The Best Way To Describe Grief



I often look at the word grief and feel heavy. It is a difficult emotion to describe. No two people travel the path of mourning or grief the same. I have been given the precious gift of helping those who have suffered loss.

As a counsellor who specializes in grief, I can say that finding the perfect description for the feelings and emotions they are about to endure is a difficult one. The historical world of psychology is not lacking in their contribution to this subject matter. The Kubler-Ross five stages of grief was given to us in 1969. Psychologist J. W. Worden brought us the Four Tasks of Mourning, and Margaret Stroube brought us the Dual Process Model.

When one studies all of these models you are quick to realize a pattern. You are made to believe that one will travel a very neat and tidy grief package. Follow the yellow brick road, through the bubble gum valley until you reach the daisies at the end. Once you pop out the other side of the Lucky Charm rainbow, life will be swell.

What is the problem with all of this? Time after time I am faced with clients who are convinced there is now something wrong with them because they didn’t fit into the box. They never felt angry or were in denial. Why after two years have they not been able to feel acceptance?

Grief is not linear. Grief is not neat and tidy. There are simply no models we should be implementing upon anyone. Every single person will grieve a different way. I simply cannot express this enough. We do not have the right to make them feel that there is something wrong with them otherwise.

This brings me to the main point of my blog. I recently stumbled upon a new way to describe grief and loss that made sense for me on a few levels. I lost my sister eight months ago and was having a particularly difficult day. I found this post on Instagram by Lauren Herschel. She is a young Canadian woman who was coping with the loss of her mother and was given this simple explanation by her Doctor. I have yet to track down his name.

I have altered it slightly to make it just a little more understanding for my own line of work, but the idea is truly inspiring.


Grief is like a box with a ball in it. There is a pain button inside.

pain button

When we first experience loss, the ball is HUGE. It is impossible to move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It moves around constantly in there, hitting that button over and over. You have no control over it. You are in constant pain, in constant hurt. Most times it seems unrelenting.

pain ball

Gradually, over time the ball starts to get smaller. It hits the button less and less. When it does hit the button it hurts just as much. You start to feel better and can function day-to-day a little easier. The downside, that ball can hit that button when you least expect it for no reason.

new ball

With more room inside the box, you have more time to breathe. You have more time to recover in between the pain. For most of us, the button will always remain. As time goes on, you may experience fewer hits. 


Why do I resonate with this description so well? Why would I share it with all of you, clients, loved ones? The answer is easy. There are no timelines. You are not being asked to fit into any one category of grief. Here is a very simple and basic idea of how you may be feeling, and we can all relate.

Even better, it is simple enough even children can use it. They are able to tell you that they are having a BIG ball day and you know exactly what they mean.  When we are grieving, we are exhausted.  When asked how we are feeling we would rather respond with “I’m fine,” then a long explanation. Yet again, this allows us to simply say, our button has been pushed a lot today.

Simple is better.

My thanks to the Doctor who brought this to light, and I will continue to share it with those who need it most.

Much love ❤

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