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  • Writer's pictureRyne

SimbaCam and the Red Button

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

***This is the first of two posts about Grief and the "Ball in the Box" - Click here for Part II: Tears at Touch Down***

Over the past two-plus years, I have learned more than I ever thought could be learned about grief and grieving. Immediately after Anders’s death, pretty much anything that reminded me of him caused emotions to well up inside and I often found myself on the verge of tears. The more time that has passed, the more feelings have mellowed. The number of times that tears well up has gone down, but it hasn’t gone away.

What I have learned over the past 29 months is that there are situations I can anticipate causing a feeling of sadness and other situations that are unanticipated. I know that going to church is often more emotional than other times in the week. I know that taking Linnea to the doctor has the chance to invoke deep emotions. Driving into the city of Fargo, passing by not only the hospital but also seeing the window of the room where Anders breathed his last breath is often difficult. Birthdays for both Linnea and Elias remind me that I won’t celebrate another birthday of Anders. January 10th, 11th, and 12th bring up memories of my worst days on earth during 2019. Driving home from Bismarck nearly always takes me past the cemetery where Anders’s body is buried.

These are all examples of obvious grief. Obvious grief is something I can prepare for, I can plan for it. We know it might hurt so we are ready when it happens. Tears might be shed, but we are prepared for it.

But then there is the grief that isn't obvious, the pain that sneaks up when grieving someone. The second kind of grief that appears is difficult because it can hit without notice - anytime and anywhere.

So many different explanations of how grief feels circulate to those that are going through it:

"Grief is like the ocean waves."

"Grief is like a heavy weight on your chest."

“Grief is like living two lives. One where you are pretending you are alright, and the other where your heart silently screams in pain.”

"Grief is like being in a bubble and not in the real world."

“Grief is like a moving river in that it is always changing."

“Grief is like having broken ribs. On the outside you look fine, but with every breath, it hurts.”

“Grief is like losing a piece of yourself.”

The illustration that I have identified with most is called the ball in the box. There is a box that has a button, called pain, on one of the walls. There is a ball that is moving around the box. When grief is new, the ball is massive, and as it moves around the box, it hits the button all of the time. Every time it hits the button, pain sets in, and the person hurts. As time goes on, the ball eventually starts to get smaller, but when the ball hits the button, which never changes in size, the pain feels the same.

*images and original content from "Coping with Grief" from PsychCentral*

Identifying the different kinds of grief and sharing how it has affected us has helped us better manage the pain. The pain of the loss, the grief button, will never go away for Rachel and me. On this side of heaven, we will always miss Anders. We are learning how to prepare for the times where we anticipate the ball hitting the button, especially important anniversaries.

Oftentimes, I am by myself when grief catches me off-guard. It might be a picture on my phone, a memory from Facebook, or seeing another baby in an outfit Anders had. But other times, the ball hits the button when I am in public. Seeing babies sleeping in a car seat with their parents in restaurants or stores brings feelings of anxiety to the surface. Seeing or hearing the siren of an ambulance sometimes brings to mind what the scene must have been like at the daycare when they arrived on January 10, 2019.

This past Saturday night was another one of those times. For the past twelve years, I have officiated football. I started out officiating high school football, have officiated college football for seven years, and over the past five years have officiated professional indoor football. This past Saturday, for the second time at an indoor football game, the pain button was pressed again.

One of the first experiences of the ball hitting the button in public was during my first game of officiating football after Anders died. It was early March 2019, and hundreds of people were in the stands. I was hoping that officiating would be my escape from the pain I felt. For a few hours, I would be focusing on the task at hand, officiating my first game of the 2019 season. The crew I am on has been together for over five years now; we know each other not just as officials, but we are supporters of each other in life. This game was the first significant time I had spent with a few of them since the accident.

