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Life After Loss: The Case of Vanessa Bryant

The death of a spouse is devastating and changes your life in an instant.

Wikimedia/Free Use
Keeping the love alive.
Source: Wikimedia/Free Use

The death of a spouse is devastating and changes your life in an instant, because the world you knew disappears.

It's happening on a large scale in the coronavirus crisis. We too were reminded of how suddenly life can be changed by the death of a loved one after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash in January.

We watched from the sidelines as Kobe’s wife Vanessa was first quiet, then wrote publicly about her grief, and then planned and spoke at a celebration of life memorial at the Staples Center. In those first few weeks after the death, shock and disorientation are to be expected. That’s when the love and support of family and friends can be a lifeline and help keep the bereaved afloat.

Whether it is watching the kids, filing the refrigerator with food, offering a ride, or lending a shoulder to cry on, such acts of empathy are sustaining through a dreadful time. Memorial services and funerals are the formal rituals that allow talk about the deceased and touch on all the things that were beloved and will be missed, including the unique qualities that made a person so special. They also allow the poignant exchange of memories with others who might have been important at different times in the person's life.

It is this sharing with others that can help keep a loved one’s spirit alive. Relying on others and having the chance to talk and process what has happened helps the bereaved begin to face the finality of death and deal with the loss. But as time passes, people go back to their normal, everyday lives, and the bereaved are left alone trying to figure out what a new life will look like without their loved one.

This is when the reality of the situation sets in, when the survivors may suddenly have to deal with matters, financial or otherwise, that they may never have handled before, or when formerly joint responsibilities now have to be assumed by the bereaved. The situation may even require learning new skills, from computer work to cooking to paying the mortgage. How does someone manage to move forward under the burden of sadness? How would you do it?

Because of the helping kindness of others and feeling of indebtedness and gratitude, you might be hesitant to ask for more assistance. However, it is in fact important to reach out and let others know what you need. Even if it feels like effortful because you lack energy or you prefer to wait for an offer from others or to tackle things yourself, failing to express your needs can leave you feeling even more overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks facing you.

While connecting with others can sometimes seem more of a burden than a relief, failing to do so can pose the risk of losing your grip on all of life’s demands. Whether it's help deciphering finances or just wanting someone to listen to you, having somebody step in can lessen the pressure and ease the passage into this new phase of life.

Another significant source of support is to join a group for people who have lost a spouse and are going through the same thing experience. Sometimes the idea of talking to new people can pose discomfort, but speaking with those who are living your very experience and challenges can be tremendously fortifying and reassuring. Hearing how other people survive can be motivating, inspiring, and can provide hope as well as practical information.

Also, one of the most valuable things you can do during this time is to be open to ways to keep the spirit of your loved one with you. For some, this might mean going to a house of worship, or going to the cemetery to talk to the person you miss so much. In my book The Afterlife Connection: A Therapist Reveals How to Communicate with Departed Loved Ones , I suggest how to ask for, look for, and recognize the signs that come from lost loved ones that help you feel their love, energy, and continuing presence.

Finally, give yourself time. There is no finish line when you must be over the loss. There is no shelf life on grief, it must run its own course.

Vanessa Bryant is still at the beginning of her journey of figuring out what her life will be now without Kobe and daughter Gianna. Hopefully she will find the tools to mitigate the anguish and rebuild her life.

The truth is, in coping with loss, you don’t get over it, you get on with it.