The Ball in the Box Flaw

Have you heard this somewhat old analogy, of a ball being in a box and how it's similar to grief? What if I said something that revolutionized that metaphor? Are you ready to step outside of the box?

Some of you who follow the blog know that this year began with a very rocky start for me. For those of you who don't know, nearly a week into January, my mother unexpectedly and pretty suddenly passed away. In case you missed it, you can catch that blog >here<.

Unimaginable seems to be a word I find myself using a lot to describe it.

greyscale photography of woman wearing long sleeved top

If it's something you aren't familiar with, I truly beg you to cherish every moment you have left, and if you are all too familiar with this pain, I'm sorry you understand. To say, 'there are no words,' is the closest thing anyone has come to being able to encompass the gravity of the situation.

Of course, many people have offered up analogies for grief, pain and time; including ones I've held to through other times of loss.

man with luggage on road during sunset

One of my go-to analogies about losing a loved one is that grief is like a suitcase. Every night you put it at the foot of your bed, and every morning you pick it up before you even open your eyes. Some days, the suitcase will be so heavy that you feel like you can't even get out of bed, but soon there will be days where it gets lighter; easier to get up and carry around.

I've also heard the ball in the box metaphor that is attributed to Lauren Herschel. I actually found this to be another helpful metaphor when describing and dealing with grief. Notice the past tense?

What's in the box?!

adult birthday birthday gift box

Basically, in this assimilation, grief is a ball in a box and in the box there is a red button (i.e. pain). At first, the ball is really big inside the box, so every time the box gets jostled, even slightly, it hits the button triggering the pain. Herschel goes on to say that over time this ball gets smaller, so your button gets pressed less often.

I used to put a lot of weight on this.

Used to. (Sorry Lauren, but your metaphor is only slightly flawed.)

The ball never gets smaller. Anyone who has ever lost a parent will say, 'it never goes away, it's been (x amount of) years since I lost mine and there isn't a day that goes by' (thanks for driving that nail home, I get it.) So to say the ball gets smaller is just flat out stupid. I imagine my dad will tell you the same thing.

It never hurts less. It doesn't feel better over time. Nothing heals.

The ball never gets smaller.

The box has to get bigger!

I like to believe that the at the core of my being if you strip everything else away, is a person who believes there is more good in the world than bad, and also someone with a deep yearning to learn.

I would be dishonoring myself if I didn't allow my box to grow and expand as I change and evolve. I know the ball in the box has helped a lot of people with grief, and I'm not saying to throw out the entire analogy if it helped you.

I'm going to though.

I'm going to need a bigger box.



  1. Thanks for the link to my blog. We each travel our grief journey in different ways. I’ve not come across the ball analogy before but it kinda makes sense. For me, having lost both my parents many years ago now, the ball has got smaller. If I were to go further with this particular metaphor, I would say the ball has been transformed from one of weighty sadness to a translucent one of memories that I hold dear.

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