The Spanish Flu of 1918 Affected My Family in a Mysterious Way

One of the great mysteries in life is that there are, in fact, mysteries at all. Mystery in life keeps us in wonder, despite the insistence by some that we’ve figured most stuff out by now. We haven’t. For one, we still don’t know how life began on this planet, using only the standard scientific method. Contrast that to people of faith: we believe in the power of our Creator who caused life to emerge on this planet. We can’t prove that through the methods of science because those methods are based on observation and experimentation.  Since no one can go back in history to perform those scientific tests, everything scientists say about the origins of life isn’t fact but theory.  

Mysteries go way beyond how all of life started. Daily mysteries occur, too. The atheist would disagree, viewing life as mechanistic materialism where there may be occasional ‘coincidences.’ Because the atheist does not believe we have a spirit, or that there is a supernatural realm, she must conclude that if there seems to be a mystery, there is an explanation for it, or it was just a coincidence.

The believer, on the other hand, would say there are no coincidences. The person of faith sees a mystical blend between our choices and divine providence. The believer senses the hand of the Creator in history, moving the pieces of His chess board to the desired outcome. However, the person of faith also recognizes that we have free will—a gift from God. How God’s will and humanity’s free will work together is another mystery. Nonetheless, the believer knows that ultimately God is in control of it all.

Last Century’s Pandemic

The hand of providence is a term many believers use when circumstances occur that are out of our control. Something like this happened to my family back in 1918, when the Spanish flu hit (similar to the Covid-19 pandemic we’re facing today). It is a mystery to me how my Great-Grandfather knew something dreadful was going to happen during that pandemic.

My Great-Grandma Belle (we called her “Grandma Nanny,” a nickname), married young – 15 years old, to be exact – in 1914. A couple of years later, she had a daughter, my Grandmother Adalene. Belle must have been busy taking care of her baby while being a newlywed.

Then she got pregnant again. She had another daughter. By this time, Adalene was about 18 months old when her sister was born. Then the Spanish flu hit. Belle’s husband got sick – real sick. She tended to him the best she could, with two little ones in toe, but he took a turn for the worst. He wasn’t going to make it.

Just moments before he passed away, as our family stories have been passed down, he told Belle that he was passing on, and that “I’m gonna take the baby with me.”

What?! How terrifying those death-bed words must have sounded to this young bride. I can imagine her grabbing up her baby girl in her arms, and holding her close to somehow ward off this curse-like declaration. “He’s not taking my baby!”

My Great-Grandfather Crawford who died in the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Tragic that it was, later on the baby got sick. She also took a turn for the worst and passed away.

My Grandma Nanny, now widowed, had to find work. As a single mom, she became a live-in cook in a wealthy household, which allowed her to keep her toddler with her at the same residence.

The Spanish flu of 1918 took hundreds of thousands of Americans, leaving so many families grieving the loss of loved ones.

Was it somehow comforting that my Great-Grandfather somehow knew his baby girl was going with him? I’m sure my grandma wasn’t comforted by it. She must have pondered how her husband knew this was going to happen? I would think the person lacking faith would see this as a “good guess.” But people of faith know differently.

Beyond the Physical Senses

We know that there are senses in people that go beyond just the five, physical senses. Many of us have experienced a kind of ‘sixth-sense,’ if you will; some might describe it as a “gut instinct.” And this is the realm of the mysterious.

What I’ve seen happening in Western culture of late is the loss of wonder in the mystery of our existence. Instead, if anything is going to be mysterious, it is of our own doing. We’ve plugged ourselves into created mysteries that we’ve designed: some cool VR (virtual reality) glasses, a spiritual plot in the latest Anime flick, or a multiverse superhero comic traversing the various realities.

But that’s not really “reality,” is it? We’ve taken our amazing creative talents and have designed some awesome things, but in many ways, we’ve lost the wonder of life. We’ve falsely believed that we have it all figured out – that what we see in the world is merely the process of unguided, random selection of things that just ‘adapt’. There’s nothing special about it. So, we escape into our own zones of unreality. We create the mysteries.

