Heroes of the pandemic: Centenarian who lived through Spanish flu era has COVID-19 survival advice

Lucy Jarratt, at age 102, is now riding out another global pandemic in her bungalow near the N.B. homestead where she grew up

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Lucy Jarratt always wanted to be a doctor. But, as her mother would tell her — and this was in the 1930s — there was only going to be one doctor in the family and that was her brother, Bobby. Another brother, Manus, died in 1932 from tuberculosis, a horrible tragedy, the memory of which still moves Lucy to tears.

Her father, Patrick Hennessy, was a farmer. The family lived across the road from a Catholic Church and cemetery in Bathurst, N.B. Patrick dug graves for the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. His eldest daughter, Lucy, was born on June 29, 1917, a year before the bug hit and a fact, on its face, that doesn’t seem remarkable until you consider that Lucy, at the ripe, old, wonderfully-spirited age of 102, is now riding out another global pandemic in her bungalow at the top of Hennessy Street near the homestead where she grew up.

We are probably more afraid of it than she is

Aside from taking a pill a day for a thyroid condition, being hard of hearing and having trouble with her short-term memory, Lucy remains remarkably spry and fully engaged and she is unfazed, according to her daughter, Melynda Jarratt, by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are probably more afraid of it than she is,” Jarratt says. “My mom was a medical secretary for 62 years and so she saw it all. People dying, and receiving terrible diagnoses, but also the births and other joys in life.”

Jarratt and her siblings, David and Terri, began caring for Lucy full time after her regular caregivers stopped coming to the house due to the virus. The arrangement, while imperfect, keeps producing memorable moments, often around the Scrabble board. Lucy, forever competitive and with a keen mind, isn’t above cheating to assure victory.

“Now that we are all stuck in the house, Scrabble has become a daily competition,” Jarratt says, laughing. “My mother takes it very seriously.” (Jarratt spoke on Lucy’s behalf). A few years back, Jarratt interviewed Lucy on camera, a time capsule, of sorts, in which she asked for her secrets to a long life.

Part of Lucy Jarratt’s social distancing routine involves beating her children at Scrabble. Lucy is 102. Family handout

Lucy was born in the pre-antibiotic age. Tuberculosis claimed her brother, but he wasn’t the only family casualty. Her younger sister, Dorothy, died of whooping cough. Another sibling died from a concussion. Death, in Lucy’s day, wasn’t as remote as it is today.

For her part, she never smoked, and she rarely drinks, save for a nip of Tia Maria, every now and again. Lucy’s motto, as all her children — she and her husband, Sidney, had nine — are aware, and which she continues to espouse is: “Always look on the bright side. Don’t spend time worrying about what’s going to happen, since what will happen, will happen.”

In other words: don’t be afraid of life since loss, and joy, and hope, are all part of it. Bad times will give way to the good. All one can ever do is get on with living.

“It is my Mom’s credo,” Jarratt says. “I think it is what has kept her alive for so long.”

Lucy Jarratt, right, survivor of the 1918 flu pandemic, as a child, circa 1920. Family handout

That, and the fact she is dearly loved. When Lucy tires of beating her children at Scrabble by any means necessary, she will either go for a drive with her son or retire to her bedroom to watch British sitcoms. (She also watches the news, and reads the paper.) She eats porridge for breakfast, and admits to a weakness for ice cream treats, especially anything with caramel. Flowers delight her, as does the PBS program, Call the Midwife, because of the medical angle and her religious foundation.

“My Mom is a devout Catholic, but she rolls her eyes over the idea women can’t be priests,” Jarratt says.

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Lately, Lucy has been watching Mass for Shut-ins, among the longest running television programs in Canada. The nuns who live nearby can no longer pop around to give her communion. Nighttimes, though, are especially special, in these extraordinary times. When Lucy heads to bed, her children tuck her in.

“The three of us will stand around my Mom, and she will look up at us with her gorgeous smile,” Jarratt says. “When she wakes up — she is still smiling. She is always happy to see another day.”

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