The pre-game was like previous seasons. We would have pregame stretching on the field, interactions with players and coaches, pregame preparations as a crew, and all the hoopla of lineups and introductions. Things went as usual. I was just an official, on the field, interacting with players and fans, and people didn't see the pain I was feeling inside. It was an escape. I was focused on the task at hand, not thinking about the rollercoaster of the past two months.

But then it happened, the ball hit the button. Timeouts are promotion times during these games as cameras focus on fans in the stands. Team representatives throw free t-shirts, frisbees, and footballs into the stands. The atmosphere is upbeat. People are having a great time. I can feel the music, a Disney classic, easily recognizable by anyone that lived through the 90's…"NANTS INGONYAMA…”

The ball smashed the button.

While the announcer introduced the crowd to the SimbaCam, fans were stumped and didn't know what to do.

I knew what fans were supposed to do, and the emotions poured over me. The SimbaCam would not have affected me had it not been for Thanksgiving break, 2017. Rachel was pregnant with the twins, and we were in Grand Forks with her parents and her brother Matt and his family. Chuck worked at the University of North Dakota and picked up four tickets for the hockey game that Friday night. He gave them to Matt and Rachel so we could go to the game. During one of the game breaks, in a stadium with 10,000 faithful hockey fans, I first witnessed the SimbaCam. People around the arena held up their kids above their heads the same way Rafiki does to Simba. I dreamed with anticipation to hold my son up in a stadium filled with people and show him off like all of the dads were doing around the arena.

I can't remember if I commented out loud, but I certainly remember running the future through my head as I looked at Rachel’s pregnant belly, excited to soon be a dad like all of these other lucky guys.

On that first note, while I was wearing stripes on the football field, I immediately was transported 18 months before to the upper bowl of that hockey game in Grand Forks. By the end of the first note, I realized that I wouldn't hold Anders up for all to see as his shining face lit up the jumbotron. I spent the entire song trying not to let tears flow from my eyes.

I dropped my head and tried not to look around. Thankfully, one of my crewmates was in the area. He knew that something was up with me and approached me. I think he could see it on my face. He asked if I was ok, to which I nodded that I was ok, and then started talking about a play on the previous drive.

The song seemed like it took forever, but I know it was less than a minute. Thankfully, my cheeks stayed dry, but it shook me. All I could think was, why is the SimbaCam being added this year? It was new to the games that season. It hurt.

Last Saturday, the Simba Cam brought me back to that first game of 2019. I thought about the ball in the box and how the ball is much smaller today compared to that March. But the button hasn’t changed. I still feel the pain of loss and the depth of grief. It still hurts just as much, but the smaller ball doesn’t hit the button as often.

For all of you that are grieving the loss of someone you love, I am so deeply sorry. I wish that grief wasn't something present in this life. However, grief is the reality because of the brokenness of humanity. Pain and suffering happen, but there is a God that created us all, who has known us since before he formed the world. And God the creator has experienced the pain you are going through.

When God’s son Jesus was hanging on the cross and died, God cried out in pain. An earthquake rattled Jerusalem, the curtain of the temple tore in two, and the skies - in the middle of the afternoon - went dark for three hours. A ball hit God's button; God hurt over the pain and loss of His son. But Jesus was raised from the dead so that we have a hope and future. Jesus' death on the cross defeated death for all of eternity.

While the death and resurrection of Jesus can't take away the pain and suffering that grief brings on earth, His resurrection gives those that believe in Him hope for the future. For Rachel and I, even though walking this life without Anders is difficult, we have hope in a future in heaven and our chance to see him again. But there are some days that we need to cry. There will be days when a ball will hit the button and the pain will feel just as new as January 2019. Working through the grief together has brought us closer together as a couple and brought us each closer to God who loves us immeasurably more than we can imagine.


* Follow along with my writing journey by following @RyneJungling on Instagram or Mission Anders on Facebook.

***This is the first of two posts about Grief and the "Ball in the Box" - Click here for Part II: Tears at Touch Down***


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