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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 42 - Stages of Grief: Bargaining

"Just get me through this, God, and I'll become a priest!"

It's hard to say how many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines said those words, or something very similar.

A lot of them didn't enter the priesthood...but a surprising number did, and accounted for something of a boom in priestly vocations and calls to the ministry after the end of the Second World War. (For an example, read the story of Sgt. Jim Revell in John Toland's masterful Battle: The Story of the Bulge.)

What this is is bargaining. It's offering God something - in this case one's future life - in exchange for having a future life, and in 1969 Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross formally recognized this as the 'middle stage' in her model of the grieving process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (the DABDA model).

None of us want the change in life that a terminal illness brings; both the patient and the caregiver would far prefer that the cup would pass from them, untasted. At least for now.

And so, bargaining. It sounds a bit crude...I mean, how does one strike a bargain with the Almighty?

But looking deeper, it's a very human response, and one that should be both recognized and valued.

It's not silly. It's not stupid. And it's not futile.

Generally, those with a terminal diagnosis will bargain from the standpoint of lifestyle; they will identify - rightly or wrongly - something they did that they feel caused the problem, and vow never to do it again, in the hope that it's still worth closing the barn door after the horse has gone.

Quitting smoking may not eradicate one's lung cancer, but it can improve the remaining moths or years...and it sets a good example.

And that is really the point, because when we bargain, we recognize that there's something in our life that shouldn't be there...but we hold onto it anyway. It may be smoking, drinking, gambling...whatever it is, what we're doing is offering up our sins in exchange for a blessing.

The blessing we want is a temporal deliverance from the affliction, but the blessing we get may be far more valuable.

Because the thing we're now, at last ready to give up is generally what is causing the largest breach in our relationship to the Almighty.

This works for the caregiver, as well, though perhaps a bit differently in specifics...usually, bargaining comes from the feeling that one didn't appreciate the time with the patient nearly well enough.

"Just a few more months or years, Lord, that's all I ask...please let me make it right."

And that is the key to making it right now.

So you see, bargaining can work. It can give us the opportunity to lay down the chains that have hobbled our souls, and receive into those now empty hands a measure of grace.

Severe grace, to be sure...the outcome may not be changed by bargaining.

But we are.

(I've tried to make this post as accessible as possible to those of all beliefs...while I am a Christian and write from that perspective, I do not want anyone to come away feeling put aside, but the bargaining part of DABDA is almost exclusively connected to a relationship - of some sort - with a Higher Power, even if that power is made manifest in 'fate'; bargaining has to be a two-way street, for it to be significant in this application. That said, I would appreciate any comments or suggestions for improving the outreach of this subject.)

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  1. Gosh, your writing is getting better and deeper and more powerful, Andrew! I'm grateful that God is granting you energy and focus to put forth such great stuff, man. What a legacy you're building here!

    1. Thanks, Linda! In a way they get harder to write, because I have to really face some things one might prefer avoiding.

      And yes...God is giving me the strength to go one, when sometimes - ike now - I don't know quite HOW to.

      I see more clearly...this is what I'm here for.

  2. I think of so many iconic stories of bargaining--from biblical examples like king Hezekiah bargaining for his life to Jesus asking for this "cup" to pass to fictional examples like Ebenezer Scrooge begging for his life and getting that lovely second chance. It truly is something within the DNA of humans--a longing to live and live. But you, Andrew, have made each "extra" day, which I'm convinced God has given you, so much more valuable and legacy-defining! Thank you for that gift to us! Praying that God gives you many more days to share with each of us!

    1. Wow...I'm in good company, having my name in the same paragraph as those dudes.

      I think you're right, that it is written into our DNA. I suppose my bargain with God is that I'll accept that which is happening without complaint if He will keep me going, despite the symptoms.

      And thank you so much for your presence here, and the prayers!

  3. Yeah, that bargaining, Andrew! I've done that myself in a few different circumstances! Did it work? Not really sure, but as you said, it DOES bring it to our attention and perhaps DOES make us a better person for it?! Who knows?!

    Appreciate that you recognize that not all people are Christian; I also am a Christian, but so many people are not...if only everybody lived their life recognizing there ARE differences!

    I agree with Linda above that your writing is getting better...you have words to share with your readers; and God IS giving you the energy, focus, words...whatever it takes; He is allowing you to share these posts for us!

    Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your words!! Prayers...continue!

    1. That God is giving me the endurance to keep going is really all that I can ask of Him. It's such a privilege, sharing these...even when the topic's hard, and cuts close to the bone.

      I worked with people of many different faiths in my life, and when I was teaching I had to be something of an authority on the Qu'ran; we had many Muslim students, and when they were discouraged it did them no end of good to talk with a professor who would speak the same language, so to speak.

      Thank you for being here, and for the prayers...they really, really help.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Andrew. My uncle is losing his battle with cancer and the days are short. My prayers have been altered from a miracle to heal him, which know He can do,to the miracle of making His days better and painless and clearer so that he lives every day still sowing seeds of the grace and joy God has put in His heart.

    Your words are a help to see things from a perspective very close to his own.
    Thank you for continuing to write as you process and progress through each day.

    1. Dawn, my heart and my prayers go out to you, and to your uncle.

      I'm honoured to be able to help you. Truly.

      Yours in Christ, and in Hope - Andrew