Ball in a Jar - an article on Grief

I've just read the article below on the Way-Up site - I thought some of you may find it interesting One day I saw a notice for a talk on helping children through bereavement by Barbara Monroe, the Chief Executive of St Christopher's Hospice in London. When I arrived, what I saw resembled a physics lesson. On the table before her was a very large glass jar. Beside were three balls: one large, one medium-sized, one small. Without a word, she began to stuff the large ball into the jar. With a great deal of effort, she wedged it in. 
'There!' she said. 'That's how grieving feels at first. If grief is the ball and the jar is your world, you can see how the grief fills everything. There is no air to breathe, no space to move around. Every thought, every action reminds you of your loss.' Then she pulled the large ball out of the jar and put in the medium-sized ball. She held it up again, tipping it so the ball rolled around a bit. 'Maybe you think that's how it will feel after a time - say, after the first year. Grieving will no longer fill every bit of space in your life.' Then she rolled the ball out and plopped in the small ball. 'Now, say, by the second or third year, that's how grieving is supposed to feel. Like the ball, it has shrunk. So now you can think of grief as taking up a very small part of your world - it could almost be ignored if you wish to ignore it.' For a moment, considering my own crammed jar, I thought of leaving. 'That's what everyone thinks grieving is like,' the voice continued. 'And it's all rubbish.' I settled back into my seat. Two other glass jars were produced from under the table: one larger, one very large. 
'Now,' she said, imperiously. 'Regard.' Silently, she took the largest ball and squeezed it slowly into the least of the three jars. It would barely fit. Then she pulled the ball out and placed it in the next larger jar. There was room for it to roll around. Finally, she took it out and dropped it into the largest glass jar. 'There,' she said, in triumph. 'That's what grieving is really like. If your grieving is the ball, like the ball here it doesn't get any bigger or any smaller. It is always the same. But the jar is bigger. If your world is this glass jar, your task is to make your world bigger.' 
'You see,' she continued, 'no-one wants their grief to shrink. It is all they have left of the person who died. But if your world gets larger, then you can keep your grief as it is, but work around it.' Then she turned to us. 'Older people coping with grief often try to keep their world the same. It is a mistake. If I have one thing to say to all of you it is this: make your world larger. Then there will be room in it for your grieving, but your grieving will not take up all the room. This way you can find space to make a new life for yourselves.
  • What an intriguing bit of reportage!  I have to say that I think there may be something of value in it for I, in common with some of my fellows here I am sure, have, to all intents and purposes, been shrinking my world in an attempt to make it  more controllable and bearable.

    Maybe, at a certain point at least, it is time to start looking outwards, choosing the bigger 'jar', so that we do not stultify ourselves into inaction with our grief?



  • This is a bit like the 'fried egg' diagram my counsellor uses, the yolk being your grief which always stays the same size but the white over time spreads around it as your life gradually changes.

    "no-one wants their grief to shrink...." I think that this is what everyone finds so hard to understand when they think you must be getting 'over it', we don't want to be 'over it' because it IS all we have left.

    Thank you for posting this, it helps doesn't it to sometimes look at things from a different angle?


  • Hi to all MacWarriors I think its a really good way to describe the grief process. I too made my world much smaller at first. But now almost 8 months down the rocky path my world is opening up., That is thanks to so many great friends here, the ones I haven't met but the ones I have actually sat and talked with face to face,who live near to me. A very good friend who helped me out when I panicked about booking my train ticket the other day. That's on top of my family and friends I already had. So you see your world can grow as mine is doing and I now have come to realise that that's what Mike wants for me. He will always be here in my heart where ever life takes me and I know I will have "wobbles" at times but they are less and go quicker than it a few months ago. I intend to keep on moving forwards to this " new normal". As the days are not dark and the sun does shine, you just need to want it, or want to need it, A Big Mac hug to all Sally x

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  • Hi everyone I found the analogy of the different size jars and balls a very significant story and is how I feel - I don't ever want to forget my dear husband by being distracted by the world but equally don't want to "dwell" on my grief . I hope this story has / is helping other people. It may depend on where one is on one's journey and may not speak to everyone. Hope this day goes well for you all. With love Ann