Q: You wrote obituaries.
A: The title was Obituary Clerk. You don’t actually write the obituaries; they’re sourced through the funeral home.
You go through and make sure the writing fits AP (Associated Press) format. A lot of the job is waiting for the funeral home to call.
Q: Did you purposely seek out this job?
A: When I moved to Texas it was the first job I applied for. In the back of my head I knew surely not a lot of people were applying for this job.
Q: And your job was to put the obituaries in the paper?
A: I had to make sure they were grammatically correct, no typos. And make sure they fit AP style as much as possible.
I remember we always had to look for the word “interment” instead of “internment,” like in an internment camp. Everybody thought that was pretty funny.
Q: What do you remember most about the job?
A: I remember that somebody’s middle name was Peabo, and that was my goldfish’s name.
Q: Can you confirm how you spell Peabo?
A: P-E-A-B-O, like Peabo Bryson.
Q: I was going to say that name, but I couldn’t remember if that was really the name of a person. Anyway. So this wasn’t a very exciting job?
A: It was incredibly boring. It didn’t provide the excitement I was looking for.
I did a lot of internet surfing and because it was the South, they had a great recipe column. We got our favorite macaroni and cheese recipe from there.
Q: How did you get the obituary submissions?
A: The funeral home either emailed or faxed. I rarely talked to the actual person.
Q: Do you remember anything about the content of the obituaries?
A: They’re usually full of clichés, like “so and so met her lord and maker on such-and-such day.”
The intro was always who died, the day they were born and when they died, where they were from. Then their big life moments, like college, marriage.
Sometimes they were short and just listed their name, birth and death days, and where they went to church. I guess you were supposed to know something about them based on where they went to church.
Q: Was this a full-time job?
A: I was just the weekend obituary clerk; I only worked on Saturdays and Sundays. It wasn’t enough hours to live on.
The lady who did the obituaries during the week had large, perfectly-coiffed hair and wore big frilly square-dancing skirts every day. She’d be on the phone and say, “People are just dying to get into the paper today!” and then laugh and laugh. She must’ve said that a million times in her life.
Q: What were the people like who worked for the funeral home?
A: The person I worked with the most—I think she used to have the obituary clerk job, and she got hired by the funeral home to create obituaries for them.
She was the weirdest person—she had strong feelings about what obituaries should say. She really got behind the “meet her lord and maker” business.
Q: So you left.
A: Yes, I worked there less than three months. I had to train the woman who replaced me. She was the only person who applied and she seemed to have a complete lack of social skills. She was very sweet but she was late to work every day. I remember on the first day she was an hour and a half late.
When the day was over, I remember walking out to her car, and it was one of those things where there were stacks of junk mail on her windshield and piles of stuff in the back seat.
Q: Was the job depressing?
A: It was sad when someone had no surviving family members or the surviving members didn’t care enough to write anything.
At least 80% of the people were really old, so it was more of a straightforward editing job. It was really the least glamorous job.
Q: How about the other people who worked at the paper?
A: Jim Bob was the guy who did the paste up and design. He was a really nice guy but I remember calling my mom and saying, “I can’t believe I’m working with a guy named Jim Bob!”
Q: Did people pay a lot for obituaries?
A: It costs like $40 or 50 to publish an obituary with no border, no photo. But for $250 or $300, you get a photo and a fancy border. We’d make a PDF and send the proofs to the funeral home.
Q: While you were there did you write your own obituary?
Q: Not really. You do learn what you don’t want, like the “went to meet her maker” kind of thing.
Q: Would you do this job again if it paid well?
A: Oh absolutely.