R: Reaper

Death is one of those perplexing mysteries that will drive you crazy if you let it. Why do living things die? Do you realize that you’ve died? What happens afterward? Where do we go? Does it hurt?

I was eight years old before I realized death was forever. I went to Catholic school and religion class was full of stories of people dying and being resurrected on earth. I naturally assumed that happened for everyone. When I found out that loophole was closed to most of us, it felt horribly unfair.

Death is an inexplicable part of life that none of us can escape, yet humanity has grappled with defining it throughout history. Its most common portrayal is the Reaper, a skeletal angel of death who waits until lives tick away via an hourglass, then harvests victims into eternity with a scythe.

Some of my favorite representations:

  • Finnish painter Hugo Simberg portrays reapers lovingly maintaining recently departed souls awaiting judgment.
  • In this incarnation, Death is a former teen serial killer who’s terrible with women, lives with his mother, and hates his day job.
  • Courtesy of Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg’s collectively awesome imaginations, their version of Death is present at both the start and end of life, dresses like a goth, and is actually quite sweet.
  • Bill & Ted fight for their souls by playing Death in a game. In a cinematic nod toward the high-stakes chess duel in “The Seventh Seal”, Death challenges them to Battleship, Clue, electric football and Twister. Of course, Death cheats but ultimately he loses.

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