Stages of Grief – Bargaining

“Bargaining is when you wish, pray or hope that your loved one will be saved in exchange for something”

The Bargaining stage is your mind’s way of protecting you, a coping mechanism, from facing the reality of a world without your loved one in it and can feel like despair and anxiety all rolled into one stage.

This stage is defined by your struggle to retain a sense of control as you grieve. In some cases, particularly when a terminal diagnosis is given, our brain cannot process the depth of emotional turmoil, and we need to explore all other options before we are willing to concede to the diagnosis given.

Self blame, “what if’s” and buying time are all parts of this stage.

When I spoke to the coroner after my mother’s autopsy, one of the things he said stuck with me. He said that three out of four of my mum’s arteries were completely blocked and the fourth was 50% blocked and he could not believe that she did not show any symptoms prior to her death.

For months, his words ran around my head and fed my self-blame;

“how did I not notice anything was wrong?”

“If I had tried harder to make my mum give up smoking, would this have saved her?”

“Why didn’t I make a doctor’s appointment for her when she said she didn’t feel well weeks earlier?”

The reality of the situation is that nothing I did would have changed the outcome, because my mum had the autonomy to make choices and she did not choose to make any of those changes herself.

Bargaining can take the form of:

  • Offering to be a better person, either by volunteering somewhere or donating money to a “good cause” if your emotional pain is taken away.
  • Offering yourself in place of someone else as they don’t deserve to be in their position.
  • Bargaining with a “higher power” for healing or a miracle.

I have to confess that, looking back I seemed to slip back into the bargaining stage more in the first year after my mother died, than at any other grieving period.  I suffered a great deal in the first year with unresolved grief, not being able to say goodbye, worrying about whether my mum suffered, where she was now. This was also compounded by a miscarriage 8 months after burying my mother, the baby was a complete surprise, and for me, symbolised a gift from my mum, something that would give me some joy back in my life.

I became consumed with searching for a sign that my mum and baby were ok and were happy together. I bargained with higher powers to give me a sign, a dream, a feather, anything to let me see both of them one last time. Those people around me at this time were well-meaning and suggested that “my mum was looking down and was proud of me” but these comments only served to fuel my anger. I wanted to believe them, but part of me couldn’t understand why, if my mum could see how much pain I was in, then did she not just give me one visit.

Something for us to be mindful of, is during grief, particularly in the bargaining phase, people are looking for anything to hold onto and those people who are supporting their friends, family or loved ones through grief need to be aware of the impact that words or phrases can have on a soul that is temporarily lost.

We want to bring comfort to those who are grieving, which is why we search for the right words to say, but in some situations, there are no words and all people need is someone to sit beside them while they grieve.