We are told this often, all the time. Constantly. Aren’t we? No matter what happens, we’re supposed to handle it, no matter how horrible, how difficult, how incredibly hard. Buckle up! Just handle it, God knows best.
I used to like this statement a lot, and found it helpful and I still do to a certain extent, but my 100% belief in it was tested and analyzed in depth once I found out the life story of my great-aunt Maria, the sister of my grandfather, my dad’s dad. What happened in Maria’s life that was so horrid, so difficult that she could not handle you may ask? I am about to tell you. Brace yourself.
But first, I want to explain how and why I was told this story to begin with. In 1998 I spent several months in Italy when Nicky was little because I needed the help of my family in taking care of him. One day, after spending the morning digging through church records in Lusiana to find out more information about my dad’s family tree, I was happy to report to him that I found out that his great-grandfather’s birthday was a few day before his own, among many other interesting facts. He loved it and started speaking at great length about his family, telling me all kinds of stories. I always found his tales fascinating. I always loved asking my grandma about her life as well, that’s just who I am. God… I miss her!
For some reason, while my dad was talking about his dad’s family, I remembered about a family member he was always mum about, his aunt Maria. I took the opportunity to inquire to him about her simply because we were never allowed to see her while she was alive and recovered in some kind of rest home in Marostica. Every year when I was growing up, we would go to this quaint and historic little city and he always spent an hour or two inside this recovery institution while we waited outside. He would come out and not talk about it and would not answer any questions. The last time he visited her was shortly before she died, I was fairly young, in 1975 I was still only 11, but I never understood the mystery behind this woman. I was hoping now I was old enough to know the whole story about aunt Maria, and as I asked, my dad closed his eyes and said… OK. The way he told Maria’s story to my mom and I, was as if he’d been waiting for the floodgates to open for some time. Even my mom did not know the whole story.
My great-aunt Maria Corradin (sister of my dad’s father) was apparently widely considered a catch, just a beautiful girl inside and out, who married a wealthy farmer in the Marostica area in the early 1900s. They owned some land, had lots of animals, farmed their land and had a nice house, much nicer than most people of their era, but not exactly “rich” per se. They had four sons which, once old enough, helped the family with the farm. Everything seemed to be going well until… the Spanish Flu arrived. For those not familiar with it, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 killed more people than World War I. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history, killing somewhere between 20-50 million people. The Spanish Flu was a global disaster. My family as a whole, was spared, but not Maria’s.
Imagine seeing your husband get sick and die. Then imagine, one by one, seeing each and every one of your four sons get sick and die. All of this rather quickly, a matter of weeks. I just cannot. I shiver at that thought. My grandfather told my dad that she became numb. So numb that she could not cry. He never saw her cry, and neither did anyone else. After she came home from the funeral of her eldest son, who died last, the woman who accompanied her home, which was her neighbor, left her sitting on a chair in front of the fireplace. It was afternoon-there were animals to feed, things to tend to, chores that could not wait, and she was utterly alone. By morning the cows were lamenting, crying out of hunger and demanded to be milked. The neighbor lady came to check on her alerted by the animals, and she found her sitting in the same chair she had left her in, in front of the fireplace, staring in space, almost in a trance. She had not moved an inch in nearly 24 hours. Worried, she called my great-grandfather (Maria’s dad) to find out what they should do. She could eat by herself, go to the bathroom, dress herself, but that’s where it all ended. Having a conversation with her was impossible. She was there, but she wasn’t. The state initially came to get her, tried to help her to no avail. There was nothing they could do. She went into some state of shock and it appeared to be permanent. That’s when my great-grandfather and my grandfather stepped in. They did not have the means to help her and could not take her in, but they were able to get a power of attorney and the approval of the court to sell her farm and use the money to put her in a rest home run by nuns.
Now, mind you, this happened in 1919. She died in 1975. This means she was in this rest home for more than 55 years, and she never ‘snapped’ out of it. Her “light switch” never came back on. My great-grandfather, my grandfather and then my dad (once he was old enough) made it a point to always go visit her, but spending time with her was not an easy task. According to my dad, having a conversation with her was nearly impossible. She would not respond to any question, except for the rare nod. At times she would look up, but she always just sat in her chair looking down. She sat in that chair for 56 years.
I researched this and I feel as though she suffered from either some Psychological Shock/Trauma or Acute Stress Disorder, one that she never recovered from. Just before her death, in her mid-90s, the nuns asked my dad to stop coming to see her because she would become upset when he left and would not calm down for several days. He said that he would ask us girls to wait for him nearby because she would not be able to handle a lot of people.
This story deeply touched and saddened me and put things into prospective for me. I wish I would have met Maria. I often wonder what snapped inside her when she lost everyone she loved the most, her husband and her four boys in a matter of weeks. I know what it feels like to lose one child, but multiplied by 5 it’s absolutely unthinkable.
So… the moral of the story is… what? I struggle with this. I suppose next time someone tells you that God will not give you more than you can handle… thank them and say yes. After all, they are only trying to encourage you and help in their own little way. However, deep inside, we all know better. We know that there is no magic limit or glass ceiling on suffering. I have learned that life is far from fair and we would be better off flinging that thought as far from us as possible. Sometimes there are no answers and we have to be OK with that. I still believe one day we’ll know why and it will all make perfect sense, the spiritual me does still believe there is a reason. Call me crazy.