Wow, I cannot believe how fast the past month has gone.
Unfortunately it has not been a good one for my husband and myself. First we lost my dear father-in-law, then my mum and dad’s beautiful Jack Russell passed away and in the last couple of days we lost my father. It started me thinking about family and the devastation of loss, especially for the Western Pioneers in the United States.
How did the women cope with the loss of their husband?
In these days the husband was often the sole provider. Research shows they turned to Prostitution, hurriedly married again – often to someone many years older who was willing to take on a widow and another man’s children or, the lucky ones turned to family who were willing to help. Times were hard though, and often parents were unwilling to accept the burden of a widowed daughter and her children. She was often turned away to fend for herself. I cannot imagine the sadness these women would have felt at such rejection.
How did parents cope with the death of a child?
It is a well-known fact, the mortality rate of children during these harsh times was so much higher than today. There were none of the medications we take for granted, infection was rampant and being the “Wild West” – accidents happened on a regular basis. Some women literally ‘pined’ themselves to death, men either broke down in unimaginable despair or chose to deny the child had ever been born. The more ‘stoic’ couples, looked to each other for the strength to push through such tragedy. I often wonder, how many small crosses were erected along these treacherous trails? Do we really have any idea?
How did survivors cope with the rest of their family falling victim to Disease?
During their travels west, Pioneers were affected by weather, famine and disease. Whole families could be struck down with Yellow Fever, Influenza or some other rampant and highly contagious disease but sometimes there could be a lone survivor. How would this survivor feel? Many questioned why they had been spared when the rest of their family had been taken. Young men who survived such tragedy would often turn to alcohol or crime and within a few years many ended up dead themselves. Young children who weren’t taken in by other pioneer families, would be dropped off at orphanages in the next town they arrived at. At this time, the cruel and desperate conditions in some orphanages, would have been likened to a ‘fate worse than death.” Their futures would have been dismal thanks to the attitudes of the day – most orphans were considered worse than street waifs. These poor little mites really had their chance of a successful life, reduced.
We also need to learn to be thankful. In times of death we need to remember the deceased’s’ contribution to this world. We should celebrate their lives and try not to grieve and mourn our losses too badly. In both my father’s and father-in-laws’ cases, it was a privilege to have been related to men of such standing. They each loved their families dearly, worked hard to provide for their wives and their children and a rarity in this day and age – they each honoured their marriage vows for more than 60 years. Will they be missed? Deeply. But, I will smile when I recall the good times along with the things they did and said.
I am grateful for the fact that these days, people can pass away quietly, without pain, thanks to modern medicine. How gut wrenching it must have been for some of the pioneering families to watch loved ones die in such agony.
So, next time you feel like complaining about a computer that won’t start, a car in front that is moving too slowly or the rain that bucketed down after you just finished washing your car – think of your forebears.
Until next month, God Bless and take care.
Western Romance Author