The statistics of fatalities mount with every senseless attack on party goers, concert goers and church goers; the news gets reported and there is outrage over the sheer number of guns available and there is the lame lament, “Now is not the time for politics. The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers,” but by the next day the news cycle has moved on except for the families of the fatalities. Time has stood still in the horror of the moment.
The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed between twenty and forty million in one year, more than all those in the four years of the Great (how can that be said?) War and the most vulnerable were between twenty and forty years of age; then the news cycle moved on except for the families of the fatalities. Time stood still in the horror of the moment.
My grandfather, age thirty-eight, who had been a captain in the Swedish army before leaving Sweden for a life of hope, promise and happiness in the US, caught the Spanish Flu from returning soldiers. He died leaving my father, thirteen, an orphan in a strange land, my grandmother having died previously giving birth to a still-born baby girl. For the orphan, time stood still in the horror of the moment.
When my father was fifty-six, in ill-health and wrestling with ghosts from his past, he committed suicide. I was seventeen. In five days, I will turn seventy-three and I still ache for the grandfather and grandmother I never knew and their dashed hopes, my father, my mother, my sister, my children who never knew their grandfather and I ache for myself. News cycles move on, in some sense, shock, grief, sadness and longing linger.
And then I remember some of my father’s jokes, his humming and singing songs (Stars are the windows of heaven….Peg ‘O my heart, I love you….), his reputation as a compassionate, caring man who, in spite of his sorrows and demons, regularly visited and helped feed the homeless on Skid Row in Chicago and how proud he was of me and I am inspired and comforted.