At 95, Italian woman amasses thousands of Instagram followers, finds purpose after her husband’s death

Slowly examining my reflection, I saw an elegant and beautiful woman. Old, yes, because I accept my years. My countenance revealed two things. I lived a great deal of life, and I have a lot left to live.

  • 1 month ago
  • June 17, 2024
6 min read
Licia Fertz, 95, regained her will to live when she swept social media. | Photo courtesy of Licia Fertz Licia Fertz, 95, regained her will to live when she swept social media. | Photo courtesy of Licia Fertz
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Licia Fertz, 95, was born and currently resides in Viterbo, Italy. She worked as a nurse. After her hsuband died, she became a model and social media content creator, inspiring and engaging audiences worldwide.
background information
Licia was married to Aldo for 64 years until his passing at the end of 2017. After a period of depression, in March 2018, her grandson Emanuele encouraged her to embark on a new chapter in her life. On her Instagram account, @liciafertz, she has garnered over 257,000 followers. Last year, she was honored as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the Year.

VITERBO, Italy — At 95 years old, I live a completely different life full of possibilities. During my younger years, I gave up everything for my daughter and for work. The busyness of life took all my time and energy. I never thought someone like me could find a place of belonging on social media, but it resurrected me and offered a sense of newfound freedom.

Life never ceases to surprise me, even when I thought it had nothing more to offer. Social media made me feel useful again. The contact I enjoy with others gave my life a renewed sense of meaning.

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When her husband died, woman felt as if her life faded away

I experienced a difficult life, my childhood marked by World War II. Death and scarcity surrounded me growing up and it shaped my character. In adulthood, I faced a loss that became difficult to recover from: the death of my daughter. No words can describe how I felt at the time. I leaned heavily on my husband Aldo – my partner in life. By his side, my days felt brighter. With just a look, we understood each other and having him close by gave me peace.

When his health began to deteriorate, I faded with him. The day he passed away in the hospital, I felt like everything came to an end. In that impersonal place, in someone else’s bed, his body lay on the gurney. The sight of him broke my heart and my chest tightened. Although family surrounded me, I felt profoundly alone.

For the first time in over 60 years, Aldo would no longer be with me. It felt like walking into a dark tunnel and drifting away from the world. I believed nothing could take me out of that place.

When I returned home, my heart flooded with sorrow. Everything around me reminded me of Aldo. Every object in the house belonged to both of us. A happy couple once lived inside our home. After Aldo’s death, I became a lonely old woman. As the days grew more monotonous, I began to think I had no reason to live. Each morning when I awoke, I sat up in bed and forced myself to go another day. Yet, after breakfast, discouragement battered my will and I went back to bed.

Grandson’s stunning photos ignite social media

I spent most of the time after Aldo died lying down. When I closed my eyes tightly, I wished they would never open again. Often, I felt like a burden to my family and society. I thought it was time for me to leave, that I had done all I had to do in my life. Then, one day, while preparing dough in the kitchen, my grandson Emanuele approached me.

“Nonna, look, I have this new camera,” he said. “I want to take a photo of you. Would you like me to?” A huge smile crossed his face. In his eyes, I saw hope. “Do you think it’s time for photos,” I answered relunctantly. He insisted, convincing me to give it a try.

Elegant photo of Licia | Photo courtesy of Licia Fertz

My grandson’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and I ended up smiling too. As soon as he showed me the images, I felt thrilled. I had a glow about me I was never aware of. My grandson saw it too. He knew I wasn’t ready to leave my life, that I had not completely shut down. The magic of that moment continued. Without telling me, Emanuele created an Instagram account for me and uploaded the photo.

Followers started to grow in numbers, and comments flooded my feed. Emanuele eagerly showed them to me. He read them to me one by one, and as he did, I felt my life expand. My world lit up again. I sat there, speechless. People’s compliments moved me to tears, and their requests for advice made me feel useful. I saw that moment as a sign, and I needed to follow its direction. That moment became the first domino in a game, pushing the other dominos down and transforming my life.

Focusing on social media: “I found my place in the world”

After my Instagram launched, when I awoke in the morning, I no longer thought about going back to bed. Instead, I eagerly anticipated reading people’s messages. I dressed quickly and knocked on my grandson Emanuele’s door so he could help me read them. I answered as many as I could. When I responded, I called each follower a grandson or granddaughter, and they became an extended family.

I also focused more on my image, carefully choosing my attire every morning. In my mind, while getting ready for the day, I was also preparing to be photographed and I wanted to look radiant. I began to look at myself in the mirror with a different perspective.

Slowly examining my reflection, I saw an elegant and beautiful woman. Old, yes, because I accept my years. My countenance revealed two things. I lived a great deal of life, and I have a lot left to live. When I changed, combed my hair, and applied makeup, it felt like telling the world how much I liked being in it. I found my place and no longer thought of myself as a burden to anyone.

Often, I sit in the garden. I look at the greenery surrounding me and the beautiful plants blooming in the Italian spring. The breeze from the sea caresses me. In these moments, I think about the meaning of life and old age. I hope all people my age find some way to hold on to the beautiful things. I found my place in the world and I have an opportunity to help other people feel better. Recently, I had to be hospitalized, but I kept in touch with people, and I am ready to keep going. I am not afraid of death, but I am aware it is close by.

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