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Daniel Bryan's Retirement As Told Through The Five Stages of Grief

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"You will not ‘get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to."

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler    

I suppose I should begin with the following: this isn't about the death of a wrestler. I guess it's about the loss of one man's career ending far too soon, but ending just in time so he can begin a new chapter in his life.

As I write this, it's been 12 hours and 20 minutes since Daniel Bryan announced via Twitter that his career was over. After his retirement speech now about two hours ago, I've finally...albeit reluctantly...accepted it. Daniel Bryan has wrestled for the very last time. Daniel Bryan is dead. Long live Bryan Lloyd Danielson. And now, we must move forward.

But it safe to say we've all experienced the Five Stages of Grief in the 12 and a half hours since Daniel Bryan dropped the announcement on Twitter, an announcement that's been retweeted over 46,000 times. Liked nearly 49,000 times. Both will probably cross the 50,000 mark by the time you see this post. Maybe you're still going through the process. Maybe you're not at all. We as humans grieve differently. I'll simply tell you about my experience.

Stage 1: Denial

My first reaction to the announcement was shock. Utter shock. It really came out of nowhere. Like a certain move from a certain professional wrestler from St. Louis, Missouri. My second reaction was I hope his Twitter account was hacked. I refused to believe it. Besides, it's wrestling, and there's two things I've learned from my lifetime of wrestling fandom: (1) everything's a work until proven otherwise, and (2) retirements don't stick. Case in point: Terry Funk. He first retired when I was four. I'll be 37 in three months. He's still wrestling.

Stage 2: Anger

Then as I read through the posts on here and other sites and Twitter and Facebook, I remember... hey, didn't this guy get the okay from like a dozen or so doctors? They're only holding him out because they're in a lawsuit with CM Punk. They're holding him out so he doesn't go elsewhere. I knew Vince McMahon always had it out for him. He's probably having a good laugh about it because "he was right, durr durr". I mean, he was OUR GUY! He wasn't the Adonis. He didn't have muscles within muscles! He was, for lack of a better word, your average Joe who could probably kick your head in. Why him? WHY? WHY?

Stage 3: Bargaining

Well, there was that story that came out courtesy of Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Daniel wanted out, and WWE said no. And for at least the next four hours, I convinced myself that this retirement was a way to get out of his contract. After all, if his contract's frozen similar to that of Rey Mysterio a couple years back, he can't leave. Bryan wants to wrestle, and he's said openly that he'll go elsewhere if he had to. I've convinced myself of this fact.

Also, what if he didn't have such a high impact style? What if he didn't had that feud with Kane? Fucking Kane! What if one of his first matches after winning the Intercontinental title wasn't against Sheamus? Hell, for that matter... what if all this is a work to begin with? It had to have been an elaborate work pulled off by WWE.

Stage 4: Depression

Then the story hits mainstream outlets. ESPN. CBS Sports. Fox Sports. Sites like these that would devote a day like today to post-Super Bowl happenings (yeah, you probably forgot the Super Bowl was last night, didn't you?) have a story on this 5'9" wrestler from Aberdeen, Washington. Mainstream media usually only covers wrestling when one of two things happen: when there's a scandal or when someone dies. Daniel fits into neither.

Then, another report from the Observer from Dave Meltzer. It was a brand new concussion test that showed that despite medical professionals saying he was okay, Daniel wasn't exactly okay. In fact, the results were worse than what Daniel expected. It was over the next week and a half Daniel had to come to grips with the reality we all feared: there would be no wrestling in Daniel's future. Not his immediate future, not his foreseeable future, not his distant future.

Stage 5: Acceptance

I'm not sure I'm there yet. I probably will be by the time I wake up in the morning. A moment to quote grief.com:

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being "all right" or "OK" with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don't ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.

It was at 11pm ET Monday night that the reality had finally set in: Daniel Bryan is really retiring. There's no Mark Henry swerve. There's no elaborate storyline at work. There is no happy ending to this fairy tale.

I may never be okay with it, but I will have to learn to live with it. It's the reality that hit me when Steve Austin was forced to shut it down nearly 13 years ago, when Ric Flair called it a career after 35 years eight years ago, when Shawn Michaels left us six years ago and when Edge's spine forced him to do the same a year later. It's the reality that hit like a thunderbolt when CM Punk made good on his promise to hang it up by his 35th birthday two years ago. And at the risk of being morbid, when Eddie Guerrero left this mortal coil a decade ago.

It will take some time for me to adjust, and there's a chance Daniel will be a WWE Hall of Famer by the time I do. And that's okay. It may take you some time too. We'll surely find others to root for, whether it be in WWE or elsewhere. Others will probably move away from wrestling altogether, seeing another one of their favorites gone from the ring too soon.

Just as Daniel Bryan begins a new chapter in his life, we as wrestling fans begin one in our fandom: one that will not include "active wrestler Daniel Bryan". We will face it bravely and attack it much in the way Daniel Bryan attacked through wrestlers all over the world for his adult life. It's okay to be sad because he's gone. Take all the time you need to process it. We'll be here when you're done.