This viral ‘Ball and the Box’ analogy perfectly explains the grieving process

Everyone experiences grief in different ways. But a woman grieving the loss of her grandmother published some advice on Twitter in 2017 that went viral and that has since resurfaced because it’s just so simple and relatable.

Lauren Herschel shared the analogy her doctor taught her after she had a sudden experience of grief at a grocery store. She saw a woman who looked like her 92-year-old grandmother who had died and was reminded of how much she missed her.

Herschel’s doctor said that grief is triggered at random moments because it’s like “The Ball and the Box.”

There is a pain button on one side of the interior of the box and it sometimes gets hit by the ball — or the grief.

The anguish of loss often lingers and can be triggered at any moment, especially in the beginning. But time’s passing makes it easier. The ball shrinks and tends to hit the button less and less.

But the button is still (and always will be) there.


“For most people, the ball never really goes away,” Herschel tweeted alongside images of the analogy. “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.”

She went on to say:

“I told my stepdad about the ball in the box (with even worse pictures). He now uses it to talk about how he’s feeling. ‘The Ball was really big today. It wouldn’t lay off the button. I hope it gets smaller soon.'”

Other Twitter users responded to Herschel with an appreciation for the simple metaphor, which has helped them.

“It is SO accurate,” tweeted @laurynnorton. “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.”

“Thanks Lauren!” tweeted @jeffdavenport. “I lost both parents within 9 days. I’ve got two balls in my box. This analogy helps!”

You may have heard of the five stages of grief, according to the famous Kübler-Ross model. The first is denial. The second stage, according to the model, is anger. These stages are followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance. But “not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order,” says a post on

Adobe Images

“The Ball and the Box” analogy helps clarify that everyone grieves in different ways and may not be in any of the specific stages of grief at the expected time.

Expert David Kessler, who is behind the website, says that if you know someone who is grieving, there are some things that are good and bad to say.

People don’t like to hear that the person who died is “in a better place.” Instead, simply share that you are sorry for the griever’s loss. Tell them you don’t know how they feel, and you are here for them in any way they may need.

It’s also not a good idea to say “there is a reason for everything” or to advise the grieving person to “be strong.”

Sometimes, Kessler says, it’s better to say nothing at all, and simply be present for the one who is grieving. Hopefully, someday, the ball in their box will shrink.