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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Trustey

On Kobe Bryant

When an entire country grieves the loss of two humans they do not know personally due

to a devastating accident, social media floods with messages of support for the family, reminders of what is truly important in life, and thousands of photos of a father and his daughter, an aircraft engulfed in flames, a family grieving.


People share sentiments about a father and daughter gone too soon. Messages of “I cannot even imagine” and “why do these things happen?” And, when the night draws to a close, those sharing on social media get to turn off their phones and roll over, knowing that this nightmare situation for which they feel empathy and sympathy is not their reality.


But what if it is your reality? I remember exactly where I was one year ago today when I learned that Kobe Bryant was in a fatal helicopter accident. I remember exactly the thoughts that went through my mind when I learned his daughter was with him. And then, for a few hours, I remember nothing - dissociated from the world as I could not cope.


I wanted to be unaffected by it; it had been four and a half years, I could handle seeing some social media posts about the love between a father and his daughter, gone from this world too soon. Couldn’t I? In a (very rare) turn of events, I was wrong. When my dad and Anna died, I didn’t have to hear over and over again about the details of the crash. I did not have to worry about every news and sports channel honoring their love for one another. While surrounded by so many people during July and August 2015, I was so sheltered. Kobe’s death was different. There was no one to protect me from the details. No one to guard my ears from commentary imagining what Kobe and Gianna’s final moments together were like. And I don’t blame anyone for speaking of it - for so many, this nightmare, this nauseating situation needed to be talked about. We talk about these things basically to remind ourselves that they DID NOT happen to us.


But it did happen to me. And over and over and over again, on January 26 2020, I heard the world sending the same message: this is so sad. We’ve lost all hope.


My trauma was suddenly thrown on a silver platter and placed in front of me saying “look at me, you can’t avoid me, stop running, I’m right here. No matter where you turn, you will see images and where everyone else sees Kobe and Gianna, you will see your dad and Anna. Try and run, try and hide, it will catch up to you.” This trauma dude is a real asshole sometimes.


It’s not like I’ve never looked up the details of my family’s accident. I was the one to get the call that night - I was the one to piece the entire accident together and to see the firsthand footage. But that night, I was in shock. Things needed to be done. I had to call my mom. I had to figure out what to tell Claire. I needed to plan a funeral and to figure out how to get them home. I had tasks to do and shock took over. Months later, I visited the scene of the accident; on my terms. A first responder accompanied me and answered all of my questions in full detail. I sought closure, and I felt closure in terms of never feeling the need to return to Milwaukee (spoiler alert: I moved there because I’m stubborn as hell). And I have read every single FAA report, pilot blog, news report, etc. and looked at every single photo of the accident. I, too, have tried to imagine what the final moments between my dad and Anna were like. The difference is, I always had the luxury of doing these things on MY timeline. Last January, that autonomy and control was taken from me and it was hard. It still is hard. I woke up this morning feeling sick to my stomach and I couldn’t pinpoint why. It took a few hours for me to notice the date; despite this, my body knew that today is hard.


I didn’t take good care of myself when Kobe and Gianna died (or when my dad and Anna died, but that’s another story!). I was in the PhD program, according to my calendar I had some “article maps” due (I definitely could’ve gotten an extension), and I was in the middle of an internship (where I facilitated a grief and loss group 3x a week). The

Thursday after their passing, I went into a meeting with a faculty member. The meeting, obviously, had nothing to do with Kobe Bryant. This professor knew nothing about my background (another blog post I could write - who do we tell this stuff to and how?! Wow, I should write a book at this point @oprah). Approximately 22 seconds into the meeting she said, “how are you?” and I completely lost it. I am talking tears, snot, hyperventilating, the whollle 9 yards (this SAME week this faculty member announced she was leaving and I can only hope I didn’t scare her away!). I had tried SO hard to be unaffected, when really, I was so affected. Seeing the world’s reaction to my reality gave me permission to grieve. It gave me perspective of the gravity of my losses. These losses were a big deal; I am not exaggerating them or struggling to let go. The world grieving a man and daughter they do not know shows me just how impactful this type of loss can be. And for me, that loss was my two very best friends.


The absolute greatest gift I received last January was the gift of friendship from the most unexpected of friends. I received many text messages, letters, and phone calls from individuals with whom I do not regularly talk. All conveyed the same message: “I’m seeing the news and social media, and all I can think about is the impact this must be having on you. I want you to know I am thinking of you and sending love.” These messages and reminders that I was not alone carried me through this replaying nightmare in my head.


This all reminds me of a tweet thread I read once. The gist of the message was this: “ask your friend about that hard thing you never talk to them about.” These individuals, despite not necessarily being my closest friends, took the time to reach out to me and to broach this hard thing in order to show their love and support. And it made the greatest impact on my life. I think it’s a good reminder for all of us to reach out to those people we say we’re going to, but also to not shy away from talking about the things that might make US uncomfortable. A lot of times, the person going through the hard situation will love nothing more than just knowing you care enough to bring up the topic.


Fittingly (?), 7 years ago, TONIGHT, we were at the Grammy's at the Staples Center

Tonight, I go to bed thinking of Kobe and Gianna. But more so, I go to bed thinking of their family, for whom this is a reality. And I go to bed with grace for myself, my family, and all of our friends, who also know this reality.


Thanks for joining along.

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julia.kaihlanen
Jan 27, 2021

Caroline, this is so beautiful..so honest... so real. Our love is with you, Mom and Claire.💜💜💜

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