Slice: the Work of Remembering & Being You

{Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 9, No Way Out}

When my mom died, I thought I would break. I felt fractured, like her death fissured my soft middle into sharp pieces, which stayed held together by my skin. The brokenness rumbled, poking from the inside out. Stabbing. Slicing. That’s how grief felt: like the pain would kill me. I didn’t think the sadness would ever leave.

There’s no fast forward button on grief.

I hate that.

It’s completely inconvenient that we’re allotted mere days to mourn in this modern life before we’re expected to be back at work, back in full swing, back to life as usual. Body and soul, heart and mind – they move on when they are ready to move on and not a minute sooner.

Meanwhile, the brokenness inside keeps stabbing. Without warning – slice. Something you see or hear or smell or taste or touch — some something you were not expecting — bumps up against your life. One of those sharp edges from the broken contents of your inner self cuts through a thin place in your skin. Slice. That mask you maintain so well gets slashed, from inside, and suddenly, you’re vulnerable. Conspicuous. Anyone who’s looking can see the big gaping wound.

That’s what I saw in actress Katelyn Nacon’s character, Enid, during the mid-season-six premiere of The Walking Dead. When she read the inscription over the church’s door, “Faith without works is dead. – James 2:26,” it bumped her. Slice. Oh, Enid, babe. I see you. I see how those words, for some reason, broke open the thin skin.

Slice.

How do you survive in this life when the people you can’t live without are gone?

This is the question Enid struggles with every day. When her character was first introduced, I thought she was just another moody teenager, because surely teenagers are allowed to be moody in the zombie apocalypse. Especially teenage girls, right? (I mean, for real, y’all, can you imagine your 16-year-old self on your period in Alexandria – I would’ve taken people’s heads off.) But, seeing Enid’s backstory, we see she’s not moody; she’s grieving. She’s surviving, somehow. Enid is orphaned. All alone. Even in a room full of people, she’s by herself. How will she live life without the people she’s never lived without?

Something about that phrase over the back door of the church bumped her. Slice. Glenn, masterfully portrayed by Steven Yeun, sees. He responds. “People you love,” he says, “They made you who you are. They’re still part of you. You stop being you [and] that last bit of them that’s still around inside who you are — it’s gone.”

Glenn, where were you five and a half years ago when I needed to hear that?

I struggled so much after my mother died, which may come as a surprise to you since I’m a clergy person…aren’t pastors supposed to know the secrets to life’s deepest mysteries and sail through this existence with Zen-like peace and tranquility? Well, if that’s what we’re supposed to do, I missed that lecture in seminary. Somebody send it to me.

In the years after my mom’s death, I felt like I was losing her constantly. When her yellow Tupperware bowl got put in the dishwasher, erasing her signature from the “This dish belongs to…” sticker on its bottom, I cried for days. When the lone voicemail I saved from her got accidentally deleted, then permanently deleted, I did not think I could go on. When my kid got sick, and all I wanted to do was call my mom to ask, “What should I do?” even though I am an adult, who is quite skilled in adulting, who has been adulting, proficiently, every day for YEARS, I crumbled. I needed to talk to my mom. Each time I got reminded of her and felt like I’d lost her, the wound busted open from the inside out.

Each time – slice.

But, then, that pain started to change. I’d be talking to my girls and hear her voice echo in mine, her practical brand of wisdom winging in my words. Or, David, my husband, would make me laugh so hard I’d snort. The snort-laugh: it’s so unbecoming and absolutely perfect – the way my mom laughed when something really got her. See, she shows up in my life all the time. When I’m being creative, speaking the truth, noticing the little details other people skip over, and doing other things I inherited from her, she’s there. She shows up, too, when I’m doing things she never dreamed of doing herself, but would be awfully proud of me for trying and testing, even if I don’t succeed.

When I am who I am, it’s like my mom is alive.

When I forget who I am, I start to forget who she was, too.

“People you love,” Glenn says, “They made you who you are. They’re still part of you. You stop being you [and] that last bit of them that’s still around inside who you are — it’s gone.”

So, here’s the truth, y’all: God needs you to be you in this world. No one else is going to be you. Who you were made to be by the Divine, and molded to be by the people who love you throughout your life, no one else can ever be that. You have to work at it. It’s easy to get swayed, thinking you have to be someone else, or that you should be a better, shinier, more perfect version of who you already are. It takes faith to believe in yourself, and that’s work, but when you do, you come alive, and so do the people who you’ve lost. “People you love…they made you who you are. They’re still part of you….” You stop being you and you’ll disappear right along with them.

So, Love, believe me when I say this: don’t disappear, the world needs you too much.

Blessings, y’all,

Pop Culture Preacher

6 comments

  1. Pat · February 18, 2016

    Sobbing

    Like

  2. Vicky · February 18, 2016

    I had a slice moment last night, so funny to find this today. It was just seeing a picture (that is on my wall, I see it but don’t always look at it, every day) and the realization that I have gone so many years without talking to her, seeing her, touching her….and I cried myself to sleep. It still hurts.

    Like

    • PopCulturePreacher · February 18, 2016

      Yes. This. It can be YEARS and then, bam, out of no where, the grief comes surging back. Be gentle with yourself…blessings to you.

      Like

  3. salousacs · February 18, 2016

    I hope my mom never dies.

    Like

  4. Wanda Harmon · February 18, 2016

    Thank you Leah……I neeeeeeeeeded to read this today. Meeting with a grief counselor this morning for the first time. Allen is repeatedly seen around me in almost every moment of the day. He helped mold me into the person I am today. My gaping hole is still huge, and having to live life without him here to talk to, ask opinions of, and to just love seems to get harder every day. I know it’s still too fresh, but unfortunately I’m a very impatient person. I lost my mom 20 years ago this spring, and my dad 6 years ago last month. I long to talk to both of them about what I’m going through. Thank you for your words.

    Like

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