Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Thoughts on Eulogies and Resumés

My thoughts have been on life in this world and the next in the past week.  My mother-in-law, Gwen Noble, died a week ago and Lorna and I have been much occupied in all that has involved since then.  We travelled to Toronto on Monday when we had the new that she was failing quickly.  She died just before Lorna arrived at her bedside.  After that we were focussed on all the details that inevitably follow—clearing out her room at Christie Gardens; completing the funeral arrangements which she had thankfully prepared years ago, and attending the funeral on Saturday and interment which occurred yesterday. 
Lorna had the lion’s share of duties in arranging for all this, holding her mother’s power or attorney and serving as executor.  I was also otherwise engaged with doing pulpit supply on Sunday at the same three congregations I was at on Easter Sunday.  All in all with other minor activities such as a Legion service yesterday for a beloved legion member whose funeral is today. 
To put this all in context—I heard an interview on NPR radio as I was returning from a retreat in the U.S.  at the end of the previous week—which is another story.   The interview was with David Brooks who is a columnist with the New York Times.  He has written a new book, The Road to Character.   Brooks expounded on a number of engaging themes but the one that stuck with me was his discussion of what really matters to people when life is summed up.  He put it in terms of “Resume Virtues” and “Eulogy Virtues”.   The resume virtues are what many people strive for i.e. accomplishments that you will put on your resume.  The eulogy virtues are what is truly important to you and want to be remembered for.  I don’t believe that Gwen ever actually wrote a resume for herself but she had three eulogies at her funeral by Lorna’s son Tony, Lorna and me.  Below is a quote from Brooks on the difference between them:
So I've been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper: who are you, in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency? And most of us, including me, would say that the eulogy virtues are the more important of the virtues. But at least in my case, are they the ones that I think about the most? And the answer is no.
I have not read the book but I gather the idea is for each of us to discover what is truly important in our lives which will also contribute to the development of character in a person.  The clichéd line is that at the end of a person’s life no one ever regretted not spending more time at work.  That is probably true unless you spend a life of service to others.  But perhaps you might regret not having spent more time in relationship with you the most important people in your life.  What is it that makes life meaningful?  What is it that we are truly in search of?  What do we want in our eulogy at our funeral?  In my eulogy for Gwen, I noted that in my view she had three things that were important to her: service to others, church, and family.  To a great extent she lived her life accordingly.

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