How do you eulogize a man who wasn’t really a part of your life?
My father passed away earlier this year, and when I was tasked to write his eulogy, I knew it wouldn’t be the easiest assignment. I didn’t want to bash him for all the hurt he caused our family, but also, I didn’t want to gloss over the fact he abandoned us for an extended period of time when I was five years old.
The preparation for the funeral caused an internal battle. I could either speak judgment upon my father or give grace. Would it not be the honest thing to do to explain how imperfect he was? Or should I only share the good stuff because that’s what you’re supposed to do at funerals?
What was the right path to take?
Because I’m a praying woman, I took it to God and asked him what to do. And he answered by putting a verse in my head:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (Proverbs 15:1-2)
Okay, I get it, God. I have the power to speak truth while showing grace.
And I have that power because God did that with me first. The God of the Universe acknowledged my deep issue of sin, and while he didn’t ignore it, he didn’t rub it in my face, either. Instead, He went to the cross, showing me how deadly my sin was but also how much he loved me in the midst of it.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)
I realized I didn’t have to dismiss the wrong my father had done - and the deep hurt he caused me. But I also could honor him in a way that reminds people he was a broken man and still loved by God. And even if I didn’t leave my children as he did, I am still a sinner desperately in need of God’s grace and have also been nowhere near perfect.
So, without further ado, here is my eulogy for my dad:
The Eulogy of Robert Allen Walters Sr.
Unfortunately, I can’t talk about my dad from my childhood. It’s not mean or negative; it’s just the fact of what happened, a fact that can’t be overlooked but also doesn’t need to be exploited.
The fact is, when I was five years old, my dad left us, and for the next 16 years, he wasn’t a part of my life until the year 2000 when he came back into my life. Well, not just my life, but my siblings’ life, but more importantly, my mom’s life.
When my dad returned, I was 22 years old and on the brink of adulthood, forging my own path into this world. And even though I can’t talk about the father of my childhood and the lessons he taught me to become the strong 22-year daughter I always hoped to be, what I can talk about is the lessons I’ve learned from my dad these the last 22 years, who helped make me the strong 44-year-old woman standing in front of you today.
Lesson one: How to humble yourself and ask for forgiveness.
If any of you knew my mom, she was a strong, very opinionated woman, and for my entire childhood, the hate she had for my dad was palpable. It’s okay to awkward laugh because some of you remember those days, and when I was much older, I realized there was a thin line between love and hate.
Looking back now, when my dad called my mom in 2000, he had to be nervous and probably even a little scared. Okay, maybe a lot scared. But I do know he had to humble himself to admit his mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
I learned it’s okay to admit when you are wrong and ask for forgiveness because sometimes a miracle can happen, and you can be forgiven.
Lesson two: It’s never too late for a second chance.
No matter how old you are or how much time has passed, a second chance at life is still possible. Looking back at the last 22 years, I’m so happy my dad got to experience all the family milestones he thought he would never have.
He got to walk my sister and me down the aisle at our weddings and was part of my brother’s wedding too. He was there for my and my brother’s college graduations. He was there for all the births of his grandchildren and watched them grow up. He even got to go on a family vacation with all of our families, which I believe only happened once because, let’s be honest, we are a lot to handle, and get us near a beach, and it’s downright crazy.
He got a second chance, a second chance to golf again with his wife, to travel again with his family, to fish again with friends from long ago, but more importantly, a second chance to love again.
Lesson three: Your past does not define who you are.
My dad did not have the easiest childhood and, at one point, was left in an orphanage, forgotten by his parents. My dad finally ended up with his father and stepmother, who didn’t love him. When my parents got married, the only advice my grandfather gave to my dad was, “Don’t be like your father and leave her”.
We all know what happened, and he followed in his father’s footsteps, but unlike his father, he came back and changed his past. I learned that even if your life deals you a crappy hand, even if you follow that plan, it doesn’t have to be the end. Instead, you can change the outcome and let hope, love, and forgiveness define you.
Dad, I’m grateful for the lessons you have taught me these last 22 years. I’m forever grateful you made mom so happy these last 22 years.
I thought we would have the next 16 years together, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. As sad as I am that you are no longer on this Earth, I am at peace knowing you are with mom again.
We are all flawed in a variety of different ways, and some flaws play themselves out in more public and harmful ways. But I know God’s love for my father never ceased, and that reminds me that it won’t cease for me, either.
And through it all, I am thankful God’s story of redemption was on display not just in his saving of the world but also in our family.