The pain is very real. It comes and goes in waves. It is getting a little easier with each passing day.
It is real grieving. It is okay to admit. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a part of life.
People grieve. People grieve after the loss of a loved one, a friend, a beloved pet, a cherished relationship, a cherished famous celebrity, a cherished team athlete, etc.
Am I the only one whose heart is aching terribly now after the loss of our much-beloved and iconic Peyton Manning? By the comments I've seen around the Facebook pages and forums, I am not the only one.
Then why do I feel I have to be almost ashamed to admit that I'm grieving?
I know there must be others who feel the same way.
Well, I am here to say it is okay to grieve in this without being ashamed.
My grieving process started a few months ago after the end of our season -- when our loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars sealed our clinching the 1st overall pick in the 2012 draft.
The presiding presumption is that the Indianapolis Colts will select Andrew Luck, QB from Stanford, with the 1st pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. This made it more unlikely that the Colts would agree to pay the $28 million option on Manning's contract on March 8th -- I knew that in my head. Most of the sports analysts and writers here in Indy knew that. Yet despite my grieving 'in layers' these past few months, the pain of the reality has been more than expected.
These are the 'Five Stages of Grieving' as identified by Elisabeth Kübller Ross. I have identified my process through these stages:
DENIAL: It is still so surrreal when hearing these final words to the Indianapolis Colts fans from Peyton Manning as he said good bye:
But I have thought about where I've been and I've truly been blessed to play here, I've been blessed to play in the NFL and as I go, I go with just a few words left to say, a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere: Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.
Every time I think of this good bye, I admit I have to fight the tears... still.
ANGER: Yes, it is best if we can pin the blame on someone for this whole situation. We want to be angry with Jim Irsay, but the reality is he made the best decision for the team. This team could not even win more than two games without Manning at QB the entire 2011 season. Yes, we had many injuries that impacted our personnel situation. The reality is the existing team was aging, and the team desperately needs cap space to even be able to handle the upcoming draft.
The reality is that this Colts team must be re-built. We can be angry with Manning, but how can he help that he suffered a neck injury back in 2006 that plagued him for years?
I suppose we can be angry with the Polians for not planning better with a decent back-up QB for Manning. What were they thinking, anyway? Well, Manning has been such a durable quarterback, and he had never missed a single start in his career until the 2011 season. That is 208 starts without missing a single one!
I always knew in my heart that without Manning, our team would likely be winning at best 50% of their games. The QB cannot be expected to carry an entire team, as often seemed the case for Manning.
BARGAINING: This is where we are/were begging for the owner, Jim Irsay, to work out a deal with Manning to do everything possible to keep him, push back his option date, give him more time to heal -- months yet, before making a decision.
But in reality, is that really fair to Manning? Why would he really want to remain with a team that is clearly re-building for the next 2-3 years? Shouldn't he have a fair chance to hit the market before the free agents hit the market? Yes, it is best that Manning is now free to make his next move to finish up the final 4, 5 or more years of his playing career.
I expect to see Manning playing in 2012 and am happy for him. It sure will be very strange to see him suited up in a different uniform. I just want to see him play! Please let us see the great Manning in top form again!
DEPRESSION: The reality hit me this past Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. when I saw ESPN's announcement that the Colts will be making the formal announcement at a News Conference on Wednesday, March 7th at noon: The Colts will be releasing Peyton Manning.
This still sounds so surreal to me! This is when the tears flowed uncontrollably for some time. The inevitable is going to happen. What I had feared might happen is really going to come to pass. Sad days are ahead in Indianapolis. The entire city is grieving. The entire State of Indiana is grieving. Colts fans everywhere are grieving.
The great memories that my family has shared together for more than a decade of Indianapolis Colts games with Manning will be cherished forever.
I thank my son, Nick Huffman (then 14), journalism student (sports) for requesting that I watch Indianapolis Colts football games with him starting in the 2000 season after we arrived back in the Indianapolis area. They were difficult years for me as a single mother with three children, ages 15, 14 and 10 when we moved back to the United States from Brazil in June 2000.
