Finding a New Shell

“He had felt safe and strong in his shell. But now it was too snug. Hermit Crab stepped out of the shell and onto the floor of the ocean. But it was frightening out in the open sea without a shell to hide in.”

Eric Carle, A House for Hermit Crab

This past weekend I took my kids exploring at a local neighborhood beach. The water in the cove was warm, and low tide had brought tiny hermit crabs swarming all over the rocks and in the tide pools. My kids happily spent the hours catching crabs, creating little pools for them, and watching them scuttle along the bottom.

Hermit crabs are designed for change. In fact, they do it frequently. As they grow, they shed their shell houses and go in search of new ones. They find another shell to fit their new girth, but it’s not long until they outgrow that one too. Twice a year (on average) hermit crabs move out and into new homes. Change is a normal part of their life experience. It means something healthy is happening.

Photo by William LeMond on

I find I’m less like the crabs at the beach and more like Eric Carle’s classic character Hermit Crab. I step out of my shell onto life’s ocean floor and feel frightened without a shell to hide in, without a place to define me. Change makes me feel vulnerable. Even when the shell is snug. Even when I know I’m growing. It’s still hard to step out in trust toward something new. Especially when, like Hermit Crab, that something new isn’t sitting right in front of me. When I have to act in faith and go looking for it.

In a few short weeks, I technically won’t be a “new widow” anymore. I’ll have passed that first year mark of Rob’s death. Yet, as the days pass and I see more change on the horizon, I feel so new still. So tender still. While I wouldn’t describe this first year of grief as “safe and strong,” it was a house I have learned to live in. I have found some stability in the midst of tragedy. At least life has become a little bit predictable.

But each day, each month, the grief journey brings new change; and like Hermit Crab, I must change too. As I approach the year mark of Rob’s death, I sense there’s going to be some shell-shedding in the near future. Some searching for what comes next. Some finding a new home, both literally and figuratively. You can’t really get ready for that kind of change. You just have to step out in trust. Accept that you may have to try on a few shells before you find the next right fit.

I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I’m trying to remember that change means something healthy is happening. Moreover, that transformation is what we’re made for. Even in grief. I can do this next brave thing. Even if I can’t quite see what it is yet.

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