Home » Blog » Grief & Loss » Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box
Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box

Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box

Grief strikes each person in a different way. When we lose someone we love, that loss can hit us hard, all at once. Or it might lie in waiting until weeks or even months have passed before rearing its dark head.

One of the things that might be difficult to understand is that for most people, the grief of a loss never leaves a person completely. The loss stays with most of us forever. It changes over time — it may start off as huge and overwhelming, but becomes smaller over time.

I came across this analogy on Twitter (by Lauren Herschel) about how grief is felt by many people and thought I’d share it with you.

Imagine your life is a box and the grief you feel is a ball inside of the box. Also inside the box is a pain button:

An overview of the ball and the box, with grief

In the beginning, when the loss is so fresh and new, the grief that many people feel is overwhelming and large. It’s so large, in fact, that every time you move the box — moving through your every day life — the grief ball can’t help but hit the pain button:

Grief box 2

The ball rattles around the box at random, hitting the pain button every time. This is how many people initially experience loss. You can’t control it and you can’t stop it. The pain just keeps coming pretty regularly, no matter what you do or how much others try and comfort you. The pain a person experiences may feel unrelenting and never-ending.

Over time, however, the ball starts to shrink on its own:

Grief box 3

You still go through life and the grief ball still rattles around inside the box. But because the ball has gotten smaller, it hits the pain button a little less often. You almost feel like you can go through most days without even having the pain button hit. But when it does hit, it can be completely random and unexpected. Like when you’re staring at the person’s name in your friend’s list, or come across their favorite video or TV show. The pain button still delivers the same amount of pain no matter how large or small the ball is.

Grief box 4

As time passes, the ball continues to shrink and with it, our grief for the loss experienced.

Most people never forget the loss they experienced. But over time, the ball becomes so small that it rarely hits the pain button. When it does, it is still as painful and hard to understand as it was the very first time we felt it. But the frequency of the hits has decreases significantly. This gives a person more time in-between each hit, time used to recover and feel “normal” again.

Time also allows our hearts to heal and to begin to remember the person as they were in life.

Grief is never experienced the same way for any two people. But it helps to know that grief impacts most of us in a way where the pain is intense at the beginning, but the frequency (if not the intensity) of the pain lessens over time. Most of us walk through life, carrying our own box with a ball of grief inside of it. Remember that the next time you see someone, as they may be struggling with their own ball in the box.

People with their grief boxes

Learn more: 5 Stages of Grief & Loss


Credit to Lauren Herschel for this story from Twitter. Graphic design by Sarah Grohol.


Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment
APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2019). Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 11 Sep 2019 (Originally: 11 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 11 Sep 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.