Grief is a strange emotion. It’s hard to pin down, it’s hard to explain. Grief is also something you don’t think much about unless you or someone you know is going through it.
With my team, the Montreal Canadiens, being eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Monday night, I’m finally facing the stages of grief that go along with being eliminated from Cup contention. It’s a hard road, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me but I thought I would take a look at how the process works. Even if your team has already been eliminated (or didn’t make the playoffs at all), you might still be caught up in some of these stages. Even though the stages are presented in linear order, you might be in more than one stage at a time, or you might experience them in a different order, but everyone goes through them at some point.
Stage 1: Denial
This didn’t happen, did it? My team is still going to be playing playoff hockey even though it’s 90F (32C) here today, right? If I don’t read the articles, if I don’t talk to other fans, then it isn’t real. This stage will take awhile for me. I’m avoiding reading about it in the paper. I’m avoiding my favourite website. I’m avoiding (as much as possible) talking to other fans. I’m even staying off Twitter because I can’t handle facing the possibility that Monday night wasn’t just a horrible nightmare. For some, this stage might be quicker – especially if you were already resigned to losing before it happened (as at least some Sharks fans were). If you were not prepared for the loss (I think many Caps, Pens, and Bruins fans might fall into this one), this stage might be longer.
Stage 2: Anger
Oh boy. This one is VERY familiar to hockey fans. I think that Stage 2 can overlap a bit with Stage 1. I know that I lashed out a bit last night in anger with a bit of an uncharacteristically nasty tweet. It really isn’t in my nature to be angry or to hate on the opponent, but it’s hard not to immediately following elimination. There is a burning core inside of me that wants nothing more than to see the Flyers LOSE and LOSE BADLY in the SCF. I think everyone experiences anger to different degrees – it can be physical, like punching walls, or verbal, as is the case with spewing vitriol towards the team that eliminated your team. It’s easier to be angry at the victorious opponent than to turn inwards and examine why your team lost. That will come later…
Stage 3: Bargaining
This stage definitely happened for me before the demise of my team. I have never been superstitious, but somehow these playoffs turned me into a crazy lunatic who had to do things a certain way – wear a certain thing, eat a certain meal, do tequila shots for goals in elimination games (hey, it worked 5 times!)… If I could do everything right, then my team would come through for me. There was begging, there was wishing, and there was praying. I would do whatever it would take if it meant that my team would win another game. Of course, in hockey, this stage is both the most familiar while also being the most futile. What I do in the comfort of my living room has exactly ZERO effect on the outcome. But I still do it, and I still worry when I have to deviate from my carefully composed plan. Maybe the Canadiens lost because I was in Toronto and was unable to make my customary visit to The Rocket in The Forum before games. Maybe I wore the wrong player on my back. Maybe I drank the wrong drink. These thoughts won’t stop running through my head!
Stage 4: Depression
This one hit pretty much immediately for me. I think it’s going to be a constant companion as I work through my playoff elimination grief. I love this team in a way that only other hockey fans can understand. My boys played with so much heart and desire, knocking off two powerhouse teams before hitting a brick wall. Even though they overachieved in everyone’s eyes, it’s still sad that their run is over. When I thought of those guys packing up their gear and leaving the Bell Centre, I got a bit weepy. I won’t get to watch any more Habs games on RDS (the French commentary is so much more exciting than in English!). I won’t get together with other Habs fans to cheer on the team (until the fall when it all starts up again). Of course, this all feels very selfish. All I can think about is all the things I won’t have now that the season is over, but I think it’s important to grieve the things I will lose, while still acknowledging that the players on the Habs roster have lost so much more than I did.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The final stage of grieving your teams’ too-early exit from the playoffs is acceptance. It happened. They lost. They will not play another game this season. They will not hoist the Stanley Cup. The other team was victorious, and that’s the way it goes. Of course, there will be fans of 29 teams in this situation, whether it’s because their team didn’t make it into the playoffs, or following playoff elimination. I think that this stage may take some people longer to reach than others. I can understand why it might take some Bruins fans longer – after being so close to victory, it was snatched from their grasp. That had to be a huge disappointment. I would probably run with anger for a while if I were a Bruins fan. But once you do get to the point of acceptance, then the real evaluation of what happened can begin. I’m not ready to examine why the Habs lost. Deep inside, I know why they lost. When I’m ready to accept that they DID lose (since I’m still stuck in Stage 1 over here), then I’ll be ready to talk about it.
How are you dealing with your playoff elimination grief? I’d love to hear how you move on after your team is eliminated.