Below is the text to the eulogy I gave at my father's funeral, Dec 28, 2012. I ad-libbed just a bit, but the text is pretty close to the actual eulogy. My father was a blessing to me and my hope is that this short synopsis gives some glimpse into a great man who taught me so much.
First, on behalf of my mother and our family, thank you all so much for coming today. The love and support that you’ve shown us over these last 3 years and especially these last few weeks has meant so much to us. There are some who couldn’t be here today, and so we’re videotaping this message, so that they might hear - provided I don’t become a blubbering idiot - I do reserve the right to edit or delete that tape! Thank you, all so much.
I don’t think many of you realize the real reason you are here today. In fact, I feel lucky that I happened on it myself. Just the other day, I stumbled across an unusual Twitter feed. It was from God - I bet you didn’t know God had a twitter account! It seems that God had tweeted that heaven was having a bit of a problem -that nearly all of the projects in heaven were nearing completion. So the following message was sent down: Needed, an ambitious worker to start projects that seemingly have no end, hashtag heaven help us. Now, the angel Gabriel responded quickly saying he had the ideal candidate and his name was Donald Joseph Forwith. But God, probed saying how do you know this is the right man for the job? Gabriel responded that he had visited in a dream the person who knows him best, who’d been his high school sweetheart, who’d been his best friend, lover, and life long companion. Someone who’d he’d laughed with, teased, yelled at, and worried over. In fact, he’d dedicated his whole life to her - 52 years of marriage! So, who would know him better than Carol Baker Forwith? So, Gabriel asked her in a dream, could Don be our man? She responded with confidence, “Lord, he’ll start so many projects it will take an eternity to finish them all.” And the Lord said, then it’s time to call him home.
My name is Keith, and I’m Don and Carol’s oldest son. I live in Louisville KY where i practice medicine and with my wife of 24 years have raised four daughters. A few weeks ago, I discussed with my Dad the content of this eulogy. It may seem an odd thing to do, but it turns out that Dad had a few things he wanted you to know. So, what you are about to hear is a little bit of me, and a whole lot of Dad. Some of you may not like what you’ll hear, but Dad always told it like it was, whether you wanted to hear it or not. I will talk about some matters that involved me, in fact, in a little while, I’m going to read you a short letter that he wrote to me just a few years ago, before he even knew he had cancer. I want you to focus on what kind of man would write these things and what it says about him.
My father was not a highly educated man, he pretty much went to work after high school and set about the business of providing for a family. Because he didn’t pursue higher education, he often would comment that he wasn’t an intelligent man. But make no mistake, Don was very smart - especially when it came to that not so common characteristic of common sense. Dad could fix anything or at least start to. I was inspired and pushed by my Dad to do a bit better in the education department. For those that don’t know, I have a Bachelor’s in chemistry, a PhD in biochemistry and a medical degree. But, after all that - if I thought myself a wiser man than my Dad, well - I would be a fool! So, I’d ask - or warn - each each of you. Don’t dismiss what this wise man thought to be important.
Dad realized that his time was near four days before he passed. He knew his time was limited and his doctors had warned him he’d finish life in a coma. So, what does a man say when he realizes his remaining words are few? Dad talked about love and family. He said the most important thing in this life was to love one another and not to let anything stand in the way of that. Dad had faithfully read his bible, especially over the last three years. In the gospel of John, Jesus states “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Laying down one’s life for those he loved is something Dad did on a daily basis. I remember a good portion of his life, he’d head off to General Electric where he knew his work didn’t provide the kind of challenge and fulfillment he’d dreamed of, but that job and his dedication to it provided for his family. His work ethic was unquestioned, something that I learned a bit of and it’s served me well.
Many of you recall that Dad nearly lost his life in a horrific chainsaw accident. What he suffered in that event, has shaped my life perhaps more than any other moment. Dad’s pain, his recovery, my mom’s courage through it all and her dedication to him shaped my life in so many ways - we wouldn’t really have time to scratch the surface on this one. But, while Dad took pride in what he did, he was a humble man. He allowed a seeming tragedy in his life to change and shape him. And I noticed as a young man that his change was for the better. Life was more cherished after that, and Dad’s love for us was more evident. In his suffering, we all benefited.
