How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Is Helping Me Grieve

Anger clouds the mind. Turned inward, it is an unconquerable enemy. You are unique among your brothers, for you choose to face this enemy alone. But as you face it, do not forget them, and do not forget me. – Master Splinter to Raphael

I’m angry y’all. A second sibling has died, and I’m doing the only thing that I know to do in order to not implode. I’m watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on repeat. This particular statement that Master Splinter shares with Raphael was grossly ignored by me for years. I mean, Splinter represents parents, and wisdom, and BORING. While he’s amazing, and the turtles are willing to die for him, his lines were often ignored by me when I watched this growing up. I mean, the turtles weren’t about anger – well three of them weren’t, and how was I going to process that line properly? Well, here we are.

Possess the right thinking – only then can one receive the gifts of strength, knowledge, and peace. – Master Splinter to Raphael

March 30, 1990 – the world got a little bit more radical – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released on the big screen, after 3 years of us watching the animated version on Saturday mornings. My brother Daniel was born just a year before the cartoon debuted in the states, but that didn’t stop his loving the heroes in a half shell. I’m not sure just why the four of us took hold to the turtles as we did, but we did.

My brother and I were the children who held on to the memory of the turtles long after it was deemed proper. Daniel’s love of them was far more intense than mine. I only had the first movie while he had the first and second movies, t-shirts, tattoos and other merch strewn about his man-cave. This particular tattoo of Raphael in his trench coat and holding his fedora made my jaw drop. Mostly because I thought the art was so cool, and my goodness my brother really loved his turtles!

On our sister’s birthday, I came to the hospital with a surprise. I had my trusty computer and an Amazon Prime membership, and I had the knowledge that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I,II) were on Prime Video until June 28th. Which meant that we had 11 days of watching both movies on loop anytime I came to sit with him. I usually waited until everyone else had left for the evening, totally making sure that it was just the siblings watching together. Our brother Gabriel was in Jersey, so we didn’t have the three of us there, but I did text him a photo of Daniel watching and mouthing the words along with the movie. Did I mention we know ALL of the words to the first movie? I’m not kidding when I say that. It’s one of those odd talents we have. We perfected it on bus rides home from school in the early 90s. Daniel in 1st grade, Jessica in 5th, and me the 8th grader who shouldn’t have found the movie all that appealing as an upper school student. But I did. The line “Pizza dude’s got thirty seconds,” became something that we uttered any time we ordered pizza or even made it from the frozen pies we got in the grocery store. It was our thing.

Who knew that the Turtles would be the way that made those last days that my brother had a little brighter. Who knew that a movie that came out almost 30 years ago would be the healing factor in yet another death of my siblings? Who knew?

If you know your turtle characters, you’ll know that Raphael was the hothead of the group. The live wire if you will. What’s interesting is that all three of us kind of had a bit of that character in us after Jessica died. Jessica was assigned the turtle persona of Donatello – just because she liked purple. Daniel was Michelangelo – because he was the life of the party. Gabriel, Raphael because his eyebrows gave him a look meaner than what he was. I was Leonardo – firstborn and leader in all things we shouldn’t have been getting into. Those were the days.

These days, there’s a lot more turtle paraphernalia in my home. I now possess a t-shirt that my sister in law gave to me after my brother died. I have a bracelet and various things that friends have sent to me since realizing what bonded my brother and me. It’s both hilarious and so very sad. I even did the tribute to my brother in a Leonardo mask. My brother wasn’t as committed to the art as I was, but secretly he was wearing his red Raphael mask.

BUT – it’s healing. Sitting and watching a movie with turtles who have magically learned martial arts and save the people of New York from The Foot, watching the very early renditions of what would be the greatest representation of the comic created by Kevin Brooks Eastman and Peter Laird on the movie screen. My brother Gabriel thinks that the Secret of the Ooze is better though. I’ll give him that.

My mom recently found a turtle necklace that my sister picked out for me while on her 8th-grade graduation trip to Washington, D.C. Of course, my mom paid for it. Now I have a piece that reminds me of both my sister and my brother. I can carry them both with me. The signs are not lost on me, but they make a very real, and heavy emotion swallow me up whole. Threatening to squeeze out every bit of air that I have. Grief is no respecter of person, it slices to the heart without a care in the world.

Who knew that Leo, Donnie, Mikey, and Raph would be the way to help my heart. I didn’t, not that long ago, but I’ll tell you one thing, I love being a turtle! And just be prepared to read more about them as I navigate these familiar, yet new streets of grief, yet again.

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Terrica Skaggs
    July 26, 2019 at 7:39 am

    This is so beautiful. I love that your memory is tied to something that brought both of you so much laughter. Grief, much like love, moves like your turtle— at its own pace, in its own time. Always thinking of and loving you. So glad this post is back.

  • Reply
    Brenda Wilson
    July 28, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Ninja Turtles…FOREVER!!!!

  • Reply
    Marie Pearson
    July 31, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Saw this and it made my heart sing! Grief comes in many different forms. Love you guys always!

  • Reply
    valerie
    July 31, 2019 at 10:04 am

    I love this post. One of my first on-screen crushes was Raphael – seriously (not sure how that happened, but I left the theater swooning for Raphael lol). I went with my dad and younger brother to see the first movie, I was 12. I wasn’t into TMNT the way my little brother and cousin were, but I was young enough to enjoy the movies and from time to time when I was bored at family gatherings on Saturdays I would play ‘turtles’ with my younger bro and cousins. Not with action figures (my bro and cuz did of course) but like how we’d play “house” or “army” when we were really little. We’d run around acting out different scenarios and fighting an imaginary Footclan. I always had to be April because I’m a girl and I guess only boys could be Turtles 🙂
    I just wanted to tell you how nice it was to read this and have all those memories pushed forward in my mind. I’m sorry that you lost your brother and sister. I hope sharing these memories helps you, reading this post today helped me so – thank you.

  • Reply
    Gelyn Watkins
    August 5, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    I absolutely loved this!! My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family!

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