Grief: the natural response to loss

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Sunday, January 26, 2020 was one of those rare dates when I had an occasion to turn off my phone while I attended a matinee of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It was a moving production, and I was smiling brightly discussing the company’s performance with other patrons when I turned on my phone and read a text message from my son: “Kobe died.”

Initially, I could not process the message; then the news alerts flooded my phone. It was overwhelming—my smile was replaced by tears. The tears have flowed throughout this week since the world lost a living legend, three talented young women, four supportive parents, and five families were forever changed.

On social media, there have been countless tributes, artistic drawings, and comments describing efforts to cope with the loss of all the passengers, including a phenomenal athlete and a father who most of us never had the pleasure to personally meet, yet feel a sincere loss with his passing.

One fan spoke about ending a relationship with his girlfriend who questioned why he was grieving for a stranger. She implied he was not normal.

Celebrities aren’t exactly strangers, because we welcome them into our daily lives. They provide the soundtrack to our lives, the reason to gather in a stadium or with friends wearing the colors of our favorite teams. They give us an opportunity to escape from our everyday lives and focus on their brand of art.

In turn, fans feel pride when a local recording artist like Lizzo performs on the Grammy stage. We fantasize about the arrival of an orange Ivy Park box in our mailbox rather than the usual bills and periodicals. We grieve like we lost a close friend when they experience a tragedy like the tragic death of Laker Kobe Bryant, a retired member of an NBA team that originated here in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Grief is the natural response to loss. There are many stages of emotions associated with grief: shock, denial, anger, guilt, disbelief and sadness. Former Laker Lamar Odom spoke about his wish to trade places with Kobe.

Bargaining is also natural as we try to restore the balance to our shaken lives. Grief may also include loss of appetite, insomnia, and the inability to engage in our everyday activities.

I often explore social media for a psychological break. I check out the latest celebrity news or follow comments from a familiar hashtag. Yet this week my break wasn’t actually a break as I viewed pictures of Gianna and Kobe.

Viewing the celebrations of their life made me sad but also joyful, because the comments about his athleticism were matched by his obvious devotion to his wife and four daughters.

Headlines about a Black man’s devotion to fatherhood are rare and serve as another reason to celebrate Kobe’s life. Every daughter deserves a #girlsdad who looks at her with such pride and joy and who will coach her to reach her full potential. His devotion not just to the game but to family will be his legacy.

The grieving process is unique for every person. It is a process that cannot be hastened or prescribed. Some people rely upon their faith to cope with such experiences, but for others, buying Kobe memorabilia or offering flowers at the Staples Center is healing.

As Kobe fans, we are lucky to have others to share our grief; however, there are many who are alone dealing with the loss of a friend or loved one. It may be healing to you and them if you offer your support.

To honor Kobe, I challenge fans to mentor someone or volunteer with a youth or women’s organization. And in the words of the legend himself, “Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile, and just keep on rolling.”

Crisis resources:

Dr. Dionne Hart is a graduate of the Mayo Clinic College of Graduate Medicine. She is board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. She practices community and public psychiatry at multiple sites. She’s held multiple leadership positions in national, state, and local medical organizations including serving as the first chair of the American Medical Association’s Minority Affairs Section. She currently serves as the vice president and president of the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians, a future statewide chapter of the National Medical Association.