Have Eulogies Become Résumés?

For several years, David Brooks has been drawing the distinction between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues.

“The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” Brooks says.

Recently, a friend of mine remarked on how, perhaps, this distinction is being blurred. More and more obituaries and eulogies are sounding like résumés.

She told me that she had read the obituary of a well-loved man named Dr. Paul Vincent Coldrey Adams who died in 2019 at age 99. While aspects of his obituary certainly testify to his character, much of the obituary reads more like a résumé insofar as it chronicles his education, profession, community service, committee participation, volunteer commitments, and hobbies. In this case, his faith and family also feature prominently.

But what is particularly interesting with this obituary is a comment left beneath it by Dr. Adams’ son, Michael.

About his father, Michael wrote:

My father was truly a saint on earth. (as was my mother Louise) I was born to a young woman out of wedlock in the mid sixties. My birth mother was only 17 at the time and was sent to Winnipeg from Quebec City by her father to have the baby. (her mother did not know she was pregnant with me ) my father Paul was the doctor whose care she was under and the attending doctor at my birth. When my birth mother explained the situation to my father Paul and expressed her concerns and emotions about what to do. Even though they had five children already, my father did not hesitate and offered to adopt me and my mother Louise agreed immediately. My upbringing and home life was exceptional and I will be forever in their debt and eternally grateful for the life they have provided me and the values they instilled in me. A better family I could not have asked for, I love you both with all my heart. May you forever Rest In Peace and go with God. Your son, Michael

Now there are the eulogy (or obituary) virtues that were not really mentioned in the technical obituary.

About eulogy virtues, David Brooks says, they concern who you are in your depth and the nature of your relationships.

And so, it is tragic when a person dies who we have not gotten to know in their depth because then we have lost the opportunity to discover their résumé-transcendent qualities. A this-worldly restricted relationship then ends when that person leaves this world.

But, when, like Michael, we have truly connected with a person’s greatness of soul and the depth of their character, only then does it make sense how we can remain “forever in their debt and eternally grateful.”

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