Earlier this month, my father-in-law was laid to rest. We had a near perfect day for a man who lived his faith, had a passion for his family, farming, working hard and telling a good joke. It seems fitting that his funeral Mass and burial was on April Fool's Day with temperatures in the eighties. The Mass was one of the most beautiful I have ever attended.
As we processed in to church the choir, along with the congregation, filled the church with melody. Robert, a member of that church choir for sixty-five years, must have been pleased. The building swelled with song. The family - his wife of sixty-eight and a half years; twelve of their thirteen children; their spouses; most their grandchildren; great grandchildren; one brother/wife; some cousins; scores of friends/extended family filled the church to almost capacity. http://wcfcourier.com/lifestyles/announcements/obituaries/paid/robert-bernard-rottinghaus/article_66546603-5492-560b-9925-0eb92d465e2a.html
For a while I had a difficult time processing the relationship I had with my husband's father. Rick admired his father. They worked together on the farm for over fifty-six years. That's a whale of a long time. I know Rick learned many things from his father, too many to probably count. I know my hubby has a talent for looking at a problem (with equipment) and seeing the solution. To him, that is as normal as breathing. He doesn't even think about it. It's just there. And that is a great thing - to be able to fix anything.
When our four kids were living here at home, I teased and said there were three rules to our household:
1. Your father can fix anything. And in fact, this one was close to the truth. He learned that skill from his dad.
2. Your mother makes the best cookies, ever. Well, I got by with this one until our youngest son took my chocolate chip cookies recipe and tweaked it until he took that honor. But in reality, it was a great feeling to see the result of his love of cooking/baking come to life.
3. When your mother is cold, you put on a sweater. As a young mom I was pretty thin. Everyone said, "You don't have enough meat on your bones to keep you warm." Since I became a grammie, that has changed and now I have enough flesh and stay warm with my built in furnace. And that heater isn't very well regulated.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand. My father-in-law. He taught us many things. He was a very intelligent person, holding patents for several of his inventions. This with only an 8th grade education. He quit high school his freshman year to help farm. His mind never stopped; but it was pretty closed to new ideas as well, if they came from someone else.
And this was a source of contention between the two of us. I am pretty outspoken, always has been a personality trait that rests in both the positive and negative columns of life. As a result, we sometimes butted heads.
About four years ago we had the worst confrontation I ever had with an individual, well at least as an adult. His part in the screaming match was dementia, untreated, and being king of the castle all his married life. My part: thirty-plus years of pent up frustration and watching without speaking up. Well, the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan and poor Rick had to literally pull me out of the room. I continued to spew venom all the way home as I drove with more anger than I had felt in a long, long time.
I was angry at him and myself for my lack of control. I like to think I can keep my feelings in check. I found out, I can't. I took a good hard look at myself to figure out what to do in the future.
I prayed almost continually for guidance on this situation.
In my readings I found the story of Ruth and Naomi http://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?id=8
and took heart with the proclamation made: "Your people will be my people and your God will be my God." The thought: he is my family took root. When I said, "I do," at my wedding in 1975, I took the entire family as my own. I couldn't pick and choose. After this epiphany, I began to pray every day for my father-in-law, for his comfort, for him as he walked the final few years of his journey. He was in his late eighties, and I knew his years were limited.
It's hard to be angry with a person when you keep them in prayer. I began to see him for all the good things he did. He loved his family, he loved our God, he even loved me, in spite of the fact my words often set him off. I know he was proud of me. I remembered the times he paraded his relatives and business acquaintances in my business to show them what I did. He acted as pleased with my work as if he had done it himself. He showed his affection in his own way.
And after much prayer I was able to see it for myself.
My love for him was strengthened when I put aside my ideas of how he should be and accepted him for the man he had become. When I planted a kiss on his cheek, it was with affection. When I asked him how he was feeling, I was anxious to hear his answer.
So when we said good-bye to him, I was able to say with deep affection, "When he met his creator I bet he heard the words: 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You used everything I gave you.'"
May he rest in peace in the arms of Jesus.