Grief Awareness Week 2021 - The Ball in the Box

Posted on
02 December 2021

Losing anyone you care about can be a lonely time. When you lose someone you care about at work, it can be devastating, but we can feel we don't have the right to feel grief for a customer or colleague. That's not the case. Everyone's feelings of grief are valid and people around you will want to support you too, but sometimes it's hard to talk about how you're feeling.


The 'ball in the box' is a really simple way to understand how grief works. It's helpful if you're grieving yourself because it can give you a helpful shorthand to share with the people around you and it also helps you to accept your feelings. If someone you are close to at work or at home is grieving, it's also a simple way to check on how they are.


Joanne* has shared her experiences of using the 'ball in the box' to process and talk about her grief after her father died.


Can you tell us a bit about the 'ball in the box' and why you came to use it?
During the pandemic my dad was diagnosed with cancer; we were lucky enough to nurse him at home for a short time at home before he passed away with his family around him. I felt so lucky to have this time with him, especially as a lot of people who lost someone during Covid-19 had not had any time with them. 

I recognised some of my grieving was done before he died, but when I spoke to a friend about grief being like a ball in a box it made a lot of sense - on occasions, when you have no warning, the ball hits the pain button on the side of the box and it reminds me of my loss. At certain times, like the run up to Christmas, the ball seems bigger and hits the pain button more regularly.


How did it help you cope with your feelings?
I always knew grief would just keep coming and going and even now, after 5 months it appears out of nowhere, but the ball, which I see as my grief, and the box, which is me and my emotions, is a way I think of my grief over time because the ball is getting smaller and hits the pain button less often. When it does hit, I give myself time and patience, reminding myself that grief takes time and that’s ok.


Did it help you in any other way, for example keeping your colleagues informed about how you were doing, not having to go into details all the time? 
I think knowing about the 'ball in the box' helped me to let people around me know how I was doing. I am quite a private person when it comes to my feelings, but the ball in the box made me feel that I never needed to go into detail as the people that I have around me understood and supported me when it was needed.


Would you recommend it to anyone going through grief? Why?
Yes I would. It's an easy way to describe grief; not so much the process of the different emotions, but to talk about the shock of the ball hitting the pain button and its effect on you when you least expect it.


What else helps you to deal with your loss?
Family, friends, time to take and reflect, memories and just talking.


Click on the image above to find out how the 'ball in the box' works.


*not her real name


If you need to talk to someone about your grief, call Samaritans or get support via text from SHOUT.

Visit the Grief and Bereavement page here for support and contacts for you, someone you know or to help you support someone who's bereaved.