How the Miracle My Ancestor Experienced during the Spanish Flu Pandemic Is Inspiring Me
January 2021

Digital Only: Young Adults

How the Miracle My Ancestor Experienced during the Spanish Flu Pandemic Is Inspiring Me

Learning about a story in my family history helped me gain the faith I need during this COVID-19 pandemic.

black-and-white image of hands clasped

This pandemic is the worst.

After almost a year, COVID-19 still continues to play out, and I’ve noticed that phrases like “Things will get better” or “This won’t last forever” have become less comforting and effective over time.

I’ve longed for things to turn back to normal, because my “new normal” has been hard to get used to. To be frank, trying to continue fulfilling my responsibilities while also fending off an overwhelming and suffocating feeling of cabin fever, fear, and anxiety can be difficult sometimes.

Perhaps you can relate.

A Shocking Coincidence

The temple has always been my safe haven. And with temples being closed, I have felt a profound hole in my heart that has yet to be filled. But doing indexing and family history work throughout the pandemic has helped bring glimmers of the Spirit that resides in the temple into my life. It’s also shown me just how much we can learn from our ancestors and how much strength they can give us.

I never met my great-grandmother Hettie, but I have always felt a connection to her for many reasons. She was described to be similar to me in appearance, with her very pale skin and dark hair; she was from England (which I believe is where my love of all things British stems from); and she was known especially for her astounding faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was casually studying her life a short time ago when I remembered a story I’d heard about how she had helped her husband, my great-grandpa, miraculously recover from an illness that had brought him to his deathbed.

As I researched further, I found a journal entry from my grandpa (Hettie’s son), and I found out that this illness wasn’t just any sickness—my great-grandpa had contracted the deadly Spanish flu during the pandemic that lasted from 1918 to 1920.

I was shocked.

The journal entry explained that my great-grandfather had come home from work feeling sick. A doctor came, diagnosed him with the dreaded Spanish flu, and put up a red quarantine sign in the yard to make sure no one visited their home.

The Spanish flu was highly contagious, just like another virus I know.

My grandpa described how most of the homes in their city had these quarantine signs in their yards and explained how terrifying the whole ordeal was for those two years.

It’s not often I can fully relate to my ancestors, but when I read this, I felt tears prickling my eyes.

It was no coincidence that I was reading this story at this time.

Hettie’s Miracle

In the journal, my grandpa went on to explain how the doctor visited their home again about five days later, when his father had grown so sick that he was unresponsive. After seeing how quickly people were dying from this terrible disease, the doctor concluded that there was nothing more he could do for my great-grandfather and told Hettie that all she could do was keep him comfortable until he passed away.

My grandpa wrote that Hettie cried quietly for a few moments after the doctor left, but then suddenly looked up with a determined look on her face. She told my grandpa and his brothers to kneel and pray for help. She explained to Heavenly Father that she knew He had the power to help her save her husband if it was His will, and that she would do whatever she could to save him. She pleaded with Him to let him live.

After the prayer, my grandpa explained that Hettie was inspired to create a thick paste out of mustard and hot water and to spread it over thick strips of fabric. She then wrapped them all around her husband’s chest in one last effort to clear his lungs. She covered him with blankets and stayed up all night, holding his hand, squeezing it every now and again to see if he would respond.

At around four o’clock in the morning, she finally got a good, strong squeeze of response from him, and eventually he opened his eyes. That night he was able to hold full conversations. Because of the Lord and because of Hettie’s faith in Him, my great-grandfather was going to live.

It was a true miracle.

Things Will Get Better

I’ve realized that the blessings we are promised as we engage in family history work are real, because I have felt them come into my life through the challenges the past year has thrown our way. I’ve especially seen the promise of “increased assistance to mend troubled, broken, or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole,” which Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has testified of.1

My great-grandma Hettie’s story has always inspired me, but reading it and studying it in detail at this time—when I am surrounded by such similar circumstances—has strengthened my faith that Heavenly Father really is a God of miracles and that we can learn so much from our ancestors.

As we embrace our new normal and “look forward to the future ‘with joyful anticipation,’”2 as President Russell M. Nelson recently counseled, I hope that we can do so with a new focus on faith and good habits to draw closer to Jesus Christ.

We have all suffered so much loss in one form or another through this terrible pandemic, and many tragedies have occurred, but I know that so many good things are also occurring, that Heavenly Father hears our prayers, that miracles are happening, and that things truly will get better.

Because they always do when Jesus Christ is the focus of our lives.