Thinking about Kobe

It seems like the whole world is in shock since Kobe Bryant and his thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash this past Sunday. I certainly am. He was an inspiration on and off the court for many people around the globe. And we are left devastated after his sudden and tragic death.

But not only that, it has brought so much sadness up for me since I experienced firsthand the loss of my son, Paul. Of course, that’s not the same as Kobe’s wife Vanessa’s loss. She lost her husband and her daughter – they always say it can be worse, something I’ve never wanted to believe.

It seems like I gravitate to those who have suffered horrible losses – like Chris Erskine, a LA Times columnist who lost his wife and his son in the past couple of years. And today I read an article by another LA Times staff writer, Sandy Banks, whose column this week is about the loss of her husband twenty-six years ago, leaving her and their three little girls. One thing that popped out was her description of her daughter’s reactions – something we are only left to imagine at times like these. My friend Roz Levine reached out to her Facebook friends asking for help “to wash flames and crashes from my brain, exorcise the screams of a 13-year old on fire, pleading for her mommy, her daddy, someone to save her.” How can any of us even imagine such a scene?

My point is rather, how can any of us help the little ones understand what happened to their father or mother when told they are dead? One of Sandy Banks’ little girls understood what the word dead meant but didn’t understand that dead meant always. Christina Mauser, who died with Kobe and Gianna, also left little girls. Her husband Matt told Anderson Cooper that they call out for their Mama – not being able to understand that she is not coming back. I also can relate to that. I was nine years old when my favorite uncle was killed in a plane crash. For most of my childhood I truly believed he would come back.

I didn’t understand that my son would never come back either after his suicide death. I called my memoir about it Leaving the Hall Light On because of my magical thinking – inspired by Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, that she wrote after her husband died. We magical thinkers try to keep everything the same – our address, our phone number, the dead person’s clothes in the closet, the foods he/she likes to eat, all the books and records in alphabetical order as before, and the light on so he’ll find his way home when he’s ready to come back. Crazy, right? Probably so. But justified. No one ever taught us how to live and behave after such a death, such a tragedy, such an unbelievable happening in our lives.

Please forgive my jumping from the Kobe Bryant tragedy to the tragic events in my life. But I couldn’t help having that all come back to me. It brought Kobe and his daughter and the family he left behind much closer to me. And I thank you, Sandy Banks, for writing about your horrific loss twenty-six years ago. My son’s death was twenty years ago, and I can tell from your article today, there is no hope of ever forgetting about it – not that I would ever want to.


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