Why Kobe and Gigi Bryant’s Passing Opens Our Own Grieving Wounds by Cheryl Barnes

photo courtesy of ABC News

I was having my typical Sunday afternoon, decompressing after a particularly long work week by watching movies and Facebooking. Everything was as it always was...quiet and peaceful. I was relaxing and considering a nap.

Then my Facebook feed began to fill up with headlines about a helicopter accident in California that may have killed retired Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant.  Soon the story was all over social media and on all the TV channels. Then slowly more details came out...his daughter, a family of three, four others including the pilot were all killed.

Initially, I was sad about it on a superficial "another celebrity died" level. But somehow, someway, the more I considered the tragedy, the more I felt triggered by it. I actually felt my feelings going back to the day when Tony died, at least inside my head.

Why would that be? I'm not a huge sports fan like so many others are. I really don't know a lot about Kobe Bryant except that he played for the Lakers for 20 years and he was considered an exceptional player. His passing really and truly bothered me. I felt some kind of way about it.

At first, I thought it was because Tony was such a huge fan of Kobe's and talked about him often. Remembering Tony's enthusiasm about Kobe obviously triggered more memories of Tony and how much he loved sports. Considering my memories of Tony can make me sad so I figured that was what it was.

As the day went on and I continue to read updates and the comments about the stories, I think I began to understand why I was so triggered by the whole situation.  He was a Black man traveling with his 13-year-old daughter and some teammates of hers and other passengers and they were all killed in an accident. Watching his fans and co-workers feeling absolutely devastated increased how triggered I felt.

All some people could talk about was his brushes with the law. Others could only comment about why did no one seem to care about the military accident that happened the day before or why does anybody care about Kobe Bryant in the first place?

These types of comments reminded me of the negative things said about Tony and to me after he died. I am fully aware that Tony was nowhere near perfect, but there was no reason to tell me what was wrong with him after he died. I know what was wrong with him. I don't need to dwell on what was wrong with him. I'd rather dwell on the things that he did right, and what a good person he was. Speaking ill of the dead is unnecessary. Telling the survivors what a terrible person you think your lost loved one is and how unimportant his death is in the grand scheme of life does not help the griever in any way shape or form. I really doubt that Vanessa Bryant really wants to hear about the bad things her husband did. She already knows what he did. It hurts worse to hear them now that he's dead.

As I said, it's highly insensitive and completely unnecessary. 

Making comments about how unimportant his death is as compared to military folks being killed in accidents is also insensitive and unnecessary. Death is difficult for everyone, no matter how it happened and who it happened to.  For people who couldn't really relate to Kobe, we understand that his death may not affect you like perhaps when a soldier is killed. But to say that one life is more important than the other... That's just callous and unfeeling.

It finally hit me...the reason it triggered me and many others I know..all of this was so public. When someone dies, all of the grieving, drama, snarky comments, arguments and pain are out in the open. We non-celebrities get to deal with all of this within the confines of family and friends. When celebrities pass on, it seems like everyone,  including fans and critics who didn't really know the famous person, feels some kind of way and has something to say about what happened. More people need to know what happened and why. More people are shaken. This public grieving is certain to trigger the private grief of someone who has had their own personal loss. The loss of a famous person who meant something to us reawakens our own private loss and makes our loss feel new again.

When a famous death occurs, it takes a grieving person back...to the moment we were told our loved ones was gone...to having to tell others over and over he was gone ...to having to plan a funeral...to being alone and having that first hard wave of pain hit you. These things are universal for a grieving person. Having to grieve in the spotlight would seem to amplify the pain. You’re really on display and everyone has something to say about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Instead of just people who know you are watching, when you’re famous, EVERYONE is watching. 

I feel for these families...in fact, all celebrity survivors. The grieving community gets what they are going through more than they want to. It’s hard and we all have to support them through the grieving process, through thought, word, and deed, because we DO get it. Thankfully they have more of us to support them.

All of this is to say...to the Bryant family...Vanessa and her daughters...to the families of the pilot and the other victims: we are all so sorry for your loss and our own pained hearts go out to yours. We understand.

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