A boomer sees a depth charge from Covid 19

This pandemic is not the first crisis in modern times. As Barbara Winard of Jersey City, New Jersey, writes, many baby boomers’ lives have been shaped by crises that came long before this one.

My life was changed by people I never met.

My grandfather died in the Spanish influenza epidemic— 100 years ago— and my two brothers died of polio in the 1940s. So far, my large and widely-dispersed family has had no experience with Covid 19 but, like many others, we are waiting fearfully to get through this pandemic.

Jewish cemetery in Newark, NJ.

Like most baby boomers of the 20th Century, the lives of our parents and grandparents were altered by disasters: diseases, mass emigration, the Depression, and two World Wars. I was born in 1948, 30 years after my grandfather died, but just three years after my brothers died during the same week, at the ages of 7 and 3.

It took most of my life to find out about my grandfather. He was felled by influenza in his 30s, just six months after his family arrived in America from abroad. My parents never talked about where he was buried or very much about him at all. That was how families coped in their day: with silence. But the cloud of loss touched everyone around them.

Ohel of grandfather in Newark cemetery.

My cousin and I searched for my grandfather in the old Jewish cemeteries of Newark, New Jersey, many of which have been abandoned, with toppled gravestones and weeds sprouting between them. I finally found my grandfather’s ohel, a small building that had been broken into again and again and filled with garbage and drug paraphernalia. I raised money from my relatives across the country to rebuild his final resting place.

For much of my life I also didn’t know the location of my brothers’ graves— or about their existence at all. I found the graves when I was 50, when I received a bill for their upkeep after my dad passed away. Now I visit both my brothers’ and my grandfather’s graves every year and say the Jewish prayer for the dead, the kaddish, for them.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how deaths like these affect a family’s course. The death of my grandfather when his five children were young sent them each off into different paths in their lives. The death of my brothers shadowed my own life because my mother never really recovered. She constantly feared that something terrible would happen again. Her tight reins steered the lives of both of her children, mostly towards rebellion. Because of her, I raised my own daughter to have the freedom and independence that I was denied.

Barbara Winard

Now, Covid 19 has struck thousands of individuals and families. I imagine that these fears, illnesses, and deaths will spark trickle-down depth charges that may impact our lives for generations. Most of us will survive. We will get back to work, hopefully; we will raise families or not, find love or not, find peace or not. But I suspect that this pandemic will live within us, and we will pass down our changed views of the world and our places in it for generations.

19 Comments

    1. Thanks, David. I know that so many families went through similar challenges.
      To Life, for sure, for all of us….

      1. Barbara, your story is so heartfelt. I remember my mom talking of her experience as a child through the influenza of 1918. It’s amazing for me to realize that we are now living through such a horrific experience. We all need to hope that even though it will stay with us, we can come through this with more intelligence and a desire to prepare for the future.

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Barb. So much has been talked about recently, but not this. How for each person, at whatever age, this will affect their lives and their children’s and grandchildren’s lives way beyond the reach of the actual virus. You’ve given me much to reflect upon. Stay well and safe, my friend. Love to you and yours.

  2. Wonderful essay, Barbara! My brother and I were talking about how both our parents were alive (as children) during the 1918 flu epidemic, but they never talked about this.

    1. Seems that most people our parents’ age did not talk about death and disease—although they sometimes whispered it. I wish my mom had talked about it; I would have understood her so much more.

  3. Beautifully expressed, and most touching, Barbara. I always reference the loss of you brothers to people who attack vaccination. It seems some of them are already against the idea of a vaccine for COVID-19. Bill Gates is going to make a vaccine with a micro chip to brain control us all? I wish there was a cure for stupidity! Thank you for this, sharing.

    1. Thanks, Joey, and of course we came from that same battered generation…hope all of you guys get through this safely.

  4. Thanks for writing your insightful story. It’s a point of view I suspect most of us have never thought about. Your search for answers about your family is inspiring. May you stay safe and well.

  5. Well written, Barbara. I wouldn’t expect anything else ! Every generation has a few defining moments. Their response and resolve quite often determines their ultimate destiny. Let’s all hope that this pandemic steers us in the correct path so that not only can we recover but also learn from it to insure a better future on this planet

  6. Barbara, Thank you for sharing your well written story with all of us. My father was only about 5 during the Spanish Flu but he did speak of some of the sad things he witnessed during that time and it made an impression on him to be able to recall and tell me what he had seen as a young child. May all of you have continued good health… stay safe and strong. L’Chaim!

  7. As so many have already mentioned, your writing is beautiful and inspires reflection about our own history. Many events shape our lives even though they may have occurred generations ago. It’s profound to think how today’s events will shape future generations.

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