I enjoyed our very early morning drives together to the Marsh grocery store in Noblesville before school to get our Colts posters in those early years of making the playoffs with Manning.
I cherish the memories of the great comebacks. The most memorable ones include Monday Night Football with our Colts at Tampa Bay on October 6, 2003. It was a tense situation with our Colts down 35-14 with only 4 minutes left in regulation. But we all knew that it was possible. We prayed it could happen. What is now known as one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, Manning rallied our team back for an upset victory with a score of 38-35.
Coming back from behind in the 2nd half to beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at the RCA Dome in Indy in January 2007 -- sending us to the Super Bowl for the first time! Oh yes, the memories of one of the greatest rivaliries of all time: Colts vs. Patriots in the decade of 2001-2010. We will cherish these memories forever!
ACCEPTANCE: We hoped that somehow Manning would make another upset victory and miraculously overcome these terrible circumstances that eventually brought about the inevitable: separation from the Colts by release to free agency.
Peyton Manning is still able to play football. He loves the game, loves being quarterback more than any other. Manning is not ready to retire. He deserves to be with a team that is ready to win in the twilight years of his career -- the Colts will be re-building for at least 2 years.
It will be very strange to see Manning play in another uniform. But that is better than not being able to see him play ever again.
I believe my next step in acceptance will come once Peyton has officially signed with another team. I will cheer him on. I'm excited about seeing him back in his glory again -- I will always be a Manning fan. But I will also always be a Colts fan -- we bleed blue for our Colts here.
The reality is that we will not even recognize the face of the Colts next season. It will be all new. It will be Andrew Luck calling the shots in his rookie year, just as Manning did in his rookie year in 1998. Manning threw for 24 touchdowns and 28 interceptions on the season with a record of 3-13. Not great, but about average for a rookie quarterback. We can hope to have a 3-13 season next year, but surely should not expect much better than that.
One thing for certain in my mind is nothing will ever replace the Manning Era with the Indianapolis Colts.
Nothing will replace what Manning has meant to Indianapolis. It was such a special time that we will remember and cherish forever.
We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a glorious run and experience live games over the years, but most often enjoyed them at home on the big screen TV.
My long and tiring work weeks as a single mother of three were livable because we had Indianapolis Colts football to look forward to: from watching for results from the Combine in February, to the Draft days in late April, following their progress at various camps during the summer, then Pre-Season football, and of course Fantasy Football has been a tradition for the past 7 years.
Thank you, Peyton Manning, for such wonderful memories. I will cherish them forever. We truly loved having you as our quarterback!
We do have to look forward now as Colts fans. It will be a new team, which is still quite a shock when I think about it. Who even had a clue just one year ago that we would be in this situation now -- no one would have believed it! Now we have seen the complete dismantling of what we have known to be our Indianapolis Colts for much of the past decade.
I look forward to the draft in late April and realize this is a new beginning, a re-branding of the Indianapolis Colts.
It is change that makes us feel uneasy and uncertain.
It is change that may eventually bring our team back to the glory days -- time will tell.
I have found it to be very healing in writing this post about my grieving. If you found this blog, and you are also grieving the loss of Peyton Manning, I hope this will encourage you to do the same!
A fun exercise for the family might be to have each write an essay about Manning, sharing their experience through the five steps, what they would want to say to him, their thoughts, etc. Then plan a time one evening to take turns reading your essays with the family and share the memories. This may help to ease the pain over time. Some children (and adults) may not even be able to talk about their pain just yet.
Also know that grieving is very individual and unique. It does help to recognize the 5 stages and to just be there to let your loved ones know you are ready to listen once they want to talk. Encourage them to write about their thoughts and feelings, if they cannot yet talk about them.
This applies to any sports fans out there dealing with loss at any time, whether it be in the playoffs, the loss of a player (injury, retirement, trade, free agency, death), loss of a team, etc.
Yes, the pain is real. It is okay to grieve. It is healthy to allow yourself to grieve. In time, there is healing.