The 5 stages of grief as identified by Dr Elisabeth Kubler Ross are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages can become ways that both the dying and their loved ones cope with the long journey ahead. We have looked at denial and anger in previous posts. All the stages are well traveled before a person’s death and may be seen again by loved ones after their death. One can travel back and forth through them, or not, as one needs. But, if God could, just this once perhaps, choose to take you instead of your loved one, as you would gladly offer up your own life in trade, then bargain made.
Bargaining is an attempt to negotiate your way out of the inevitable. If only you could find the right offering that would satisfy your higher power into rescinding or at least postponing the inevitable death on the looming horizon. A patient of mine with amputated legs and significant wound traumas on his body pleaded with me daily to call his oncologist to schedule ‘just one more round of chemo’. His oncologist no longer took his calls. When I made the call for him, the office nurse told me ‘ I know he is convinced that this is the round that will finally work, but it’s like the doctor told him, his cancer is too far advanced. Please tell him to stop calling.’
I met one daughter at the hospice house whose mother had been admitted not long after a fall in which she broke her arm. Within a couple days of the fall her mother had suffered a rapid decline which the doctors had attributed to her advanced age of 90. Her mother was unresponsive but showed signs of pain when staff repositioned or performed personal care. Her daughter refused to allow staff to give her mother any medication of any kind thinking it would kill her. ‘If you can’t medicate her then she can’t die.’
And then there was the mother of a teenage girl who told me “if I can just make it to her high school graduation then I will be ready.” The grandmother who said “please let me make it through this one last Christmas.” The husband who stopped drinking ‘because I made a promise with God so that Beth would be spared’.
It is very difficult facing the reality of death. It doesn’t go away when you deny its’ existence. It doesn’t go away no matter how angry you get. And when you start to be overwhelmed with the fact that death didn’t budge an inch while your rage erupted, in fact it crept closer and closer, your mind thinks that well, maybe, you can strike a deal, find some offering that will satisfy death’s demands, and the search for the right bargain begins.