I would like to read an excerpt from a letter he wrote me about five years ago. I attended a retreat at my church and Dad, in an unusual moment of openness, wrote me the following letter. Let me warn you, I couldn’t get through this letter when he was alive and healthy, so I may struggle now but here’s my best effort:
Don wrote: “While pondering on what I could talk about it came to me to tell you how my life as a young man became part of your life.
I was around 18 to 19 years old when I got my first job. My job centered around a lot of other people, both men and women. I started studying everyone’s personality and picking out their good and bad points. I thought if I could develop their good and avoid the bad I could grow into a good man. While this sounds easy, it certainly isn’t. It seems as good comes some bad tags along. I learned each of us has to struggle with their own life and pray to God for help. In my studies of people, one particular man stood out from the rest. He was an engineer that seemed to overlook everything at the factory when he walked through the door. A happiness was about him. He would speak to everyone no matter what their job was or where they came from. He wore regular clothes and never showed off his above average intelligence. I noticed how everyone liked him and enjoyed being around him. His name was Keith.
I prayed to God asking him that if he ever blessed me with a son that he would be very intelligent and yet be modest, respect others and being respected himself. He would have high morals, love life and respect it. I prayed he would be blessed with a family and love them with all his heart, to always love his wife and respect her, to be true to her, to have God at the center of his life and others would see this godliness in him and thank God for him and that everyone would enjoy his company and his intelligence and he would never degrade them. This was my prayer to God.
Well, as I was developing from a boy into manhood, my thoughts were what I’d like to be. An engineer or a doctor would be my dream. As time passed I knew that I didn’t have the intelligence or finances for this to ever happen, so once again I prayed to God. I asked that if I couldn’t be a servant to his people that he would let my son do his work through him. I asked if I wasn’t chosen to be his servant that my son would be. I asked God to bless this son and teach him to heal the sick. Before you were even conceived your destiny was prayed for. When you were born a prayer was answered and now I know I can look back and remember that God listens to our prayers and answers us with his blessings.
Before you draw a drop of blood from God’s people stop for a moment and ask God to be with you, to fill your mind with knowledge and to guide your hands. God will give many rewards and blessings for being a servant to his people.
Even if you are far away, you are in our hearts and our love. I’m very proud of you, Keith and the life you lead.
That, in a nutshell, is Donald Joseph Forwith. A man who laid his dreams aside to provide a path for his son to reach his dreams. A man who suffered in quiet dignity and taught his son and family lessons even to his very last day. I thought it fitting that at the moment he died, I was seeing patients in the clinic - carrying out his dream and mine.
Today is a joyous day. Dad is in heaven with Jesus and no longer in pain. He has already heard the words “well done, my good and faithful servant.” He is happy. But, he wanted me to tell you something. Don’t think of him as in a better place - he’s in the best place! The only sad part of today, is that some of you may never see him again. To see him, you’ll have to go to heaven because that’s where he is. I say that with certainty because I can. You see, we’ve slipped into this false idea that good people go to heaven. Especially at funerals, we like to think of the good in people. Today, that should be easy as my Dad was a very good man. But, that is not why he’s in heaven. He wanted you to know, he wasn’t good enough for heaven. I joked with him that I could make a long list of why he shouldn’t go to heaven - but of course, today is not about Dad’s weaknesses or sins. Dad is in heaven because he was forgiven. Good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do.
Dad was forgiven because he accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His trust was in the Son of God who gave himself up so that our sins may be forgiven. Jesus suffered so that we all would benefit. It is by God’s grace that Dad was welcomed home. Dad wanted you to know, each and every one, that he wants to see you again. He wants to welcome you home. He told me at Thanksgiving that the only fear he had of dying was that he didn’t feel he’d talked to the people he loved enough about the saving grace of Jesus. So, I would like to close by asking you - are you one of Dad’s unfinished projects? Would you rather believe that this man of wisdom was a fool? Would you set aside the very foundation on which he based his life? I promised Dad I would continue to work on this project - to tell you in no uncertain terms, that heaven is real, that God loves you, and that Jesus has paid the price for your admission ticket. Don is waiting there to rejoice if and when you come. Don tried to not die so that you would know this message - that Jesus willingly died to give you eternal life if you would only accept it. I thank God for giving me an earthly father who showed me a glimpse of my heavenly Father’s endless love. I pray that each of you will know that same love. God Bless you all.
