There’s been a death in my family.
Death always comes as a shock, even when the individual sits at his door for a long time. When it’s obvious someone is going to die–whether it be illness, age, or an injury that can only be repaired so much–you try to prepare yourself for what’s coming. You think that knowing it’s coming will make things easier. That you’ll be able to move on sooner. That it will be less difficult.
But the moment of death still always comes as a shock.
Death is more than a theme or inevitability in fiction. Sometimes, Death is a character all together. But I’ve always had a fondness for a specific portrayal of Death. I’ve always liked the kind Death.
I think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was my first experience with Death being written in such a way. Although I know he didn’t start out that way, Death–despite bearing the classic appearance of a skeleton in black robes, wielding a massive scythe–was a kind and personable being who cared for the souls he collected. His later iterations never showed him cutting someone’s life short, but rather guiding their souls after they had already died.
During his life, Sir Terry received many letters about his portrayal of Death. Some of those letters were from the terminally ill, thanking him for this version and hoping that Death was truly as the author imagined him.
I don’t care for the cruel Death. The Reaper. The Horseman of the Apocalypse. Any iterations where Death harvests souls like a heartless machine.
Give me the kind Death.
Give me the Death who doesn’t seek out souls to reap, but merely comes to collect them, to sever them from their mortal coils and guide them to wherever they need to go. The Death that cares for humanity and wants them to feel secure in what comes next.
Give me the Death that makes you feel there’s justice in the world when it all ends. The Death that doesn’t take from us, but ensures those we love are brought to a place they can be eternally happy…and those who make the world so harsh are punished justly.
Life is hard enough. Life can be cruel.
So, in fiction? I am glad Death has the option not to be.