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Grief is Not Linear: Navigating the Loss of a Loved One

grief is not linear

Grief is a universal human experience that affects us all in one way or another. Although society often portrays grief as a linear process, the reality is that it’s anything but straightforward.

You may have heard that grief follows a five-stage process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – but the truth is that these stages don’t always occur in a neat and tidy order. It’s common to find yourself bouncing between different stages or feeling multiple emotions simultaneously. You may even experience moments of relief or happiness, only to be hit with waves of sadness and emptiness. Sometimes it will feel like you are making progress, while other days it may feel like you have taken ten steps back.

It’s important to recognize that this is completely normal. In this article, we will explore the non-linear grieving process. By accepting that grief is a bumpy journey different for everyone, you can start to navigate this emotional journey with more compassion and self-awareness.

The 5 Stages of Grief 

The stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – were first proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. The five stages of grief, according to the Kubler-Ross model, are as follows:

  • Denial: At this stage, individuals may struggle to accept the reality of the loss. Denial can manifest as a feeling of shock, numbness, or disbelief. It is a defence mechanism employed by the mind to shield itself from the full impact of the loss. 
  • Anger: This stage often brings forth frustration, resentment, or even rage. It is a normal and healthy response to the loss, and it is essential to permit oneself to experience these emotions. Anger may be directed at oneself, others, or even a higher power. 
  • Bargaining: A person may attempt to negotiate with oneself or a higher power to alter the reality of the situation. It is a way to regain control and search for meaning in the loss. 
  • Depression: During this stage, individuals may feel deep sadness, hopelessness, or apathy toward activities that were once enjoyable. 
  • Acceptance: This is the process of acclimatizing to the loss and moving forward. Acceptance is about discovering a new normal and shaping a new future.  It can be empowering and lead to personal growth and resilience.

Understanding the Non-Linear Nature of Grief

While these stages can provide a valuable framework for understanding grief, each stage does not necessarily occur in a predictable order. Grief is a complex emotion that defies easy explanation. It’s common to feel lost and confused when mourning a loss, especially if you believe that grief follows a straightforward path.

The truth is that grief is highly personal and every individual will experience a unique journey. Some people may navigate through all the stages, while others may only go through a few. You may also find yourself revisiting stages or skipping some altogether. There may be days when you feel like you’re making significant headway while others may feel like you have regressed. Although this can be frustrating, it is a natural part of the grieving process.

Coping With Grief

  1. Dealing with the unpredictability of grief can be challenging, but there are ways to cope with the ups and downs of the grieving process. Here are some tips that may help:
  2. Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself is crucial during this difficult time. This might include eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, and engaging in physical activity.  Also, be sure to prioritize activities that fill you with joy and help you to relax.  Example activities include reading, listening to music, or spending time with friends and loved ones.
  3. Seek support: If you are overwhelmed, talking to someone about your emotions can be incredibly cathartic. This person might be a friend, family member, or therapist. Joining a support group can also be helpful, as it allows you to connect with others going through a similar experience.
  4. Accept that grief is unpredictable: Having a bad day or feeling like you’re not progressing is okay. Accepting this fact can help you be more patient and understanding with yourself. Healing takes time and is a journey that may not always follow a straight path.
  5. Create a routine: Having a structured routine can help bring a sense of stability to your life during a time when everything may feel chaotic. This can include regular exercise, meditation, or scheduling time for activities that bring you joy.
  6. Allow yourself to feel your emotions: Grief is an emotional experience, and it’s important to allow yourself to experience your feelings. This can be difficult, but bottling your emotions can prolong the grieving process. Instead, try to acknowledge your feelings and process them in a healthy way.

Remember that everyone’s grieving process is different, and there is no right or wrong way to cope with the unpredictability of grief. What’s most important is finding what works best for you and being kind and patient with yourself as you navigate this difficult journey.

moving forward

Moving Forward

Moving forward with grief can be painful and overwhelming, but finding a way to live with your loss and find joy in life again is possible. Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Keep their memory alive: Remembering your loved one and all the special moments you shared can bring comfort and help you heal. Consider writing about your memories, creating a special memorial, or sharing stories with others who loved them.
  2. Find purpose: Seeking meaning and purpose after your loss can be a powerful tool in the healing process. This might be through honouring their memory, volunteering, or finding a cause that they were passionate about.
  3. Embrace change: Grief often requires letting go of the past and embracing change, which can be difficult but can also bring new opportunities and experiences.
  4. Seek professional help: If you are struggling with grief, try contacting a therapist or counsellor. They can provide support, guidance, and healthy coping strategies as you navigate this challenging journey. 
  5. Surround yourself with love: Surrounding yourself with loved ones who offer support, comfort, and a listening ear can be incredibly healing. This could be family, friends, or a support group. Spending time with people who care about you can help you feel less alone and bring hope during a time when you may feel lost.

Remember, grieving is a deeply personal process and there is no right or wrong way to approach or move through it. Moving forward takes time and patience, but with understanding and support, you can find a way to heal and live a life full of meaning and joy.


Grief can be overwhelming, with every day bringing a new wave of emotions, but it is vital to remember that this is a natural and necessary aspect of healing. The grieving process is not linear. 

It is essential to allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that come with loss.

While the road to healing can be long, know that you are not alone. Many resources are available to support you, whether through therapy, the love and comfort of family and friends, or discovering a sense of purpose that brings meaning to your life.

So be patient with yourself and embrace the journey, even in its unpredictability. Remember that with time and self-compassion, healing is possible.

Veritas Psychotherapy & Counselling offers in-person therapy In Orillia and Huntsville for all ages. Online therapy is available across Ontario.