After the loss of a loved one, the grieving process is complex, and often life-long. Unless you’ve experienced this firsthand, it may be hard to understand another grieving person’s behavior.
Then again, even if you do know how it feels, it can be hard to explain what it’s like to other people.
One of the biggest issues with trying to explain grief is that emotions can change. They can come and go. But it’s not that simple. The sadness is beyond sadness, and can be absolutely staggering. It is constantly shifting in strength.
Finding the language to explain this clearly is important — and Lauren Herschel, a Twitter user, explained what a doctor told her. Her analogy of ‘the ball and the box’ really resonated with a lot of people, and her thread explaining grief went viral.
This is how Herschel’s doctor explained how grief is triggered in the brain:
After what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. Saw a lady who reminded me of my 92yo grandma, who even in the early stages of dementia, completely understood that my mom died.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
I thought I’d share the Ball in the Box analogy my Dr told me pic.twitter.com/YfFT26ffU8
So grief is like this:— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button.
And no, I am not known for my art skills. pic.twitter.com/XDwCCdXVkc
In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it - it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting. pic.twitter.com/Wcas2p4vab— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
The theory goes that grief is like a ball in a box. The box has a pain button inside, and is triggered by the ball hitting it. Right after a loss, the ball is huge, and basically anything can trigger it to move around in the box and bump that pain button.
Eventually, though, the grief ball will shrink. And it will stop triggering the pain button so much.
Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it. pic.twitter.com/fevAttojBg— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
But even though the ball gets smaller, it will always be there. And sometimes, it can even balloon back up, even after you think it’s shrunk. It can also trigger the pain button when you’re not expecting it to.
For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.
I told my step dad about the ball in the box (with even worse pictures). He now uses it to talk about how he’s feeling.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
“The Ball was really big today. It wouldn’t lay off the button. I hope it gets smaller soon.”
Slowly it is.
Other twitter users commented about how their grief had affected them.
I want you to know that this is literally one of the best things I have ever read on Twitter... #theballgetssmaller ♥️♥️♥️— Lauryn Norton (@laurynnorton) January 19, 2018
It is SO accurate. I am a nurse and lost my grandpa in a very bad way last year and this is one of the first things I've read that completely matches my grief...— Lauryn Norton (@laurynnorton) January 19, 2018
That must have been tough. I lost my dad 22 years ago & that ball had gotten a lot smaller - but when my mom was dying last fall, I was surprised how much that seemed to re-activate the “Dad” ball, while I was pre-grieving & then grieving her. So I understand the two ball notion— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) March 24, 2018
Another user pointed out that we will all face this ball and box at some point in our lives.
One thing I find amazing and horrifying is that we all have to travel this path of grief at some point in our lives. It is inescapable. All deal with it differently, & partly due to situation. My 21yo sister was killed 6.5 months ago. My ball is still incredibly big... /1— Emily Gibson (@emegibson) January 12, 2018
But I'm hopeful that justice for her death, time and actually coming out of survival mode and getting help to face this with make it easier. Thanks for sharing. And sending you &your family 💙./End— Emily Gibson (@emegibson) January 12, 2018
I’m really sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what it is like for you. These things definitely make people stronger once we get through the worst of it.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) January 13, 2018
I hope you don't mind, I kinda stole this and put it in a notebook I keep for mental health/self help stuff to refer back to. It resonates so much with me right now. Thank you for sharing. pic.twitter.com/Q9TjlCpuPX— angelica (@ReinaDeLaIsla) February 7, 2018
A wise lady once told me that the pain you feel when you lose someone important is there to remind us how important they were, and to remind us to think about those people we still have who are important, and we should maybe let them know they’re important to us— AL 🇨🇦 (@AlertCalgarian) January 12, 2018
This simple analogy already seems to have helped a lot of people, and we hope it continues to help people.
This story originally appeared at Goodfullness.