A Day in the Life of an Obituary Guest Book Screener
By: Lynmarie D’Amore
3 years ago
Legacy.com’s Content Screeners have a unique glimpse into the way people deal with loss. Today, Lynmarie reflects on the countless Guest Book entries she has read in the years she’s been screening. And she offers a bit of hope.
Nearly a decade ago, I took a job in a field that most people don’t know exists: screening Guest Book entries for obituaries that are published online.
Though it’s technically a “reading” job, sometimes it feels more like being an invisible referee — making sure everyone plays by the rules (no copyrighted works, please) and remembers to, simply put, be nice. And probably similar to actual referees, no two days at the job are alike.
On a good day, screening Guest Book entries can remind me of all that is right in the world. Sounds weird, perhaps, of a job where you “have to” think about death each day — especially in such personal and private terms. Interestingly, though, many of the entries have very little to do with death per se. While certainly someone’s death has prompted the submission of Guest Book entries, often the posts themselves are about wonderful memories of times together. It’s the proverbial “celebration of life.” I feel quite lucky to read firsthand accounts of some funny, interesting and amazing life events. They may not be every entry, but they are in there. And it feels a bit like hitting the jackpot when a really good one comes my way.
The “good ones” do not necessarily boast of extraordinary accomplishments, but rather remind me of how to be a better person, in small, everyday ways. I once screened a nephew’s entry for his uncle’s Guest Book. The nephew recalled that when he was a young man and graduated college, he turned down several good job offers. He opted instead to take some time and drive across country on a road trip. Everyone in his life was deeply disappointed in him at the time, and told him so. This particular uncle, however, did not say a word. He simply went out into the driveway and taught the nephew how to change a flat tire.
I’m not sure why I remember this one. Or continue to talk about it to this day. I suppose I want to remember to be a little bit like that nephew — willing to follow my own path at times no matter what others say. Or remember to be a little bit more like that uncle — able to refrain from judgment and offer something useful in the moment. I remember stories like these. And on good days, they come my way.
But not all days are good. Despite reading a fair amount of inspirational stories of lives well-lived, I’ve also read about lives that didn’t go as planned, ended abruptly or never had a chance to really begin. This job has given me an awareness of the unbelievable amount of tragedy and random violence that takes place. I guess you could say the bad screening days remind me of all that is wrong in the world.
I’m not sure why the tragedies are so hard to forget. I certainly don’t talk about them much. Usually, I check in with my supervisor to inquire, “Do you know about this yet?” And all he says back is “Yes.” And then we both sit in silence for a while. Maybe taking it all in. Maybe grieving. Maybe praying. Who knows? All I know is there are plenty of situations where nothing can really be said. And I go home and hug my children a little tighter that night.
So, it can be heavy work, for sure — and there’s always another entry, or two, or five or 500 waiting to be read, which doesn’t make it feel any lighter. But like any job, the sense of community can make it bearable. It feels meaningful to be a part of something that is “of service” to others. And we often work as a team and collaborate in order to determine the fate of particularly challenging entries. We feel a real sense of accomplishment knowing a good effort was put forth to extend as much benefit of the doubt as possible.
And, a big sense of community comes from the “regulars.” A handful of people consistently submit entries into the Guest Book of their deceased loved ones. It’s inspiring to witness that kind of love and abiding devotion. Over time, these folks come to feel like fond acquaintances.
Someone sponsored a Guest Book for a 13-year-old boy who died suddenly. The family writes every day, which means I’ve screened many of their entries. One summer, I screened his “happy 21st birthday” entry. Tears flowed down my face as I screened that post. I, too, seemed to have a sense of just how long he'd been gone, and somehow shared the weight of his absence.
We don’t have any rules about not crying on the job.
Or against wishing there are birthdays in heaven.
Lynmarie D’Amore joined Legacy in 2005 as a part-time content screener, and through the years has had the pleasure to contribute to several teams and a variety of projects. She finds herself somewhat on the path to “simple living,” and working at Legacy seems to complement that journey.