Loss and Hermit Crabs

            My Grandmother loved to write. She wrote in her journal almost everyday. She had a collection of old calendars on which she filled in every box with what she did that day. My favorite thing she wrote? Birthday cards. She always filled every square inch with writing. These letters never felt long or rambling. They felt like real conversations. She managed to truly capture her voice in a way that I can only dream of. She always signed the card, “xoxo Grandma, Spider, and Hershey.” Spider and Hershey were her cats. When I would write her back, I  signed, “xoxo Andy and that’s all. Mom won’t let us have a pet.”

My mother might have always vetoed my annual Christmas request for a dog, but my brother and I finally wore her down enough to get a nice, cuddly…hermit crab. When I first brought Merlin home, the first thing I did was call Grandma. After all, the last time we were in Ohio, Grandma introduced us to her two hermit crabs. She would let them crawl around in her bathtub while she wasn’t using it. Mom and Dad nixed that idea, but I couldn’t wait to tell Grandma about the nice little mini aquarium I had for Merlin.

Hermit crabs are disposable pets. They tend to last slightly longer than goldfish won at the state fair. Evan, my brother, went through several crabs. Merlin, however, seemed to live forever. He was a badass in that way. I loved him. I would spray him with water, take him out to crawl around, and talked to him the way some would talk to their dogs. (The weirdos.)  Merlin loved me back. He would walk right off my hand. There was no pinching me to hang on, oh no,  he would rather fall then to hurt me.

Death is inevitable, even for hermit crabs. One day Merlin wouldn’t move when I touched him. I was beyond devastated. I ran crying into my parent’s room. Between sobs, there was only one thing I demanded. I wanted to call Grandma. If anyone could understand the traumatic loss I just experienced it would be the woman who herself cared enough for her crabs to give them an entire bathtub to play in. I cried on the phone to Grandma. I told her I missed Merlin. I explained it wasn’t fair that he died. Grandma told me how sorry she was. “If I could send you my hermit crabs in the mail, Andy, I would.” I truly believe, if it was possible,  she would have overnighted the crabs to me. I can picture her calling my Uncle Jeff and asking to be driven to the post office.  She was so sincere. I swear she was on the phone with me for a full twenty minutes. She would have kept talking for hours, if I didn’t have to get off for the funeral.

I buried Merlin in the backyard that day. I’ve since gotten over the loss of my crab, but I still remember Grandma taking the time to comfort me. She taught me how to relate to kids. Don’t brush them aside. Things that matter to them should be treated as important.

My Grandmother died on November 16, 2013. It was a bittersweet event for my family. She batted Alzheimer’s for almost a decade. We were happy that she was no longer suffering. We were devastated that she was gone.

I’ll remember many things about her. The way she liked to hum. Her sense of humor. The way she pronounced wash as “warsh.” But the thing I will remember the most is how she would take the time for her grandchildren. If something was significant to us, it mattered to her, even something as dopey as a kid crying over his pet crab.

She wasn’t Grandma Bev. She wasn’t Grandma Cunningham . She was simply Grandma, and I miss her.

Andy Livengoodtrue story, loss