Snow Globe Grief

by Beth Brittain, M. Div., LCMHCS


As I reflected on the survivor’s experience, I realized that her world view must be very similar to being inside of a snow globe; her world was shaken by circumstances outside of her control, and she reported feeling that ‘everything is spinning around me’ as I stand still. She felt ‘frozen.’

Since childhood, I have been drawn to snow globes. I have been known to spend quite a bit of time in stores shaking up globes and watching the changes. It is just mesmerizing to me.


Recently, as a grief survivor was talking about a particularly difficult aspect of their grief journey, I thought of snow globes again. This time, however, my perspective was different. As I reflected on the survivor’s experience, I realized that her world view must be very similar to being inside of a snow globe; her world was shaken by circumstances outside of her control, and she reported feeling that ‘everything is spinning around me’ as I stand still. She felt ‘frozen.’ That pretty well summarizes how my world and that of those I serve feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has shaken up the normal routine and sent us all spinning while we are trying to cope with grief and loss.


I began to listen to others describe their experience and realized that snow globe grief is very real. When you watch a snow globe, there is usually something in the center that is fixed. That may represent us before our world was shattered by loss. After a loved one’s death, we may feel more like the objects that are floating around when shaken; and they always float differently. It reminds me of the uniqueness of grief and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. For some, when loss shakes our world, we are sort of ‘frozen in place,’ unsure of what to do, feel or think. From the outside, we may appear okay or normal. In fact, though, we are far from our norm and are not even sure what is normal anymore. We fill our roles, but we are often doing so by rote; just going through the motions.


Those who feel like the objects being tossed around due to being shaken by grief often struggle to get things done. They may not return to work as soon as others would like and are not as quickly able to finalize tasks. These folks are the ones who can’t seem to make decisions early on and are carried by the help of others who provide support, ideas, and suggestions. These grieving folks often struggle when the support begins to evaporate and they are forced to function more fully and independently. They are usually able to make the transition; it just may take them longer than others would prefer. That might be an important lesson for all the world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; we will make the necessary transitions to cope with a different way of being in the world, but it may take us longer than expected and we may need to find different and creative ways to accomplish things.


Living out our grief in a snow globe is difficult. However, if we work hard to find the balance of feelings, support and growth, the shaking is not so traumatic and we are able to find peace. That is not to say grief will not ‘shake up’ our lives again. But if we do the grief work, tell the story, feel and express our feelings, we are better equipped to find peace and settle into the new ways of being.

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