Elizabeth Fishel: A Pandemic Love Story

1 min

Even a pandemic can have a happy ending when love endures. You could say that Elizabeth Fishel owes her marriage to the great influenza of 1918.

A few days into our statewide quarantine, a friend of a certain age with two married millennial offspring, called to say that despite all the stresses faced by her family — and the world — she was hopeful.

“Hopeful?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’m hopeful that with all this sheltering inside, in nine months or so I might have that first grandchild I’ve been waiting for!” A Coronnial, perhaps?

Yes, love blossomed even in the time of cholera, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote, and why doubt it during coronavirus?

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I myself owe my husband’s life and thus our 41-year marriage to the 1918 flu.

As family lore would have it, the handsome Italian who became my husband’s grandfather was hospitalized with severe flu in makeshift quarters in Boston. The masked nurse who became his grandmother tended the ill man gently.

She was a sturdy young woman from a Vermont farm, kind to all her patients, but perhaps a little extra loving toward the dashing European with the piercing eyes.

Eventually her favorite patient’s symptoms eased, and he recovered. But despite the chemistry between them, once he was back on his feet, the nurse’s heart felt broken. The newly healthy man found her in the hospital corridor, with her mask off, crying.

“What’s the matter?’ he asked, concerned.

“Now that you’ve seen my plain face without the mask, you won’t love me any more,” she sobbed.

But he could do nothing about the tender love she’d shown him, except love her back. The two married and raised two daughters; the elder was my husband’s mother. So I’m beyond grateful for the mask that protected but didn’t ultimately come between his grandparents.

Even during a pandemic, love endures.

With a Perspective, I'm Elizabeth Fishel.

Elizabeth Fishel writes books and articles about families and teaches writing in Oakland.