Right: "Granny" Eileen O'Malley Nekuda (1919-2013) and 1st Lt. Leslie J. Nekuda (1920 - 1949).
Our greatest global challenge is one massive exercise in patience. It’s also the first time I’ve witnessed a collective effort where human compassion is at the forefront of this battle. For my mom, it’s a familiar feeling. A WWII gold-star daughter, she remembers with emotional accuracy how the war efforts affected her family and everyone in her community. She was only two years old when her father Leslie passed away from complications sustained during a training exercise in the Army. She was also named after him. Her mother, known forever fondly to our family as “Granny”, was only 29 when she lost the love of her life. My grandmother adapted to the loss and managed to adjust her focus on surviving and caring for my mom and her sister. She never remarried and decided to live independently but never stopped loving my grandfather. My mom learned from her mother’s ability to remain calm, determined, and of course patient. The stories of war and its effects did not stop with Granny’s tragedy. She had five brothers, the O’Malley boys, four of whom served our country during WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars. They came away from their duty to country dedicated to giving their lives to family and their careers. Granny talked about their adventures with pride but was mindful of the toll it took on her mother.
A ceiling fan spins slowly above a sink full of dirty dishes from two prepared meals for my kids, husband and mom. The encrusted plates, pans and utensils are beckoning the ants to come and partake in the greatest feeding frenzy. Good for them. I am looking across the dining room table losing my patience. Rather than clean them, why not throw them away in the trash. Me vs. the plates. I wonder if anyone will notice. My mom steps up to the sink and begins to pick apart this pile of plastic and glass. “It’s ok Mom, I will get to it.” I am seated at my computer and did not even lift my head to look in her direction. I sensed her there and watched ever so slightly this gentle cloud of a human float past my peripheral vision. “You know, I sometimes feel programmed and can’t help myself,” she says with a chuckle. Her history includes being a mother of five, a hands-on grandmother and a caregiver for both her mother and uncle in their dying years. She can’t help herself and often shifts into autopilot. I know she understands why the dishes are piled up and why I have not touched them. She understands I needed a break from the routine of cooking and cleaning. She’s trying. I am trying. We’re all trying to enforce some mundane routine hinged on normalcy when the circumstances surrounding all that we have set out to accomplish seem utterly hopeless. The world is at a standstill. My mom crosses her arms and moves over to the window. She hardly blinks as she tells me about the latest numbers of new cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. She is currently living with me and is concerned for the well-being of my siblings and father across the country. “I am trying to be patient,” she says.
As I continue to wrap my head around this new world war with nature, I am looking for a way to mentally carry on into the unforeseeable future. Now what? I had so many plans. I stand up from the table and carry out my chore of cleaning and putting away the dishes. My mom offers to help again. “I’ve got it,” I tell her, and I am suddenly reminded of an old fridge magnet with a distinct connection to a famous Proverb. “When you make plans, God laughs,” then I start laughing while trying to place dishes carefully on to the shelf. “It’s true,” is my Mom’s agreeable response and her practicality makes me smile but underneath it all I am anxious, fearful and full of a kind of concern that leaves me unable to think clearly. Simple plans have now become burdensome.
I grew up listening to these stories and they left me filled with fascination and admiration. To me, the Greatest Generation and previous generations are suspended in a specific time where strength and patience were tantamount to a steady outcome. My mind cradles these experiences of people who were related to me and I am lucky enough to learn from them.
My attention shifts to my Mom. She continues to stare out the window and into uncertainty. We look out the window together and take in the moment. I am trying. She’s trying. We’re all trying to carry on and remain steadfast with the end not yet in sight. Now it’s our turn to rise to an occasion that will hopefully serve as a lesson to future generations and it’s waiting for us at the end of this challenge. It could be as individual as our unique self or as broad as our global spirit. It takes strength to remain patient and if one is lucky, hopeful. We often need to be reminded of the past and the experiences of our loved ones in order to proceed. I have no idea what awaits my future or that of my children. “I am trying to be patient too, Mom.”
“Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” My last phone conversation with Granny was the only one where I reached for a pen and wrote down this quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Granny liked to say it as a gentle reminder to me and my siblings that you have a choice as to how you handle a difficult situation. At the time, my Mom was her primary caregiver. Granny was 95 years old and could usually stay on the phone for only so long until she needed to end the conversation. This time it was different. I could tell she was tired, but she went on to tell me a story about her mother, my great-grandmother Anne. According to Granny, she and her five brothers were “raising Cain” in the sunroom while her mother was working in the kitchen preparing dinner. Her mother, rather than raise her voice and yell would look up at the kitchen ceiling and ask for some help: “God give me patience.” Upon hearing this, Granny and her brothers knew it was time for them to calm down, especially Robert the youngest, who was convinced that God was literally in the kitchen ceiling light. Little did my great- grandmother Anne know at the time, four of her sons would join the military and her patience would be tested in a way that life does not prepare you for. With her tired voice Granny expressed to me a quiet determination to live as her mother lived, but to also live each day open to possibilities. She grew accustomed to handling life’s difficulties with a great deal of patience.