I used to think of my father-in-law, John Kichura, as a quiet, little hen-pecked man who was miserably dominated by his wife. More intimidated by my mother-in-law, I never worried that I would have a problem with him.
Today John is a widower, and anything but quiet. While most airline passengers hope for an empty seat next to them for some quiet time alone, John is disappointed if there's no one seated next to him. "What's the matter with me?" he once asked me after picking him up at the airport for a visit following his wife's death. "Do I have B.O. (body odor)? No one wanted to talk to me."
A 78-year-old Czechoslovakian man who's lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for almost 50 years, John hasn't adjusted well to living alone. He would have been married for almost 46 years if colon cancer had not have taken his wife, Helen, three years ago. His salt-and-pepper hair continues to thin out. His pot belly is gone and he now wears suspenders to keep up his baggy pants as his weight has plunged from l75 lb. to l35 lb. on his 5'7" frame. Surprisingly, he never misses his daily scoops of chocolate chip ice cream and Oreo cookies. But despite his sweet tooth, he's also had to cut back on his food intake, since his new false teeth have made chewing more difficult. Hunched back, he takes small, deliberate steps when he walks, swinging his arms from side to side.
Early in his visit with us, I found fulfillment in helping him grieve out his pain. I understood his need to talk, as he rattled nonstop about the woman he used to criticize. She had now been elevated to sainthood since her death.
However, I couldn't tolerate his cruel remarks about my housekeeping. A meticulous housekeeper, he took pride in reorganizing my cluttered kitchen cupboards. I should have been less sensitive and more appreciative of his help, but instead, I found it hard to ignore such stinging comments as "I like things in order. How do you live like this?" It hurt my pride to admit that he was more domestic than I, as I watched him carefully fold my plastic grocery bags and iron his underwear. His clothes were spotless and all the wrinkles were ironed out. My feelings took on an added beating when he constantly compared my microwave cooking to his late wife's elaborate European dishes.
After only a few days in our home, I was agreeing with the theory that "company's a lot like fish; after three days, it smells." Counting off the days and hours until we drove him back to the airport, I was also feeling guilty that I hadn't been more unselfish. "We'll have a better visit next time he comes," I promised myself, praying that "next time" would be at least in another two years!
Well, "next time" came this past February (two and a half years later). This time, I vowed to be more prepared for him. After weeks of organizing my home, the big day arrived. We hadn't greeted each for long, before I noticed that he had softened and was more positive. In fact, he only snapped at me once, during the entire visit. But this time, he quickly apologized. What's more, my feelings weren't even hurt as I had prepared myself, emotionally.
More importantly, this time I saw him through a different set of eye glasses. I took off my own dirty ones and put on God's glasses. I saw him as someone precious enough that God sent His only son to die for him. I saw him and loved him through all his spots and wrinkles--spots and wrinkles just like mine!