My mother came from a large family in northern Michigan, from a little town in the Cadillac area. There, she was raised by a single parent, my grandmother, and lived a hard scrabble life on the family farm. She was the youngest of nine children.


Some of my aunts and uncles came into this world around 1918. In some ways, it is miraculous that they survived their first years of life. 1918 was the year of the great Spanish influenza epidemic that swept across not only the country, but the entire world. By the time the epidemic subsided, more than 675,000 Americans had died from the disease.


Perhaps the isolation of country living in northern Michigan helped preserve their life, but in their household, strength came from a deep-rooted devotion to God, friends and family. They were born into a world of country farm living, where neighbors knew each other well (even if that neighbor was miles down the road) — hard, difficult, back-bending work was a way of life, and your support system was your family.


Most of us cannot understand the level of poverty that they endured in their early life, scrapping a life out of their small farm, in a time before the family had a tractor, telephones, even indoor plumbing. The fact that they lived on a farm meant that they would be able to eat, but things like medicine, vacations and other amenities we take for granted were essentially beyond their reach.


But they made a wonderful life for themselves, because they understood that happiness is not measured in dollars and cents. Some of the fondest memories I have were listening to my mom and aunts and uncles sit around cups of coffee and tell stories on each other. Those times were full of laughter and joy, with a close-knit family who has a rich history together. If you listened carefully to those stories, they revolved around farm work done by hand, water that was hand pumped from a well, and the joys of outhouse living. It’s a story that is shared by many others, people who endured difficult times and came out on the other end victorious.


Time has a way of sweetening difficult times, if we allow it to happen. I wonder if that will be true for our “coronavirus” quarantine memories. Will the lack of haircuts, handshakes and masked conversations still hold the sting of frustration that it brings today? Many have lost jobs and income, a problem made worse by glitches in unemployment benefits. Food banks are nearly overwhelmed by people who need assistance for the basics of life, food and shelter.


I have noticed that some seem to survive, even thrive in these difficult times. What is their secret? I know that there were three things that saw my mother’s family through their difficult times, and I believe they are the same things that can help us as we go through this as yet unfinished coronavirus journey we are going through.


Faith, family and friends helped them make a life out of the struggles and obstacles that they faced.


Faith is essential to life. It offers hope that nothing else can give. Mom’s family depended on community that church life offered. It gave them an anchor of hope that told them that they had a God who was in control, with a hope of a better life to come. They clung to that hope in times of trial and difficulty.


Family is necessary to surviving. Family is a complex organism; it comes in many shapes and sizes. But in a healthy, functioning family, it is an amalgam of love, acceptance, confrontation, confession, forgiveness and restoration. All of these are ingredients that help to balance our lives, each of them measured out in importance to sustaining ourselves through times of trial.


And let’s not forget how important friends are to help us make it through difficult times. We were not created to be alone, especially during difficult times. Healthy friendships can help pull us out of the deep troughs of tribulation.


— Joe Coffman is a Holland resident. Contact him at JCoffman4200@gmail.com.