Some people think grief is like a snowball. They hope that it slowly melts away and one day, disappears. But that is a mistake. It more like a tennis ball that never really disappears. How, then, do we cope with that tennis ball?
These three jars and three tennis balls help explain how grief really works:
The first jar:
This is early grief. The tennis ball barely fit in this jar. It fills every part, just like grief fills every part of our lives at first. There is barely air to breathe and no space to move round. It fills our waking thoughts making it hard to concentrate on even the simple things like getting groceries. Our life is filled to the brim with numbness and pain.
The second jar:
The size of the grief has not changed but as we mourn and adjust, our lives slowly start to expand. We still have to pay the bills, take out the garbage and go on living life as we face the deep pain, loneliness, disappointment, and fears of grief. We often have to learn new skills and roles that our loved one did. We are faced with questions about spirituality and the meaning of life. Our relationships change. Maybe we have deeper relationships with supportive friends, family, or a support group. We are changing and forced to stretch to become a bigger jar.
The third jar:
When others suggest that we should “get over it”, they often are hoping that our loss has “melted away” like that snowball. But they don't understand that it is not a snowball or a flu that you can “get over”. We don’t get over people or relationships, they remain a part of you. But as we are stretched, including by a growing family, new interests, travels, challenges, skills, values and a bigger heart, our life and our identity has grown. Our loss and grief, the tennis ball, is always there but we, the container has stretched quite large.
Going through loss, can deepen compassion for others. People who have suffered, often have huge hearts and great empathy. They understand how life is fragile and how hard things can be. They understand what it is like to be stretched beyond what they thought they could ever bear and have become bigger people. There is more space in the jar of life now because the jar got bigger. The tennis ball of loss has not shrunk but their shoulders have become a bit broader.
I can not promise you how your grief will work out, but we can grow to be those bigger jars. The grief does not disappear but as you process it, you can become a bigger person with an expanded identity. You slowly become more then the bereaved person. Your identity has grown, perhaps as an artist/craft-er, a facinating traveler, or a caring friend with strong shoulders and someone who really understands.
Big hugs and love,
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