Coping with Very Real Grief Over the Death of Kobe Bryant

The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter Gianna, baseball coach John Altobell, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa, Sarah and Payton Chester, basketball coach Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan were shocking to many people who were left struggling with a huge sense of loss.

For many Kobe fans, we felt the larger than life athlete was a part of our lives. We followed his career after basketball and enjoyed his successes. Feeling like we knew him in some way makes the grief every real.

The stunning loss of everyone on board the helicopter reminds us that life is unpredictable. The pain is particularly sharp when we think about the youth and potential of those who have been lost.

You may think you’re not allowed to grieve for Kobe Bryant and the passengers because you never met them in person, but psychologists tell us that your heartbreak is authentic and should be recognized. Grief for someone you know only from a distance is genuine. Many others are mourning the loss of a very special man, and coping is difficult. Here’s how counselors tell us we can deal with the sadness.

Recognize your feelings are valid.

You may feel that you’re not supposed to grieve for a celebrity you don’t know personally. If Kobe Bryant occupied an important place in your life, grief is a very authentic response. You may have looked up to him as a hero. He may have inspired you with his perseverance and strength. Losing someone you value as a very special person can elicit disbelief, shock, sadness and anger. These are all normal responses even if you never met them.

Don’t push yourself to get over your grief.

Be gentle with yourself if your grief stays with you for a while. Taking time to experience your feelings is important. Powering through the hurt or trying to minimize it only makes us feel the grief is not valid. Recognize that your grief is also a measure of the love and respect you have for Kobe Bryant. You felt that he was a part of your life, and you are mourning the loss of that part of your life.

Share your sense of loss.

Look to family and friends for help in talking through what the loss means to you. If those who are closest to you do not share the same sense of loss, look to a broader community who are experiencing your feelings. You may find on social media others who did not know Kobe Bryant and the passengers personally but who still care.

Eventually change the focus of your pain.

Once you have given yourself enough time to process the loss, shift the focus of your pain on to helping others who also grieve. Working for someone else will keep you from getting mired in grief. You admired Kobe Bryant for using his fame for good to help others. Let your admiration inspire you to follow his lead – it may be the best way to cope with your grief. Remembering his legacy and moving on to helping others can make you a better person.