I recently read an article on PsychCentral that was based on Lauren Herschel’s analogy of grief as a ball in a box. Imagine that your life is a closed box, and inside that box, there is a pain button. Also inside the box is a bouncing ball that represents your grief. It’s a beautiful analogy for a few reasons but before I go there, do me a small favor, please. Now because it is Christmas, I want you to imagine your box as a beautifully decorated Christmas box wrapped in gold ribbons and shiny paper. Inside, there is still the pain button (because grief doesn’t take the holidays off, does it?) but instead of a regular ball, let’s make it one of those giant, red Christmas tree ornaments.

Christmas ornaments and lights - An Ornament in a Christmas Box:Grief at the Holidays

Shutterstock/Daniel S Edwards

Back to the analogy. As this grief ornament bounces around, it hits your pain button and triggers your grief response. We often feel guilt over our grief and how we carry it. We want to hide it from others and apologize for it, but Herschel’s analogy can help us see how we do not hold that kind of control over our grief response. Of course, we can control our behavior but that guttural response to having our pain button hit randomly, is something that happens to everyone. So there is no need to feel ashamed of it.

Sometimes your grief ornament will feel big and all-consuming, taking up every inch of your box and making constant contact with your pain button.

Every song, every memory, every television ad, party invitation, and baby announcement hits you. You feel sure that you will never feel anything other than this grief again, you want to bury your head and hide until the Christmas season is over. I remember my first Christmas after loss, and I understand.

And yet, I know that over time, that ball will deflate. Our grief will begin to get smaller, still present, but less all-consuming, and as it bounces around inside our box, it may miss our pain button completely or hit it less hard when it does. We can attend church services and parties, enjoy the Christmas carols, and even take the time to decorate our own boxes. We begin to see our box as more than just the bouncing ball. Eventually, the ball becomes even smaller, so much so that you may go long periods of time without it hitting your pain button at all. It is a beautiful analogy, and I encourage you to read the article to learn more. It is full of hope, and you may be tempted to dismiss this as another ‘time heals all wounds’ article, but hear me out.

Yes, grief does change over time. It becomes less of an enemy and more of a comfortable, if not odd, companion.

There are lessons that we learn and ways that we grow, and gifts that we receive. But, regardless of how much time has passed, one day, that tiny ball will land just right and smash straight into your pain button. You will be triggered in a way you haven’t been in a long time, and it will be miserable.

Maybe that day will come during this Christmas season. And, when it does, I hope you can remember a few things: You have carried this ball in this box every day since your loss. You have survived the big ball days and the small ball days. It has been hard, but you did it. The grief that you feel is a result of the love that remains, and you are entitled to it. You have a right to be there, at every party, every gathering, and I hope that you find someone who asks about your grief ball, someone who lovingly comments on the size and shape of it and tells you that it is beautiful and you carry it well. And most of all, I hope that your presence there encourages someone else to be brave and share their own grief story. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive. Merry Christmas!

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