ATHENS — Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief as introduced by Swedish psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. As a Georgia football fan, in what stage are you, in the wake of the Bulldogs’ crushing loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game?
Grief, usually associated with death, also can be associated with other forms of loss, including a job, a marriage or those that occur in sporting events of great magnitude — particularly those of the excruciatingly painful variety.
Georgia’s 26-23 loss to the Crimson Tide, which ended suddenly in overtime on a 46-yard touchdown pass, qualifies as such a loss.
“Feelings of grief and loss and sadness from a loss like this are legitimate,” said Janet Frick, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. “Obviously it was as close as a game could possibly get; it really could have gone either way.”
Frick, in addition to being a psychology professor, also happens to be a faculty-appointed member of the UGA Athletics Association board of directors. That means she was at all the Bulldogs’ games last season, including the championship game.
“I’m still grieving,” she said. “Either team could have legitimately won that game. There’s no way that the outcome could have been any closer. And then it was over.”
And so, Georgia fans grieve. But not necessarily in the way Kübler-Ross taught us.
Once widely accepted worldwide, the five-stage theory actually is considered outdated and unscientific today, according to Frick. That is not to say denial and anger and depression aren’t still considered a part of the grieving process. They very much are. It’s just not thought to be in any kind of linear pattern as was once taught.
“The whole idea of you have stages of grief you work through, in scientific circles we don’t ascribe to that anymore,” Frick said. “That’s kind of a helpful model for people, but there’s not a lot of actual scientific support for that because all of those feelings are normal reactions to grief. You can move back and forth from one to another and the time frame can differ very much from one person to the next.”
Anger seems to be a prevalent emotion currently being shared by Georgia fans. It’s directed at the officials, who made at least five calls — or non-calls — that adversely affected the Bulldogs.
So most fans, such as Frick, still aren’t over the loss. Others are just starting to move on. Others say they have moved on and are focused on what they believe is a positive future under Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs just closed on the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in country and have the top-ranked class for 2019, so far.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is we never really get over such losses, Frick said.
“What we do know about the [grieving] process now is that we don’t necessarily get over a significant loss,” she said. “We learn to live with it. We learn how to move forward with that experience.
“But 50 years from now, those young men may still look back on it and go, ‘If only we had gotten that offsides call’ or ‘If this or that hadn’t happened…’ When it’s a significant loss like that, you don’t ever get over it. You might get to the point where it doesn’t sting as much to think about it.”
So what should UGA fans do?
“The healthy process of grief happens when we accept the feelings that we have and we process them with other people who are also feeling the same way,” Frick said. “Then we’re able to turn toward the positive memories and focus on the parts that were uplifting and enjoyable and be able to see it in the whole, big picture and not just the last second of the last game.”