Relieving the Reaper

"Ye spirit that left thy body at the stroke of midnight,
thou wilt relieve me of my office. For a year thou wilt reap souls."
The Grim Reaper, The Phantom Carriage

People die. A lot. At any given time, many souls need shepherding to the afterlife and it falls to the Grim Reaper to get them there, which is a full time job. Occasionally though, Death might need some help taking up the slack.

There are a number of reasons this might happen:

  • More people are dying than usual
  • Death is unable to reap for the time being
  • The cosmic balance has been upset

The Grim Reaper has a full time job, and occasionally might want some R&R. But given that people won't stop dying while Death takes a lunch break, there needs to be someone who can pick up the slack. Alternatively, perhaps Death is attempting to teach some wisdom to a naive human about value of life or balancing the scales of life and death or whatever. In any case, the result is the same: someone else takes a shift doing Death's job of helping souls get from A to B.

This is a sub-trope of Subbing for Santa, which describes any situation where a normal person temporarily takes on the role of a mythological figure. That also leads us to Relieving the Reaper's divine sister tropes, God for a Day. This trope may also follow from Death Takes a Holiday, where something happens that stops Death from causing... well, death, and someone else may or may not step up to fill in the vacuum.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Eldest Charmed One, Piper Halliwell was given reaping powers by the Angel of Death once, in order to help him clean up the mess Paige made.
  • Dead Like Me is all about this trope. "Reapers" are people who have died in some way, and each Reaper has a quota to fill. Once they've taken their last soul, they're free to move on to whatever lies beyond, and that person takes their spot as a new Reaper. It's strongly implied, if not outright stated, that each Reaper has their own specific area of death to deal with, and it's the manner of their own death (the characters from the series all deal in accidental death, typically involving hilariously over-the-top accidents that claim people's lives in almost Looney-Tunes fashion).
  • Supernatural: Death gives Dean his powers and responsibilities for a day as part of some big important lesson about the value of life or something. Basically, Dean and Sam repeatedly coming Back from the Dead has adverse consequences on the natural order, so he wanted to have him experience the burden of Balancing Death's Books.
  • Reaper: Sam learns on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil; Sam must serve him by reaping the souls of the damned, or go to Hell himself.

    Literature 
  • Discworld:
    • In The Colour of Magic, Death sends Scrofula to collect Rincewind's soul when he falls off the edge of the Disc, as he has a plague to deal with on another part of the Disc.
    • In Mort Death decides to do some soul-searching and hire an apprentice to fill in for him, and keep his adopted daughter Ysabel company. He ends up with a gangly teenager named Mort.
    • Death goes missing in Soul Music and Susan, Mort and Ysabel's daughter, ends up needing to sub for her grandpa.
    • Inverted in Hogfather where Death subs for the Disc's Santa-equivalent.

    Video Games 
  • Retro City Rampage: When Player was murdered by his girlfriend, he'll meet Death. When Player asked if he can be resurrected, Death offers him to cover his shift out of mutual respect. Doing so will not only resurrect player, but also unlock Death as a power-up.

    Web Comics 
  • Once in Pibgorn, Pib tries out Death's job in an attempt to explore other possible areas of work.

    Western Animation 
  • In Family Guy, Death appoints Peter as the Grim Reaper while staying at his house to recuperate from an injury early in the episode Death is a Bitch.
  • In The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV (during the segment "Reaper Madness"), Homer kills the Grim Reaper to save Bart from dying. But after Homer grabs the Reaper's scythe and wears his robes, he is also forced to take his job of reaping souls.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: In "Grim for a Day", Billy and Grim switch places, with Billy becoming a reaper and Grim going to school. Billy's first assignment was a bust; the old man takes all day to get to the door, and when he finally answers, he believes Billy to be a trick-or-treater and gives him candy.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RelievingTheReaper