Mamba OUT...But Not Forgotten!
Updated: Feb 18
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players in U.S. history was taken from this planet tragically and suddenly on Sunday, January 26, 2020, when his helicopter crashed into the hillside of Calabasas, California. His thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna and her teammate Alyssa were on board. Alyssa’s father, Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri were also on board. Another parent, Christina Mauser, assistant basketball coach, was also killed in the crash. Thirteen-year-old, Payton Chester and her mother Sarah Chester were also passengers on the helicopter. The veteran pilot of the helicopter was Ara Zobayan.
Nine in all, lost their lives, on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks where Kobe would be coaching the girl’s team. A sudden heartbreak for all the family and friends to endure and the rest of our nation to mourn.
The shock and pain of losing someone suddenly and without warning is an experience not easily articulated. Those who have lived through the experience never forget. Whether a national tragedy like Pearl Harbor or 9-11, or a personal tragedy – car accident or heart attack – we never forget.
Unexpected death is decidedly different than when, someone dies of cancer or similar debilitating disease. In those instances – we can prepare ourselves for the eventual loss. The duration, frequency, and intensity of the grief process is impacted by the manner of death and the family’s cultural beliefs. However, the grief process is exacerbated if the death is unexpected or involves a child.
When we suddenly lose someone, we love and admire, expected to be among us for years to come – like Kobe, an iconic sports legend – there is first, an overwhelming feeling of denial. No, it’s not true, it’s just fake news! Then, when the realization of truth hits home, there is a tremendous heartfelt feeling of grief. The loss of life so needlessly taken; a husband, daughter, wife, father, sister, brother or friend. We have profound grief and sadness and can’t imagine what the immediate families are feeling over their loss.
How we address death – as a part of life – is rarely spoken about openly. When we do, it is an abstract view that tugs at our emotions but is foreign to our psyche. Why is that? In order to process grief, family relationships remain a primary way to cope. Cultural and/or religious beliefs and rituals guide us through the grief cycle. The concept of familismo - large family networks provide comfort and practical aid while grieving - provides a way of coping. This is reflected in the before and after death rituals of the culture. An example of this is when Latinos spend days rotating prayer vigils by the bedside of a family member (Soriano 1991). Last rites, prayer circles, picture memorial, candles, traditional dress in black, all serve to honor or remember loved ones lost.
Some cultures, like Native Americans and Raza hold a general belief that there is a continued relationship between the living and the dead resulting in rituals that honor this relationship. There are 562 different tribes recognized by the USA, though there is likely to have been hundreds, if not thousands more throughout the history of the continent. As a result, Native American death rituals are widely varied according to different tribal traditions, though they may share some common beliefs. Each tribe has its own specific traditions regarding death rituals and funerals. One common aspect is the idea that the spirit of a person lives on after their physical death and journeys into the afterlife, although there is no concept of heaven and hell.
Common themes in grieving patterns reflect the concept of spiritual continuity and continuing relationships with the deceased.
Especially themes in the grieving patterns of Mexican American families after the death of a child. Remaining connected spiritually to the dead serves as a protective factor, helping the family cope with the loss, and providing comfort and support (Doran and Downing, 2006). The annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos is a cultural tradition marking the continued positive connection between the living and the dead for Raza.
The Grieving Process
There are no simple answers to why nine people lost their lives in a tragic helicopter accident. There are no explanations. Our gods won’t tell us. Besides, it won’t make any difference now. The dead are gone. I think where we get in trouble with processing death is when we try to explain or understand things that are un-explainable.
