Grief: The Ball in the Box

Grief is eventually a part of everyone’s life. I have been fortunate enough to only deal with the grief of losing a loved one a few times in my life. My immediate family has been fairly blessed to not have to deal with as much loss. Some people seem to have to go through it quite often. It’s hard for everyone and no matter how many times you have had to go through it, there’s no real “Practice makes perfect” when it comes to dealing with grief. Every loss is a new experience and requires that your mourn a different way.

It has been a rough time for a few people in my life. One of my coworkers recently lost his mother, and as a fellow proud mama’s boy, I can only fathom the grief he is currently going through. One of my best friends just lost her brother suddenly as well. It is saddening and heart wrenching because I know that no amount of words can offer comfort right now.

I’ve always been a person of words. To me it can often be easier to write something and take the time to ponder over each word and the overall messages I want to convey. However when someone is going through a loss I often feel speechless.

I can never say “I know what you’re going through.” because as empathetic as I am each and every loss is felt on a very personal level. I have had people I’ve hardly known who passed and it shook me harder than people I may have been closer with. It’s amazing how the mind, soul, and heart deal with different losses in different ways. I’ve cried for the loss of a resident I barely spoke to, and yet one who I was very close with passed and I couldn’t even bring myself to cry. It just left me empty and numb.

Each experience is different. I also got the habit from my mother of never saying “I’m sorry.” because you didn’t cause the death so there’s no need to apologize. Instead offer condolences. I think it’s a silly way to think of it, but to this day I also can’t bring myself to say sorry.

I am reminded of a perfect analogy that was shared online of all places. I believe it was originally posted on Twitter. I’m sure some of you may have seen it before but for those of you who haven’t I’d like to share it.

The idea is that you and your life are the box. The large ball inside the box is grief. When the pain button gets hit it causes you the grief and emotional pain that you feel.

Originally posted on Twitter by @LaurenHerschel
” 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. “
” 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. “

” 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. I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time. “


In my opinion this is an absolutely accurate metaphor for how grief functions. We all have different time-lines for how long it takes for us to grieve and that’s completely normal. Some people can’t even begin to grieve until well after the loss of a loved one.

The point of me sharing this is to help give you hope that in fact you will make it through this. No matter what’s going on. There’s many kinds of grief and they all hit us in different ways and different times. Losing a child is different than losing a sibling. An accident is different to handle than an expected death. None of them are easy though. Sometimes the loss of a pet, or a stranger, or a neighbor may hit you in a hard way.

I once read that to truly love somebody you must prepare for them to leave you one day. At first I wanted to scoff at such a thought because I took it to mean exclusively the love you’d show a spouse or partner in life. I didn’t realize the breadth it had until I got much older. To really love your pet knowing that you’ll outlive them by decades. To love your children knowing that one day they will move on without you. To love a spouse or partner knowing they may die before you or even leave you. To truly love someone you have to be prepared to know that they will not be around forever.

It is for that reason that it is imperative to show your love as often as you can. Like the old cliches go, we’re not promised tomorrow. The only guarantee I have is that I will be around for the rest of my life. There are many people I’d like to hope and pray that will stay around forever but it’s an impossibility. That’s why it’s important to put yourself first. When you go to sleep you will always be there. Every meal you eat in your life will be shared with you. Take the time to really love yourself so that you can properly love those around you.

This is in no means a way of saying get over grief. Grief is a powerful emotion and doesn’t change easily. It can last months, and for some people years. Even decades later certain thoughts, songs, or photographs will send you spiraling back into tears because it’s just a reminder of what you lost.

One of the blessings of living in the technologically driven world that we live in is that we have so many videos and pictures that we take on our phones and other electronic devices that make it so much easier. I have dozens of videos of my Sister-in-law laughing. (She had the best laugh in the world). I never have to worry about forgetting what it sounds like because I have those videos. That’s something that 15 years ago would be much harder.

Of course we had video cameras going far back into the 70’s and 80’s but the frequency of such tapes was so rare. Old Man Mick was around for about 16 years of my life and I only had a handful of pictures and one video tape of him. Had cellphones been as ubiquitous I would have a myriad of memories of him on tape.

So take the pictures and the videos of the ones you love. Watch them and relive some of your favorite memories of them.

During Old Man Mick’s funeral service I will never forget what the priest said. Every time you meet someone in life they take a little piece of your heart. Some people have a bigger piece than others but they all get a little piece. You don’t get those pieces back until you are reunited in the afterlife.

I think they give you a little piece of their heart when they take a piece of yours.

When somebody passes away they are not really gone because a little piece of them lives on in everybody they’ve ever interacted with. My whole personality is just a mixture of everyone I’ve ever held dear. Habits, expressions, mannerisms, stories are all within me. I still remember jokes and shows that Old Man Mick talked about. “Who knows? THE SHADOW KNOWS!” I can’t sit at a piano without thinking about how masterfully he played the keyboard. I can’t walk under a grapevine without remembering him walking by under it with his hands in his pockets looking up at the grapes.

I can’t listen to 80’s music without thinking of my sister-in-law and every time I see Tinkerbell it reminds me of her face.

Every time I hear the chicken dance I think of a cousin of mine that passed. Every cigar reminds me of my Dad’s Uncle. Every time I think of them they live on. Their memories, their legacy are forever cemented within me.

When someone dies they are not lost. We often say “I lost my uncle.” or “I’m sorry you lost your sister.” but they are not lost. They are found. We know exactly where they are. They are at peace in the hearts and memories of all those who loved them.

So today, take the time to just briefly think of all the ones who’ve passed before and let it inspire you to love the ones who are still here.

I truly believe that death is not the end, but a beginning that we simply don’t understand yet.

So to those who’ve departed the mortal coil, I raise my glass to you until we meet again. To those I’ve known for decades and those I’ve known for minutes may you be blessed no matter where you are.

See You Again

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