Herman the Hermit Crab Helps Grieve a Friend’s Suicide
by Kathy Warnes

Herman the Hermit Crab and I first met the day my daughter and our friend Rick picked him out of a tangle of crabs in a tank in a local department store. From the beginning, Herman and I had a personality conflict.

Rick Is a Better Companion than Herman

"You don't like that crab. What have you got against him?" Rick teased, putting Herman in my hand.

"His claws and his personality,” I said, handing Herman back to Rick.

I was worried about Rick. He was in remission from multiple sclerosis and sometimes got very depressed. But now Rick was smiling and my daughter was laughing. Herman brought sunshine into their lives.
Herman is a Better Companion than Rick

Herman did not bring sunshine into my life. During the day we left him to his own crabby devices because of work and school, but the evenings belonged to him. He must have felt the vibrations of the front door closing behind my daughter and me when we got home. As soon as the door closed, he skittered out of his bowl and onto the coffee table. My daughter held Herman in her hands and he ran up and down her arm without so much as a pinch.

I was a different story. I picked Herman up and talked gently to him. He grabbed my nose. His attitude improved when I fed him bites of meat, but as soon as it was gone, he turned surly again.
Herman Goes to Heaven

Then came that Sunday. Rick had dinner with us and after we ate, the crab lovers went into the living room for a romp with Herman while I did the dishes. Suddenly, I heard my daughter howl. I ran into the living room without even drying my hands.

"What did that crab do to you?" I shouted.

"Herman isn't doing anything," my daughter sobbed. "He won't even run up and down my arm anymore."

"You'd better take a look at him," Rick told me.

I peered into my daughter's outstretched hand. Herman was not moving.

"Let me hold him," I said. "That usually gets him moving."

I cuddled Herman in my hand, but for once, my touch did not make him come out fighting. He just lay there, still as death. My daughter cried harder.

"Herman's dead, Mom. Will he go to heaven?" she asked.

"A crab heaven!" I scoffed in my mind. Of course not! Heaven is reserved for people and people disagree about the population there. But as I gazed into her tear stained face, my cynicism faded. 

"God has room in heaven for every person and everything that He made," I told her. 

Rick Asks a Question

Rick and I assisted with Herman's burial in the best patch of grass in our front yard. Then he went home because he wasn't feeling well. His illness was a taxing one and some days for him were more tiring than others.

"Do you really think there's room in heaven for everybody?" he asked as he left.

"If people don’t have the final say there is," I said.

Now, I agonize at my insensitivity. I could have said something more profound, more comforting. I could have done something to prevent what happened to Rick. Three days passed with no word from Rick. I tried to call him several times to see how he was feeling and to report that my daughter needed his help to pick out Herman II. There was no answer. Finally, I went to his apartment. There was no answer to my pounding on the door. Finally obeying my pounding heart, I called his pastor.

"Sit tight. I'll check on him," the pastor said.
Rick Goes to Heaven

I sat by the phone, praying that Rick was all right. Finally, the phone rang.

"I'm afraid that Rick is dead," the pastor said. "It looks like he took an overdose of sleeping pills."

For my daughter, Rick's death was understandable. "Rick's gone to heaven, just like Herman." 

For me, the complexity of Rick's death is agonizing. Factors like guilt, theology, and blame enter into it. For a long time I blamed myself because I was his friend and I wasn't there when he died. I beat myself with, "I should have known.” I cried, "Why?" with the same pain and anguish he must have felt before he died.
Grieving Rick

In the bitter, dry summer, the bright leaf fall, the silent white snow winter of my sorrow, I stand and cry over the patch of dry brown grass in our front lawn that holds Herman’s grave, since I visit Rick's infrequently. Yet, I still hear spring crickets chirping at dusk and laugh at the robin tugging the worm from the ground at midday.
Never Forgetting, but Forgiving and Learning

In time and through every season, and much more often now, I sit on the porch swing and watch the grass come up fresh and green every spring on Herman's grave. I think about how hermit crabs transfer to other shells when their original home is gone. There are a lot of spiritual lessons in a hermit crab and in my heart and mind I often feel Rick beside me, sliding Herman the Hermit Crab back into my hand so I will continue to learn them.

This article was originally published at Suite101.com. Additional information and resources for survivors of suicide may be found in the original publication.



About the Author

Kathy Covert Warnes
is a writer/historian who loves to write about the Great Lakes, Women's History, and most of the other topics that overflow the world! In addition to presenting history programs about the Great Lakes and local history, she has written local history newspaper columns and several historical magazines.

Books: A Brief History of Ecorse, September 2009. History Press

Rachel Jackson as a Prism of History, Pending

Ecorse Echoes: The Story of the Oldest Downriver Community, 2007

Don’t’ Fence Me In: The Story of the Fort Ontario Refugees, Safehaven Museum, 2004.

She has published historical articles and essays, fiction, poetry and children's stories.  For some of the fictional and historical side of Kathy Warnes read: Ruth Spangler's Blog at Word Press., and Union City Pennsylvania's Past Lives.





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