I’ve never really thought much about lobsters (besides the fact that I enjoy eating them on occasion). And yet, here I am on my day off researching lobsters, their shells, their lifecycles, and molting.
Have I mentioned already how weird my life has become since losing Alexander?
Anyways, I digress.
Yesterday, I went to Trinity Days at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus to hear one of my youth ministry heroes speak on “The Entrepreneurial Moment in Youth Ministry.” The day was part continuing education, part networking, and part getting out of the office for the day. It was also a day full of far more emotion and grief triggers than I had anticipated. (Read: Opening worship left me choked up as most worship services do these days, I had my first awkward and tear-filled encounter with an acquaintance who didn’t know about what had happened, and Dr. Dean closed out her first lecture of the day with an intense pregnancy metaphor to describe the current state of the church and youth ministry.)
I could honestly write a whole series of blog posts on different moments, thoughts, and ideas from yesterday. It was just one of those days. But what I can’t quite shake today (and the reason why I am currently spending my day off researching lobsters) is the closing illustration from the second lecture.
My emotions were already running pretty rampant, and as a result my listening lens had already shifted from that of a youth ministry leader to that of a bereaved parent. I had moments of checking in and out mentally, but when she started talking about lobsters, something caused me to check back in and listen.
So, here are a few things I’ve learned about the lobster life cycle and molting process in the past 24 hours:
Because a lobster’s shell is hard and doesn’t grow with the lobster’s body, it must be periodically shed and regrown. This process, ecdysis involves the development of a new, soft, exoskeleton, and then a shedding of the current hard shell. The lobster needs to lay on its side, and shrink down to wiggle out. It needs to pull its shriveled claws out of the shells, and essentially winds up in sort of a fetal position.
This whole process leaves lobsters helpless and vulnerable to predators, the environment, and death: “If shedding is prolonged unnaturally, it usually results in the animal’s death because a lobster in the midst of ecdysis is entirely helpless being virtually unable to move, and consuming a great deal of energy at a time when its respiratory surface, which also sheds its skeleton, is unable to function.”
The lobster must take great care of itself by taking in water and nutrients in order for the new shell to harden. Lobsters begin resuming normal activities after a few days, but it will take months for the new shell to completely harden.
So, what do lobsters have to do with anything? Well, let me tell you.
Every time a lobster goes through ecdysis, it has to grow into a new normal. The shedding process leaves the animal vulnerable to, literally, everything. And, even though they can live pretty long lives (I suppose if they’re not eaten first!), they go through this process over and over and over again throughout their entire life (up to 25 times in the first 5-7 years of life, and once every year or two for the remainder of its life). Lobsters are constantly left helpless and vulnerable while they grow into a new normal. Then they outgrow that new normal and are left helpless and vulnerable once again to grow into another new normal.
Grief and infant loss is a lot like ecdysis.
Losing Alexander has left me feeling helpless and vulnerable. More vulnerable than I have ever felt in my entire life. I cry more than I ever have before, and I usually can’t predict when those tears will come. I have resumed a lot of my normal activities, but I am still very much waiting for that first new shell to harden. And, since grief comes in waves–and likely will for the rest of my life–I know this process will be repeated. Over and over again. There will be moments that will leave me completely helpless and vulnerable, and I will once again have to retreat to safety.
There are many people and things that act as the water and nutrients that are helping me grow into that new normal: friends, people using Alexander’s name and remembering him, invitations to be in community, the healing power of our church community, and so so much more.
But, as I learned yesterday, I am still vulnerable. I am still prone to moments of complete breakdown. I love Alexander so so much and I miss him every single day. Growing into this new normal is a slow and repetitive process, much like a lobster shedding and regrowing its shell.