What Kobe Bryant’s death teaches us about living emotionally richer lives

Kobe Bryant
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 13: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles as a video is being played before taking on the Utah Jazz in Bryant’s final NBA game at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

There is never a good time to die.

Still, there are situations that tend to help ease the grieving process because they fit snuggly into “what seems” right and wrong, fair or unfair, just v. unjust when it comes to death. For example, when someone passes away due to old age or after suffering through disease managing emotions around the loss are relatively uncomplicated. The heart feels the loss, but the head reminds that this is to be expected. Alternately, when someone dies at a relatively young age, in a tragic or unexpected way, the heart and head are both scrambling. What happened? And perhaps most important, looking for the why.

Sadly, the tragic helicopter accident that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people on board, is a reminder of how out of control we truly are when it comes to life and death. And it’s been hard.

READ MORE: LeBron James and Anthony Davis both get tatted to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant

It’s been a devastating blow for the families and friends of the victims; people who experienced unimaginable loss and are left to deal with “figuring out” the rest of their lives. It’s been a shocker to Kobe Bryant fans, folks who feel a connection to a man they admired from afar. It’s even posed a challenge to pop culture, as we know it. How do you follow a story, in real-time, with integrity and fairness? How do you edit a society that has thrived on being filter-less?

Death changes everything it touches. The passing of Kobe Bryant has caused many to examine their feelings around tragedy, vulnerability, and healing—and look at trauma in their own lives. Here are a few takeaways to consider:


Make Space for Black Male Vulnerability

People were moved by the emotional outbursts of Shaquille O’Neal, and countless other Black men, who shed sincere tears over the deaths of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and the others aboard the plane. The emotional displays are a reminder of the importance of encouraging Black men to express feelings, thoughts, and comportment that dispel the crippling burden of hyper-masculinity in our community. Black men need the freedom to emote in authentic ways, without fear of having their masculinity questioned, outside of the confines of tragedy.

Trauma Has No Parameters

The families of the victims are suffering a heart-wrenching loss—there is no comparison or parity between what family and fans are experiencing. That said, it does not mean that fans are not experiencing grief and trauma in their own right. First, many fans felt connected to Kobe Bryant and invested in his career and personal life. It’s natural to experience a sense of sadness due to the death and the tragic manner. Second, for many the tragedy will trigger memories and feelings of loss and or trauma in their personal lives, such as the passing of a loved one or accidents they experienced/witnessed. It’s imperative to identify what you’re feeling and utilize resources, such as counseling, to help.

READ MORE: Roger Goodell confirms NFL will pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at the Super Bowl

The Truth Is Never Disrespectful—But Timing Is

Some people make bigger mistakes than others. There are moments to address those decisions and instances when such topics are best left for later. Whether you’re dealing with a superstar or the headliners in your household, discernment is a must, particularly during tough times. That never means sacrificing your safety, or that of others, but understanding the importance of respect and support during challenging times.

Death Touches Everyone

One of the most bothersome things about devastating events is that they serve as a reminder of our personal vulnerability and that our most loved ones can be taken away from us at any time. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s out of our control. No one knows the when, why or how. The best ways to manage the anxiety and fear that accompany this lack of control to acknowledge it. Talk to your friends and loved ones about your concerns. Create a plan for your loved ones to ensure their security (ex. wills, adequate life insurance and other supports). Most important, actively pursue your happiness. Tell folks you love them, create distance or end toxic relationships.

S. Tia Brown is a journalist and licensed therapist. Follow her on IG @tiabrowntalks.