Experiencing Grief as a Reminder of Our Connections

It is interesting-a theme in our community and in my sessions with students and parents in the last few weeks seemed to always point back to grief. So much so, that we have added a section on grief into our upcoming parent workshop in February. Grief is so much more than bereavement. Then, as I sat down to write this blog, I began to wonder what I could say, would say, or wanted to say about grief. It was at that moment, the news of Kobe Bryant’s death began circulating all over the news channels, ESPN, and social media. Naturally, at first, I was confused. I believe this was a hoax and just another whistle blower creating chaos in the world of Hollywood and celebrities. Hours went by and nothing was revoked, and nothing was released stating this was a hoax or a bad joke, this was real. For the next few hours I sat glued to the TV watching ESPN, in fact, it reminded me a lot of being younger and being glued to the television when the twin towers came crashing down. No matter how many times it was repeated, it still didn’t seem real.

Kobe Bryant, NBA Legend, was dead.

 I was sad, but why was I sad. I didn’t know Kobe Bryant but I was sad. I was sad because of the tragedy-the unexpected wake up call that I was given. You really don’t know when your last day will come and your last moments. As someone who travels, most often without a family member, it was painful to think about how many times I don’t express my appreciation and love for those close to me before taking a flight, or even driving in the car, which I do everyday and I am much more likely to suffer an injury from. I was hoping for Kobe and his family that his last encounters with his loved ones were heartfelt. I am sad because there is a woman without a partner. I am sad because there is a woman who lost her child. I am sad because there are children who lost their father. I am sad because the world of basketball lost a legend both in his talent and ability but also in his legacy.

Now, the question I began to ask myself was: “How come Kobe Bryant’s passing has rippled a wave through the basketball community and the world at large?”. On the surface one could easily respond with, because he won championships, because he was a gold medalist, because he scored 81 points in a game.  I think all of that is true, however; I think there is more. Kobe Bryant was a player with values: he valued teamwork which you can see evidenced by his relationship with Shaquille O’Neal, he valued results which you can see evidenced by his high level of accomplishments, he valued growth which you can see evidence by how hard he trained, he valued the future of basketball which is evidenced by the number of younger players who have been directly impacted by Kobe, including LeBron James, he valued change which is evidenced by his advocacy and support for women’s basketball.

When you break it down further, Kobe was connected, he had relationships. It was these values that characterized his relationships and somehow, through living these values he formed relationships with players and fans whom he never even met. Grief, to me, is the pain experienced in the loss of connection. However, that connection is experienced.

Grief, we often think of has being direct. The loss of someone you know, but grief is also indirect, the loss of something or someone you didn’t know. I experienced grief in the death of Kobe Bryant, not because I lost a friend, but because of the loss of him in the basketball community, a community I am strongly connected to.

Now, most people don’t know how to respond to grief and because of that, it doesn’t get talked about. As I watched this news unfold, the NBA did the opposite. The players talked about it. You could see them tearful, out of it, confused, and sad on the court. They wrote tributes on their sneakers, wore the same jersey number that Kobe had, 8 or 24, as an expression of their grief and acknowledgement of the loss. Teams took violations, either the 8 second back court violation or the 24 second shot clock violation at the start of their games in honor of Kobe. No one asked them to, they just did. Moments of silence were observed across arenas. Even Madison Square Garden, famously known for their blue and orange stripes, was lit up in purple and yellow in his honor. Even outside of the NBA community, there was acknowledgement, ritual, and ceremony. The Grammy Awards paid tribute to Kobe Bryant as well throughout the show. This was a testament to his relationships that extended far beyond the basketball community.

I write all of this to say: let our values guide how we form our relationships and welcome grief as a reminder of our connection. Grief is experienced by everyone, all the time. So, let’s take a play from the NBA and acknowledge it-empathize with it-and remember the connection that we had that allows us to grieve.