If you are like me, you were glued to the television this week as news of the sudden and tragic death of Kobe Bryant made headlines around the world. As the shock set in, we also learned one of his daughter’s had also perished in the crash with him along with seven others who were on the helicopter with them.
Regardless of whether you are a basketball fan—or a Kobe fan—this story hit home. No, most of us don’t regularly hop on a helicopter to go to our child’s basketball game. But, Kobe was in the prime of his life. He was working at being a husband and a dad. From the outside, he and his family had the perfect life.
I don’t know what Kobe Bryant’s life was like behind the scenes. We only get to see the glimpses, the highlight reel he and his family allow us to see. There’s no doubt he lived a life few of us ever get to experience, a life of luxuries most of us cannot fathom.
But was he that different from us? I am certain to his grieving wife and children, he was not.
How often do we see a life of promise cut short? Car accidents. Cancer. Unexpected injuries or illness. I have a precious college friend whose husband died of a heart problem as he ran to work one morning. I had another friend whose husband died from the flu. Both of these friends were in their 30s when life thrust the unwanted title of “widow” upon them.
It is the same title Kobe’s wife now wears. She has entered a sisterhood she never wanted to be part of.
And what about his children? His children are young—with the youngest less than a year old. How will the loss of their daddy impact them?
I have never been a widow, but I have been a single mom. I have never been a widow, but I have watched my children grieve the unexpected loss of their father. Nearly four years after his death, I sometimes think the loss for my children is harder with each year that goes by.
So what would I say to Kobe’s wife and children if I had the opportunity? What would I say to the other survivors?
My heart breaks with you. There are no words I can say that will take away your pain. There are no words to adequately express how much I ache for you. If I could bottle up all the pain and take it away, there’s no doubt I would do it in a heartbeat.
Take time to grieve. It’s not fair that you have to grieve with the world watching, but know you are not alone. There is no right way to grieve. There is no wrong way to grieve. But we must grieve. Grieve as long as you need to. Cry as many tears as you need to. Let it out. There is healing in our grieving.
You are now members of a club you never wanted to be part of. But the good news is, you aren’t alone. There are many who stand with you, who have walked this path before you. They have not only survived, but they have thrived. And I believe you, too, will thrive.
Take time for yourself. In the midst of the pain and spotlight and the media and the pressing tasks of raising kids, take time for yourself. It is so easy to get wrapped up in meeting everyone else’s needs and neglecting your own. You must have time to do nice things for yourself. Hire a sitter and go get a massage, even if it is just so you can get away for an hour and relax. Find a new hobby and make time for it. Train for a run a marathon. Get away and take a walk so you can clear your mind. Whatever it is you need to do, do it. You cannot be good for others if you aren’t caring for yourself.
Love your kids. I know your mind is spinning as you are trying to figure out how to help your kids navigate this journey called grief and loss. They just need your love. They need your presence. They need to know you are near. There is so little we can do for our kids when they are grieving. I’ve learned the best thing I can do is to be present and give them an abundance of love and grace.
Remember the good times. There must be some great memories. Maybe it was that vacation. Or the silly thing Kobe did. Or the laughter of Gigi. I don’t know what it was that you enjoyed, but focus on those good memories. My daughter has been all about recreating memories she had with her dad—returning to places she visited with him. Those memories will fade with time if they aren’t tended. Don’t let them die.
Be fierce in your determination. I know many who think survival is a noble goal. Don’t be one of those! Make a determination in your heart that you will allow this grief, this unexpected and unwanted loss, to make you into something you never dared to be before. Determine you will walk this journey with integrity and character few have seen before, and that you will allow it to change you.
Let your heart be softened. I know it’s hard. It is so easy to allow our hearts to become hardened when we face the pain of this world. We have a choice: we can let the pain and loss make us bitter or better. Choose better. Choose to let the pain soften your heart to become compassionate to those around you. Let the pain give you a passion for helping other widows and orphans who are hurting just like you are today.
Embrace the journey. I know it may sound strange, but you have a remarkable opportunity ahead of you. The journey is what changes you. It’s not the pain or the loss, but it is the journey where we learn to look beyond ourselves, to see not our circumstances but the many ways we are loved. If you allow it, the journey will forever change you in ways you never dreamed possible.
Tell your story. So many of us want to hide behind a façade that says life is perfect. Don’t be afraid to let your children, your family, your friends—even the world—see your grief and your pain. Telling our stories helps us see the many ways we have been blessed, even in the midst of our pain.
Make room for God. I don’t know where you stand in your relationship with God, but make room for Him. He is the One who is able to take this awful situation and create something beautiful. He is the only One who is able to bring you and your children true and complete healing.
I know you may be angry with God right now, blaming Him for allowing your precious family to perish. I get it. I was so angry at God, too. But God was near me, just as He always near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). I didn’t understand the hurt and the pain, but I know we live in a broken world where bad things happen. But I found that God was with me, carrying me every step of the way.
He loved me as I hated Him. He held me close as I fought to run away from Him. He caught every tear I cried and held it in His hand. And as I made room for Him, He changed me. He made me more passionate and compassionate. He gave me a heart for Him and a heart for others. And He took my pain and gave me a purpose—the opportunity to minister to others who are walking through similar pain.
And I know He wants to do the same for you and your children. He wants to have the opportunity to let you see His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness never ends (Lamentations 3:22-23). He wants to quiet you with His love as you grieve over your loss (Zephaniah 3:17). He wants to give you a purpose bigger than anything you could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
But it requires you to surrender your pain to Him. To let Him do His work in you in the midst of this pain.
I know your hearts are broken, but you are surrounded by the prayers of so many. Hold on as you experience a journey you never wanted but one that will one day give you fulfillment beyond anything you dreamed.