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.