her husband’s death in the stock market and lost it all. My father never trusted financial predictions of endless prosperity. “What goes up always comes down” could have been his motto.

My mother was in high school when her family tuned into the radio to hear that Hitler had just invaded Poland. She told us about that moment from time to time. “Our whole world changed in a minute.” The world is like that.

When I think about helicopter parents who have steadfastly tried to shield their children from challenges, I reflect on my own upbringing. I learned that my family had known hard times. It makes me realize I can deal with them too.

 

 

26 thoughts on ““Sustaining Family Stories”

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I have enjoyed talking with my mom (90 yrs old) during this time and gaining her perspective. She’s not daunted by the current demands (they are now on lockdown where she lives.) She reminded me of how she lived in a cabin when she was 15 and they had no electricity, water, or indoor plumbing. And the time she spent 3 months in the hospital (age 10) with an illness that should have killed her but didn’t. Many other experiences that I need to document and share too. Thanks for that inspiration.

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  2. Hey Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing that piece if wisdom. Lately, my dreams had been coloured by the recent events in Delhi. But you remind me that my family had dealt with that in 1947 as Hindus. We will deal with it again, this time as Muslims. Life is never fair but some of us will survive.

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  3. My ancestors also survived the same pandemics, wars and economic disasters that yours did, Elizabeth, and I’m thankful I heard their stories before they passed away. I too have been thinking about their struggles and the loved ones that they lost. Such a relevant post right now.

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  4. True words of wisdom, Elizabeth. COVID-19 is becoming serious for younger people too which doesn’t surprise me. Viruses are not picky about their hosts. My mom and dad are in their element at the moment. They are making bread, jam and cooking all sorts of war time meals. They feel so useful and it is lovely to see them so busy and happy during this difficult time.

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    1. A friend is sewing face masks from cotton and flannel as a substitute for lack of the new ones. It reminded me that my mother spent her college lectures knitting helmet liners for the pilots in World War II. I glad we can retrieve those memories right now. And of course she had no foreknowledge that the War would end when and as it did.

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  5. Excellent point about helicopter parents. It will be more difficult for those families now. Let’s hope a lesson is learned about how to build resilience which it sounds like your family has in spades!

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