It’s as if we’ve chosen to plug ourselves into The Matrix willingly. Contrast that to the movie where the people were unaware of the false reality they were plugged into: today, we eagerly plug ourselves in (via cell phones, laptops, televisions, video games and VR glasses), and it’s becoming more mainstream and accepted.

To discover the mystery of God, the spiritual side of our existence, we can’t be plugged into this false reality. We actually have to experience the real world by encountering it: walking through nature, spending alone time in contemplation, and relating to people personally. Without these things, tapping into the sense that goes beyond our physical reality is simply not going to happen.

Reading is another way to use your mind to go beyond the mere physical. One should ask, “What is imagination?” Is your mind just a ‘brain muscle’ responding to chemical stimuli? What about dreams? The mind/consciousness is something scientists simply do not know how to explain.

But here is what I know… when we read, ideas are born into our minds, and we learn. That’s why it saddens me to know that does the average American doesn’t read the Bible much anymore. Here’s the point – the Bible is a spiritual book, and it must be read as such. To fully understand it, prayer and meditation on the truths it espouses needs to happen. If we are to sense God, this is a practice that must be done regularly. Instead, reading the Bible these days is mocked, ridiculed and/or challenged.

I’ve also heard some complain that they tried it, and nothing happened. They read the Bible, prayed, and still had no feeling that God was there. It was as if they were praying to the air! But here is the thing—God is omnipresent. That means He is everywhere, so even if someone feels like they are “praying to the air,” they are not. God is there!

What has happened is that we have focused a lot on feelings, and if we don’t feel something right away, as if God should give us the tingles or manifest a glowing aura, then it can’t be true. It must be a fairy tale, and we should simply leave it at that. But I want to challenge that thinking… what IS a feeling, anyway, if we are merely physical beings? Is a feeling just a biochemical response to our environment? If we are without a soul or spirit, then what is the mind? How would you describe a dream – some chemical blender of physical marbles bouncing in your head at night?

What is “Spiritual”?

The Bible says that there are “fruits of the Spirit.” This is a symbolic term meaning the spirit produces something in our lives. What the spiritual realm produces are these things: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These things are, in fact, spiritual! They are not some biochemical response reacting in our brains from chemicals, like the naturalist must believe. It’s quite simple. If you’ve experienced any of these things, you’ve experienced the spiritual aspect of being human. And this is a good place to start. This is a mystery of being human – that we are both physical and spiritual beings. We are not just meat robots that ultimately the atheistic worldview must embrace.

As a person of faith, part of the wonder in life is the mystery of it all. The fact that anything exists at all is a great wonder! And you are a great masterpiece of the Creator’s hand.

In this time of stress and worry during the pandemic of 2020, looking back a century ago at the similar circumstances that my family faced during the Spanish Flu epidemic makes me feel somehow comforted. I mean, Grandma Nanny survived not only losing her husband and younger baby girl, but she went on to remarry, had more children and trusted God in the process. And I am here today through her lineage – what mystery and what wonder that thought holds.

Pictured left to right: My Step-Grandpa, Art Davis, my Great-Grandma Nanny (Belle), my Grandma Adalene, holding her newborn baby, my father, in 1934.

Don’t let the world convince you that there is no mystery in life left. That is simply untrue. Instead, spend time contemplating the wonder of life and the truth that mysteries still exist.

The greatest mystery is that God came down in the person of Jesus Christ to reveal some of the mysteries in life. And one of those mysteries is that He repairs the broken relationship between humanity and God the Father by being our sacrifice that covers all sin. Thank you, God.

What mysteries do you ponder?


  1. Melissa Henderson September 1, 2020
    • LisaQAuthor September 4, 2020
  2. Melinda Viergever Inman September 16, 2020