My Dad passed at 9:43 am this morning after a three year battle with prostated cancer. He suffered quietly and privately (with the exception of his son blabbing about it on his blog and on Facebook). His pain is no more and by the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ he is in heaven. Praise be to God!
I find it fitting that I was seeing patients in the office while he passed. I saw him last night and he wouldn't have wanted me to not be there for my patients on his account. Guaranteed, he'd see it that way - that's how he saw the world. I know he was proud of me for becoming the man I am, and the doctor that I strive to be. He would have been happy that I was trying to help others as he departed. He told us all - "no tears for me, I'll be in a better place and relief will finally come." He said he knew he'd see me again - so long, Dad! Enjoy your journey - see you in God's time!
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Rev 21:4
My father has drifted into a deep sleep. His last meaningful communication was Tuesday when he told my mom goodbye. He was so sweet - telling her that he has always loved her. It's unusual these days to see a man die in the loving care of his high school sweetheart. He will moan a bit when getting turned or moved to bathe him, but otherwise rests comfortably in his bed. His pain seems to be controlled and our family has been gathered around, ensuring that he is not alone when that final moment comes. I believe it will be soon, I pray that will be so.
For all the negatives we hear about modern communications, I must say that Facebook and the responses to this blog have been so helpful to me. It has been so comforting to know that people are praying for my father and family. I can't thank everyone enough for their kindness. On Tuesday as he was drifting off, I read from the Bible - starting with some selected Psalms. I ended up consulting my FB page as so many had suggested great verses that were comforting. So, thanks for your prayers and I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas. I know my family will, as all this is part of God's plan. The joy of Christ's coming into the world is celebrated at Christmas - we will celebrate because His coming has granted my father salvation and eternal peace. That we know, and we can be sure of! Merry Christmas!
Those were Dad's words when our family was called to his bedside yesterday. After three years with metastatic prostate cancer that is beyond hope of treatment, my father finally says that his time has come. Just two weeks ago, we talked and he said then that he wasn't ready to die, that he still had some things to take care of. But, last week he was stricken with blood clots in both legs - perhaps the worst I've ever seen. He can't walk 15 feet to the bathroom without extreme pain and as he says, "this is no way to live." So, when he began getting short of breath yesterday he said for the first time, that he was dying. He is in pain and suffering, and he says that it will be a relief when he dies - so we're not to be upset. Growing up, Dad was my baseball coach and I can remember him telling his very competitive son (that's me, of course) not to be upset - that losing was part of playing the game. That there will be victories and there will be defeats - that the game wouldn't be the same without them. So too, is life. We've had so many blessings to remember and cherish; cancer is a defeat but only a temporary one.
Another victory came just last night. Dad's parish priest came to administer last rites. We crowded around his bed and prayed as the priest gave Dad his final blessing. We prayed and thanked the priest for his kindness. Then, my wife - who still suprises me with the depth of her goodness, began to sing. She started Silent Night with a few reluctant family members joining in at first. But then came the deep, weak, slightly out of tune, voice of my Dad. The rest of us joined in and soon had gone through every carol we could think of. When we ran out of meaningful ones, we resorted to Rudolph, Frosty and the like. We were searching for song suggestions and lyrics on our smartphones and ipads. The music proved to be therapeutic for all of us. My Dad loved it!- he'd join in on random lines here and there. The music ended with my wife and daughters singing Breath of Heaven as Dad drifted off to a temporary sleep. We soon said our goodbyes, perhaps for the last time.
As hard as it may be, I try to follow his counsel not to be sad. Afterall, he's suffering - his pain is constant and his quality of life is poor. I know that I will see him again as he knows Jesus and trusts in His saving grace. He knows where's he's headed and now says he's ready to go. So, now we're waiting to see not if, but when the Lord will take him. I pray it is soon, as Dad wants to go. He has run with perserverence the race marked out for him. He is in the Lord's hands - in that we can trust and be thankful.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take Hold of eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1Timothy 6:11-12 NIV