My heart sank Sunday afternoon as we learned of the tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant along with his 13-year-old daughter and 7 other precious souls.
We’d been to church that morning with my son and daughter-in-law and then out to lunch for Mexican. The guys were out exploring some new buildings going up on the block when they rushed in with the news, turning the tv on to find coverage as the story developed.
I don’t even follow the Lakers or professional basketball. While I’ve raised boys who love basketball, I don’t really know Kobe or his family and the other 7 killed in the helicopter accident are complete strangers.
And yet this kind of loss triggers real grief. As details emerge and images of the families are shared, public tragedies and celebrity deaths can trigger our own personal grief.
Families are grieving husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children, sisters, brothers, grandchildren, friends. Many are grieving multiple losses.
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Part of our sadness is shared grief but if you’ve lost a husband or wife, son or daughter, mother, father, sister or brother, you may be sensing your own personal grief resurface.
When celebrity deaths trigger personal grief
It takes us right back to our own experience with deep loss. Those first weeks of gut-wrenching pain and the devastation that touched every corner of life. You may remember struggling to wrap your mind around the reality of death as you asked how is this my life?
It takes us back to the day life forever shifted — how the date of death fractured life into two halves marked before death and after death. Maybe you labeled those halves like I did — the life I always wanted and the life I now have.
The pictures of smiling pre-crash families flashing on the screen take us back to the bleak despair we woke to morning after morning and the hollow ache we carried long after everyone else’s life had returned to normal.
Welcome to the club, we moan silently — not by way of warm greeting but as a knowing consolation.
Our grief is cued because we too landed in the club we never wanted and surely never expected.
It’s the club of mothers and fathers who’ve buried children in a surreal reversal of natural order, who shroud their heart’s chasmal hole with sheer grit and daily grace, cheering on others’ children even as they desperately miss the milestones and celebrations of their own.
It’s the club of wives who’ve buried young husbands and husbands who’ve buried young wives, who brave broken dreams and shattered hearts to show up for their grieving children, to push through fear and anguish rebuilding their family shard by shard.
It’s the club of children who’ve buried a father or mother along with the innocence of their childhood, ushering in a world of pain far too intense for little emotions, of tear-stained pillows where there should be sweet dreams and of loss that will grow along with them.
It’s the club of sisters and brothers who’ve buried a sibling, who lose their confidante and deepest friend, shared memories and expected futures. It’s the club of grandparents who mourn grandchildren and of friends grieving friends.
Grief that’s been processed well lies tame and quiet, but even years later can resurface at surprising times.
If the tragic deaths of Kobe, his daughter and the 7 others have triggered your personal grief, it’s normal. In fact, here are 5 ways that triggered grief can work for you.
1. It helps us continue to process loss.
The death of a child, a wife or husband, a mother or father, sister, brother or grandchild is a forever loss. People who expect you to get over grief have never lost part of their heart. Our loved ones are part of who we are and we carry them with us forever.
One thing grievers know: the pain may soften, but you never get over it.
When grief is triggered, it’s another opportunity to process the loss. Instead of ignoring or pushing the emotions away, we can allow ourselves to lament that we miss our loved one. That may mean taking time to remember your loved one, journaling your emotions or heading out for a walk or run to think through the grief. You may find your body needs more sleep, you crave time with friends who get you or you long for time alone.
2. It reminds us what matters and what doesn’t.
Tragic loss razor focuses us on truth. It brings needed perspective, taking our eyes off the here and now and focusing on the eternal. Life is short but it can be wide and deep. People matter infinitely more than any thing ever could. Choosing forgiveness over bitterness, love over judgment and kindness over annoyance is worth it. Never miss a chance to say I love you.
Today is a gift. No matter how hard it may be, we have a hundred opportunities to use it for good and to see the good in it. This life is not about us, our comfort or our agenda. Instead of building our kingdom, we should be about God’s and live every day with the end in mind.
3. It creates conversation on loss.
None of us wants to talk about our death but 100% of us will face it. Practical steps like making a will and getting insurance are the last I love you’s to family. After Dan died completely unexpectedly, I was stunned to learn he’d written the songs, scriptures, even food he wanted at his memorial. He wrote it after an acquaintance died and it was a gift in the midst of difficult decisions after his death.
In shepherding children through grief, we need to create conversation on loss. Kids are carrying intense emotions but don’t always feel comfortable bringing up their pain or questions. Conversation helps our kids process their emotion and navigate grief.
4. It inspires us to make a legacy.
We can clearly see the legacy a public figure or celebrity leaves at death, But it’s less obvious that we are daily creating our own legacy. The tragic events this week have made me re-examine what legacy I would leave. Am I prioritizing what matters? Am I creating the kind of memories I want my children to carry with them after death? What teaching will still impact my children after I’m gone? Am I investing in the people around me and in God’s kingdom?
We aren’t guaranteed a long life. But what we do with the days we’re given can leave a legacy of love and impact that lasts.
5. It moves us to compassion.
Pity feels sadness for someone’s suffering but compassion walks with them in it.
Our grief has been triggered because we get it. We know what kind of pain they will walk through and the mountain of grief facing them. We weep with those who weep. While we may not be able to personally comfort Kobe’s wife or children or the other grieving families, we can pray for them. We know firsthand how God uses the prayers of people we may never meet to comfort and strengthen in trouble.
We can also reach out to those in our circle who need compassion. Scripture says that we found comfort in Christ so that we can comfort others. Who’s in your circle today who needs an encouraging text or handwritten card that you’re praying for them? Who has a meal train set up or a go fund me that you can help with? Let’s allow triggered grief to continue chiseling our hearts to look more and more like Christ.