Faith and Family

The Ball and the Box

Purple flowers from above

This year on Mother’s Day, if you’re looking for me, you will find me outside digging in the dirt at my house. It is the same place I have spent Mother’s Day for about the past 10 years. For the past six years, though, it’s been a bittersweet endeavor. You see, six years ago, the ritual changed when my mom died.

I had always helped my mom plant flowers in the gardens of her and my dad’s home— now my family’s home. Gardening and cooking were “our things.” Somehow, over time, it turned into a Mother’s Day tradition. I’m not sure if it was her idea or mine to make it my gift to her. It just happened.

Even after I had kids, the day was not about me. It was about spending my day in the garden with my mom. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.


The first Mother’s Day after she died, I didn’t want to go in the garden. It seemed too painful and just didn’t feel right. But at the same time, I felt drawn there. So I begrudgingly went to the garden store and cried my way through picking out flowers for the front and back garden beds—just as Mom and I had done the year before. I brought them home and got to work, carefully remembering all of the notes and plans we had made for this year’s design.

Slowly, I began removing and cutting back the past year’s dead foliage in order to make way for the plants that were pushing up through the soil. I dug my hands into the dirt and carefully placed the new plants—some of which were from the funeral—into the ground.

The next year I did the same thing—and the third year. But each year seemed just as tough as that first year when I forced myself to meet my mom in the garden. For some reason, I kept thinking that it was going to get easier with time. It didn’t.

Then, about a year ago I discovered the button and the box. What is that, you ask? Well, it is an analogy that tries to help to explain why people struggle to “get over” grief.

According to the theory, grief is like a ball in a box with a pain button inside the box. In the beginning, the ball is huge, which makes it difficult for the ball to avoid hitting the pain button as it bounces around the box. I remember that feeling all too well. Over time, the ball begins to shrink. Every once in a while, though, it still hits directly on that button. There is no rhyme or reason as to what sends the ball careening into the pain button. It could be anything—seeing someone who reminds you of the person you’ve lost, a certain scent, a picture you find, or maybe it’s a tradition like spending Mother’s Day in the garden.


I’m never going to get over losing my mom. It’s just not possible.

The best I can do is wake up on Mother’s Day, head to the garden store, pick out the flowers I think my mom would like, and get to work putting a fresh face on the gardens that she loved so much. In the process of doing so, I will once again come face-to-face with the pain of death and then clear it away to make room for the joy of life—both in my heart and in the garden—at least until the next time the ball hits my pain button.

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