Bargaining has always been a tougher phase of grief for me to recognize in my own life. When people think about bargaining in the context of grief, people oftentimes think of the “what if’s” “What if I had just gotten there sooner?” “What if I had gone to the doctor earlier?” The hard thing about that in our current context, is that outside of stocking up on toilet paper sooner, there is nothing that we personally could have done differently. Everyone I know, including myself, had no idea the upheaval that Covid-19 would cause.
But I think if we pause and look a little closer we can see how much bargaining is playing out in our daily lives. Think of bargaining as the subtle slope that starts to bring us back to reality. Denial and anger keep us outside of reality. When we are in denial we don’t believe anything has changed. Anger is just chaotic. We lash out and we don’t really even know why. All we know is we are angry and anyone who gets in our way is going to be the object of our wrath. Bargaining starts to bring us down to reality. We start to realize that yes, things have changed. We start to get small glimpses of our new reality. But as we enter back in, we try to enter back in on our own terms. We cling to the illusion that we still have a sense of control. We bargain. We make trade offs. We create boundaries.
As I’ve slowly started to move out of anger, these are a few ways I’ve seen bargaining play out. Here are some of the bargains I’ve made.
-Even though I’m autoimmune, I won’t get Covid-19. I take really good care of myself. I will wear a mask, but only if I go to the store.
-I can’t totally isolate, so I decided to go on walks with someone outside of my immediate family each day.
-I have made a schedule that I stick to each day (I’m not working).
-I have a list of projects to finish.
These ideas and practices are not wrong within themselves. In fact they have served as helpful coping mechanisms for me over the last several weeks.
The question then is, where is the line between healthy coping mechanisms and unresolved grief that I need to process through?
For me, I’m starting to recognize the difference between the two by noting how I respond when I’m asked to step out of the boundaries I have created. Are my boundaries rigid or flexible?
Let me give you a few examples.
As I mentioned earlier, I am autoimmune and therefore more susceptible to getting Covid-19. I may not be as cautious as some would like me to be, but I’ve created boundaries that are working for me. I still go on walks with people that are outside of my immediate family. I need the social outlet. Some people may not think that is wise and some people have told me so. How I react to people’s comments is telling. Do I respond with listening ears and a receptive heart? Or do I get defensive and angry when people question my boundaries? My response will speak volumes of the state of my grief.
If I respond from a place of anger or defensiveness, there is a good chance I feel like someone is threatening my boundaries. We cling to and defend those rigid boundaries because they have created for us a sense of control.
If I respond with grace and humility there is a good chance that I have flexibility around my boundaries. I take time to consider if I need to adjust my current boundaries (which might mean less physical flexibility) and make changes as necessary.
What about how you use your time? What if you are confronted about that? I feel like people are living in two extremes: they are so overwhelmed by everything they become paralyzed and therefore can’t do anything. Or, people are so disoriented, they can’t stop doing things. The hustle keeps them from dealing with their current reality. I tend to do the latter. I figure if I keep on moving, I don’t have to deal with the deep despair I am afraid I would experience if I slowed down. How do I respond when that is questioned?
Do I get angry and explode and say things like “at least I’m doing something?” Or do I respond and say “Yes, you are probably right, I need to take a break. I need to adjust my boundaries.”
I would love to spare you some pain. Control is an illusion. I’ve wasted years of my life to try to prove otherwise. For a long time after my liver transplant I thought I had accepted my new reality. I hadn’t. What I had done was create a reality with boundaries that worked for me, a reality that felt safe and secure. But it was all an illusion. It was incredibly beautiful, disorienting and painful when that world crumbled. But I’m so glad it did, because I finally got to see what I had been missing all along.
The same thing is true in our current context. As we continue on our grief journey and start to get glimpses of our new reality, it will be tempting to try to enter in on our own terms. Our natural instinct will be to create our own world that feels safe and secure, a reality that gives us the sense of being in control. That world cannot sustain us and will crumble under pressure. That world may feel safe, but don’t stay there. You will miss out. Because on the other side of grief, there is a big world waiting. It is a world that God created with all of time in his sight. It is a world full of adventure, sorrow, joy and pain. But we can have peace as we experience all those things, because we know we live in a world that God created and holds in the palms of his hands.
Because there is more,