Holy Week 20201 – Tuesday – Bargaining

So far in trying to understand our feelings of grief after a year of the virus and lockdowns we have looked at denial and anger. Today we look at bargaining. This one is likely to happen even before a loss if the person is very unwell. An example I read was , please God, I will never be angry with my wife ever again if you will just help her recover. But it also happens after a loss, what if I devote my life to helping others and I can wake up and find this all to be a bad dream. We become lost in a maze of what ifs and if onlys. We want life returned to normal, we want our loved ones back, we want restoration.
This is the stage I hear a lot of people talking about. If only we had locked down sooner, if only we had closed our borders earlier. If only we had not allowed so much movement in the summer. What if I had been more diligent. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. In our if onlys we find ourselves at fault and we think we could have acted differently. Found the tumour sooner, recognised the illness more quickly, not stretched the rules to go visit a relative.
There is an example of this in Holy Week. We read it in Matthew 21
Jesus curses a fig-tree
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.

20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig-tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.

21 Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’
The story of the fig tree is a strange one. What if the tree had supplied fruit? Yet how could a tree have fruit in the spring? Is this a case of Jesus being really quite unreasonable? Well not really, for in the spring, if a fig tree is going to have fruit in the autumn, there are little pre-fruits, which are edible, if really hungry. If the tree was going to produce fruit, it would have had these to feed Jesus and to provide a sign of fruitfulness. If only, if only……
Howard insisted that he and his wife go for a walk each day. He was sure it would ward off alzheimers and generally give them a healthier life. Millie was getting tired of it. Surely a day off would not hurt? Couldn’t they go a little later that day. But no, this was Howard’s routine and they were going to stick to it. The trouble was on this day that Millie was being so reluctant, a stolen car came rushing round the corner and killed Millie and injured Howard. Howards did not know this at first. Please God, let Millie live, I’ll never make her do something she doesn’t wat to do again. I’ll be a better person, I’ll do more volunteering, please God just leet her live. Then once the news came through that she had died in the operating room, please God let all this be as dream. What if I hadn’t made her go. What if we had waited until later. What if I had not read that stupid article on the benefits of walking. Bargaining was his escape from the pain and a distraction from the reality of life without his wife. For six months denial, anger, particularly aimed at the car thieves and bargaining were a constant companion. He would move around the three of them almost like a dance, they were his constant companions until depression and eventually acceptance slowly took over. Bargaining can be an important reprieve from pain that occupies your grief, you never really believe the bargaining but it does give a little relief.
In other cases it helps the mind move from one state of loss to another. It helps to keep suffering at a distance when we have no emotional strength in ourselves. It allows us to believe that we can restore order to the chaos. Sometimes bargaining also helps us to move from the past to the future. We might bargain that we can see our loved ones in heaven, we might bargain for a respite from the illnesses that have beset our family, we might bargain that surviving family stay fit and healthy.
For us now, in our loss, in our grieving over the past year we might be bargaining hoping to see loved ones we have not seen in months. We might be bargaining that we can get away on a summer holiday, or that long awaited cruise. This is an important process so do not shy away from it because as we work through it we will eventually come to realise that this past year with all the pain, all the suffering and all the separation has gone and we cannot bring it back, we cannot give it another go and the reality will sink in and that will lead to depression, not clinical depression but an overwhelming sense of what we have lost. But that is for us to explore tomorrow.
God bless you all.