Pentecostal Pastor, T.D. Jakes, speaking on January 28th, about Kobe Bryant’s death on the Breakfast Club podcast, shared this point:
I think right now we need to survive it because our whole nation has taken a blow. The families, sports fans, other athletes are grieving right now…we look to find blame, how could god allow this to happen? Things tragic happen in life every day, but here was someone we knew and loved, a part of our community. It’s ok to be sad, to be angered. We need to go through those rings of emotions…but at the end of the day we are in a [emotional] survival mode…It is our faith that gets us through…
So how do WE process the loss of a loved one? Is it possible to seek another way to understand death? Generation’s X, Y, Z and other millennial's, may have shed older cultural or religious beliefs that baby boomers were accustomed to follow? But is there a blueprint for understanding Death that can help us all move forward from loss and/or understand death?
There is an attitude or way-of-life for understanding death that we can learn. An attitude about death that is based, in part, on the life philosophy espoused by Wayne W. Dyer, renowned author and speaker in the fields of self-development and spiritual growth:
Life is precious. Enjoy every moment consciously (PuroChisme will dive into this in more detail when we write about the topic of “meditation” on a later post). Have an awareness of each day and every interaction with others. Don’t take it for granted. Many examples abound about the good fortune people found when they lest expected it. Not in material stuff but in simple things. A hand-woven shawl gifted during the holidays. A special meal made by a friend or lover. A call from a distant relative or friend you haven’t spoken too. The hummingbird who drinks water from your hose as your watering the flowers. The thank you from a stranger for helping load a truck. The waitresses smile after receiving a well-deserved tip. The impact of acknowledging the work of others can mean more to their sense of self-worth than the pay they receive for working.
Don’t ask why, ask who? We live on promises not explanations. So, who do you lean on? Your maker, higher power, the lord, Allah, family, friends? Who helps us move on? Can grief be good for the soul? Sure, because when we lose someone, we feel like we’ve lost a piece of ourselves. We project a powerful image of who they were and what they meant to us and the community. Are we really in fear about the loss? Or the fear of forgetting, losing that connection for eternity, the fear of not knowing the right answer to, “What do I do now?” The questions in our hearts and minds is partly why we grieve.
But we forget that death is always inevitable. Elaine Mansfield, of Tedx Talks, said it best, “The world death rate is holding steady, at 100 percent.” Asking ourselves – Who will guide me through this tragedy? - begins with ourselves. When death happens, we shouldn’t go through it alone. Look at all the internet, memorial chatter and YouTube tributes to the 9 people who lost their lives on January 26th. It was and continues to be an international social media memorial to Kobe and the others aboard the helicopter who died suddenly and without warning. When we grieve – together – we recover quicker and can grow stronger in spirit from it…but we don’t forget…and that’s OK.
Be prepared for death, for eternity. It is a spiritual matter not simply a physical departure from life. A common refrain of those awaiting death, “I didn’t live the life I wanted.” or “I wish I had done (loved) more.” When do we first realize that we are mere mortals, that we can’t live forever? As a child when a family member passes on? As a teen when someone we know dies? What thoughts run through our mind about life and death? Cultural anthropologist, Jennifer James, believes embracing the awareness of our mortality is a key to fully living, “If you could live as if you were already dead, you can make very different choices…The very best deal even the best revenge is the good life and the good death.”
Many people who have survived life threatening illness or accidents claim to have a new lease on life. The threat of death shocked them into a different perspective. They view the world and their lives with more optimism. The are energized in a positive way about living. They no longer fear death.
The historical tales about elixirs of life, fountains of youth, immortal gods have been replaced with the science of hormones, genomes (whatever those are), stem cells and nano-technology and the like, that will reduce the aging process or delay aging characteristics – all intended to allow us a longer life. PuroChisme!
Embrace death and live now! Stop stressing about work and family, financial need, or worse – escaping reality, high on drugs or alcohol. When we live in the moments each day, we can find some peace of mind…however fleeting those moments are. We can find solutions, options, and love because our heart and mind is free to understand and cope clearer. When love (or a loved one) is lost, we can love again. With every heartbeat and with every breath we take, we are closer to death. Embrace it by living!
On January 26, 2020, our neighbors and community lost nine precious lives never to return again. But their deaths are not forgotten. Their lives were reborn among all the people that loved and cherished them.