The full version of this essay originally appeared in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper newsletter. Subscribe today to receive it in your inbox every week.
I was having lunch with my cousin this past Sunday when my daughter Katherine called to tell me the news about Kobe Bryant. At first, I had trouble processing what she was saying because she was talking so fast and was so overwhelmed by the news.
You see, we are a Lakers family. That means Kobe Bryant was a king in our house. Both of my boys grew up with him and are Lakers fanatics. In fact, my son Christopher lived and breathed Kobe his entire life. His room is decorated in pictures of him, and he waited hours to get a ticket in the nosebleed section to his last game, during which he cried and cried. For Christopher’s 21st birthday, I got him a signed picture from Kobe – it’s his most valuable possession.
I had met Kobe several times over the years and he was always incredibly kind, generous, and gracious to me. In fact, just a few months ago I asked him to contribute to The Sunday Paper and he said yes immediately. What I respected about Kobe wasn’t just that he was an extraordinary athlete, but that he was a man who admitted his flaws, embraced his struggles, and spoke openly about his faith and his desire to be a better man. I particularly admired his devotion to his family. The way he embraced fatherhood, husbandhood and familyhood I believe will be a big part of his enduring legacy.
As soon as I hung up with Katherine, Christopher was my first call. He couldn’t speak. Neither could his brother, Patrick, and shortly thereafter, neither could I. The sudden tragic news triggered past experiences of my own of dealing with phone calls that shared news of sudden, unexpected tragedies in my own family.
I also felt removed from my home in Los Angeles when I got the news, as I was in Florida to spend the weekend with my two cousins, both of whom are dealing with their own issues of grief. In August, my sweet cousin Courtney lost her daughter, Saoirse, her only child. The year before, my wonderful cousin Sydney lost her only brother, Christopher. Both deaths were sudden and devastating.
I wanted to spend quality time with both of my cousins — I wanted to tell stories, share memories, and hopefully, get both of them to laugh. I also wanted to spend time in Florida with one of my best childhood friends, Theo, whose life was turned upside down a few years ago when her husband became paralyzed from the waist down. All three women are dealing with their own versions of unspeakable grief.
As the Kobe story unfolded, it became more tragic by the minute. I felt my heart breaking for his family, for all the other people lost, and for those they left behind here on Earth. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that trying to make sense out of a senseless tragedy is impossible. No one knows how they will feel in a week or a month, much less in a year or for the rest of one’s life.
Grief is unbearable. Then it fades, only to come back at a moment’s notice. It catches you off guard. It sends you to bed. It sends you to dark places until, God willing, you get up and try again. Another thing I’ve come to know is that we all process grief differently. There is no timetable. There is no right way. There is simply your way.
I’ve also come to realize that people all around us are dealing with grief and loss every day. That’s why it’s so, so important to tread gently with our fellow human beings. None of us know what the person in the coffee line is going through. None of us know what these families are going through. What we do know is that it’s brutal, and that it will be brutal for a really long time.
So every day this week, I tried to check in on my son at college. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t get much from him. I got a lot of “I can’t believe it,” “I still can’t believe it,” “It’s crazy,” and “I guess I’m OK.”
I know it will take a long time. My older son immersed himself in Kobe’s videos, looking for wisdom and looking for life lessons. He processed it in the way that was best for him. I took comfort in the outpouring of love that I saw people expressing everywhere. I was inspired by the hashtag #girlsdad posts that I saw people proudly sharing. I heard people telling stories of healing rifts, of calling up people to tell them they loved them. I witnessed people coming to grips with the truth that life does indeed change in an instant. One minute everything is great, and the next minute everything feels like it’s hopeless. Life, in its beauty and its unpredictability, is like that.
The truth is, none of us know what today will bring, much less tomorrow. We cruise through life thinking we have all the time in the world, thinking I’ll tell so-and-so I love them next week, or I’ll make plans to spend time with so-and-so when life calms down a bit.
That brings me back to my cousins. I was so glad we made time to be together. I felt so blessed, so full in my heart that I was sharing the most important thing I could with them: my time and my heart. I know our time together allowed their grief to take a back seat for just a little bit. Sometimes that’s all we can do to keep our grief at bay for just awhile.
So, if you are grieving, I send you my love. I acknowledge your pain and your hurt. And if this tragedy brought yours back to center stage, know you’re not alone. I know it can still hurt, even if it was a long time ago. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the families on that helicopter, and all the families I don’t know who are grieving at this very minute.
The truth is, there is no time like right now. Call. Reach out. Make time. Listen. Be patient. Just sit. Our world is so fragile, as are our lives. Go out into yours with kindness, with love, and with gratitude. If you are reading this, you are one of the lucky ones. You are lucky because you are alive.
There is no time like this moment. This moment is all we have.
This essay has been edited and condensed.