A Mortician’s Tale creeps me out. And the fact that I’m repulsed speaks to the game’s purpose.
In A Mortician’s Tale, a video game created by Canada’s Laundry Bear Games, you take on the role of a young embalmer named Charlie who’s fresh out of college. She lands a position at Rose and Daughters, a privately owned funeral home. Her duties involve cleaning, shaving, grooming, embalming, and cremating bodies in preparation for funerals.
Despite the game’s pleasing purple color palette and stylized, cartoon-style art, I wince at the images of the corpses and the point, click, and drag operations. I want to close my own eyes when the tutorial informs me I have to glue a dead man’s eyelids closed, massage the body to break rigor mortis, and drain his blood. I’m slightly nauseated just recalling it. I can’t imagine doing this in real life.
Afterwards, Charlie attends the deceased’s funerals. These scenes make me just as uncomfortable as preparing dead bodies. She approaches friends and family members, each espousing a different reaction to the death. Some are sad, some are angry, others are bored. Most don’t know what to say. I can relate. If I’m not sad during a funeral, I’m uncomfortable. I never know what to say, so I often say nothing. If it wasn’t considered disrespectful or I wasn’t supporting a friend whose loved one passed away, I would probably never step foot in a funeral home. I’d rather remember the deceased in life than as a motionless, gray-skinned corpse.
I don’t understand why anyone would want to work in this field. I have enough trouble attending a two-hour funeral. And yet, in emails between Charlie and her friend Jen, a pathology museum curator, you learn that Charlie loves her job. I can understand the pros—she could find solitude from a quiet work environment and purpose in meeting people’s needs during their grief. Yet I still can’t quite wrap my mind around intentionally surrounding yourself with death.
In an email, Jen points out the stigma of working in the “death industry.” She writes, “you’re always saying how tired you get of people being scared to ask about your day.” I would probably be one of those scared people, too afraid to broach the topic. But maybe I shouldn’t be.
It’s not death itself that worries me. It’s the grief tied to it.
A Mortician’s Tale was inspired by The Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit society “about making death a part of your life … accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety of modern culture are not.” Our culture has hung a curtain of silence around the topic and most consider it too morbid to discuss unless absolutely necessary. In The Atlantic, psychologist Jeffrey Goldberg says, “When people consciously think about death, they either act proactively to forestall it—eat healthy, drink water, exercise—or rationalize why it won’t be a problem for a long time—“I take Lipitor,” “I’ll quit smoking soon”—or just try to distract themselves by turning on the TV, calling a friend or having a drink. The goal is just to get those thoughts out of consciousness.”
A Mortician’s Tale challenges that attitude, and it’s a challenge Christians in particular should take to heart. The foundation of our faith, after all, is Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ conquered death, suffering “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” Paul reminds us that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of Christ. This is good news, to be proclaimed on all days not just during funerals.
This is challenging, though, because death still brings grief. Even though we are assured that death will be destroyed, we still miss our loved ones when they are gone. Even if we feel joy that their earthly suffering is over, their absences tear holes in our hearts. Accepting that Christ has conquered death is easy on an intellectual level, but trickier to be happy about when my best friend is in pain because his mom died too soon. It’s not death itself that worries me. It’s the grief tied to it. And yet, that grief is part of what makes us human.
Maybe we need to be reminded of our mortality more often, as inevitably happens when playing The Mortician’s Game. As Christians, our perspective on death should be vastly different than those around us, so we should be particularly willing to talk about it. Normalizing conversations about death invites curiosity about the human condition, giving us opportunities to share the great hope we have. Our purpose isn’t just to live—it’s to live for Christ, the one who offers us our hope. We will see death, this hushed topic steeped in so much fear, conquered in the end, and our grief with it.