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There are a series of TikTok videos I’ve been getting on my For You Page these last couple of months. In classic TikTok fashion, I have no idea how or why the algorithm decided to show them to me, but now I can’t stop watching.

In the videos, Taryn Smith plays Denise, heaven’s front desk receptionist. She wears a white robe and white towel on her head, a disposable razor standing in as her receptionist headset, and she speaks with a thick New York accent.

Most of the videos are silly, as we get to see glimpses of Denise’s day-to-day work at heaven’s front desk. Denise confronts Tammy, the vengeful ghost, for haunting a poor suburban family in Michigan (and revokes her pass to visit Earth, at least temporarily). She helps the recently deceased decide on their ghost outfits. She explains to Napoleon Bonaparte that, no, he does not have permission to haunt the current president of France, Emmanuel Macron. She tells a woman that her ex-husband didn’t make it to heaven and is in fact in hell — what a relief!

Other videos take a more poignant turn. As the videos became more popular, TikTok users started to leave comments, requesting one for their friend, child, or parent who’s passed. They wanted to see Denise welcoming their loved one at heaven’s front desk. And Denise, the heavenly receptionist, responded. She welcomes Gerry, the mother of a TikTok user — “Oh my gosh she’s here! We’ve been waiting for you!” Denise explains the ropes of being in heaven, and invites her to lunch. Denise helps Leah, a shy 20-year-old, process her own death and warmly welcomes her to the afterlife. That video was the request of a friend worried her friend Leah would have been scared by her sudden passing. Denise also bears witness to several family reunions.

Casper ter Kuile, author of The Power of Ritual and one of the founders of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, retweeted one of these poignant videos with the comment, “This is ministry.” I think he was spot on with that observation. Sure, it’s just a TikTok, a silly social media video meant to entertain, but Smith is also ministering to people, helping them process loss and grief.

In a heartfelt video, Smith takes a break from being Denise and speaks as herself directly to TikTok users. Holding back tears, she talks about wanting to laugh at the absurdity of life and death and how thankful she is that she’s helping people heal in the process.

I guess we can add TikTok to the list of ways we communally grieve together. Social media certainly has its dark sides, as we’ve all witnessed in the last few years, but it’s nice now and again to be reminded of the power it can have to connect us and help us heal.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She recently graduated from Boston College with her doctorate in history. Her dissertation, Rallying the Right-to-Lifers: Grassroots Religion and Politics in the Building of a Broad-Based Right-to-Life Movement, 1960-1984, explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence.

3 Comments

  • Noreen Vander Wal says:

    Thanks for this, Allison. Hearing about new popular, imaginative outlets that speak to people spiritually is always exciting to me. Thanks, too, for the reference to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. I had never heard of it, but really enjoyed the first episode. I’ll be going back to it to hear more!

  • Lena says:

    There is a problem with these Tik Tok videos. The “comforting” messages that Denise offers do not line up with what scripture teaches about heaven. Should we as Reformed Christians then embrace her videos as a healing tool?

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