Bargaining, something we do in a bunch of ways every day. Some times I even bargain with my alarm, “If I get 5 more minutes of good sleep I won’t hit snooze again.” We all know that some bargains just don’t work (like my dumb alarm). However, that doesn’t stop us from trying, or at least thinking about it.

The bargaining process, just like everything else we’ve discussed, is unique for each person. For those who are religious, some try to strike a deal with God. This can be a double edged sword, and I mean that in every sense. This is one of those things that can either help or harm. For some this can help strengthen their faith, and others, well, not so much. Grief and faith can either work well together, or the grief can drive a wedge. Everyone responds differently, and we have to make a decision on how we want to move forward with that.

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Bargaining is one of those stages that so many of us don’t think too much about. The problem is that it can effect us just as much, if not more, than the other stages. During this time, it is the questions, the “what if…,” and for some, the questioning of faith that can take us to such a low point.

Bargaining and the “What if?” Questions

The “what if I would have done…” or any other ‘woulda-coulda-shoulda’ comments and questions are some of the most horrible parts of this stage. As I’ve said in previous posts, the grief process is an ebb and flow, and this stage is no exception. As we go through it, and each time thereafter, bargaining can change. Some of us question our faith, some will fall deeper upon it, and for others, faith won’t play a part. There are those that will run through every thought and decision they can think of up to the point of loss, and second guess all of it. There are those that will come up with situations of how they could have ‘saved the day.’ Each time we cycle through, it can change, be shorter, longer, and every change in between.

Now, in all honesty, this is really the hardest stage of the grief process for me to write about. I’ve dealt with the religious side of things, the non-religious aspect, and I’ve conjured a million different “what if” questions. What if I would have held my son at that moment? Another one for me: What if I would have woken him up from his nap earlier? What if I would have put him down for a nap at a different time?

Those questions I have to fight with, not all the time any more, but I still have my moments. I still cycle through the stages of grief, and this stage is no exception. I have had a lot to learn about handling these questions when they start to pop into my head.

Bargaining: How do you handle it?

There’s an easy answer, and then the real answer. The easy answer, is that you ‘realize’ that you can’t change the past, therefore these questions are moot. While that’s the easy answer to say and in theory, in practice I can’t honestly say it would work. Granted, that’s my opinion, but I’ve yet to see it happen thus far. Besides, anything easy usually isn’t worth it, and anything worth it usually isn’t easy.

So, on to the ‘real’ answer. Day by day, moment by moment, you learn to fight against those things. You learn ways to allow yourself to work through each of those questions. Every part of the grief process is important, including bargaining. We have to acknowledge and (once again) own the feelings. We’re not giving validity to the questions, we’re just acknowledging how we feel. We have to do that, we owe it to ourselves, to our grief, and to the memory of our lost loved one.

There is a huge difference between validity and acknowledgement. When you give validity to something like a question, you give it power. Giving those ‘what if’ questions any kind of power will tear you apart. I’ve fought it, watched others fight it, and I’ve seen others lose the battle. When you let that power sink in, that is a spiral that can drag you down like a whirlpool. Acknowledging it however, gives those questions no power.

When you acknowledge them, you take their power. By doing so, you start learning ways to cope with each of those questions. There’s the pattern, you take away the power of the things that can harm you, and you learn to cope. Notice I didn’t say ‘get over it.’ When it comes to grief and strong emotions in general, you don’t ‘get over’ things. You learn coping skills, tricks, and ways to handle self care. Those are the important aspects of the grieving process.


This week, take a moment. Just breathe, relax, and take a moment for you. I truly believe that when going through the bargaining stage of the grief process, finding that moment for yourself can be the hardest. So, since that’s what we discussed, I think it is better to take a pause.

As always, we would love to hear from you. If there is something you’d like to tell us, share with us, or even ask; please feel free to comment below or you can contact us. Own your journey, and we will catch you on the flip side.

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