It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to contemplate losing a child. An unimaginable agony, unique and devastating, losing a child is the sort of grief that alone claws a void in the heart of the surviving parent. But Vanessa Bryant didn’t just lose her child Gianna, she also lost her partner and husband, Kobe.

Kobe and Gianna, basketball stars

Kobe was one of the greatest NBA basketball players of all time, and led his team, the L.A. Lakers, to five championships. Kobe also won a gold medal as a member of the US men’s basketball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Daughter Gianna, 13 at the time of the crash, was also an upcoming basketball star.

A tremendous loss

On January 26, 2020, the world reeled at the news that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a tragic helicopter crash. But then came the double gut punch, his beloved 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also killed alongside Kobe and the other passengers on the aircraft. The following days, media coverage was brutal and intense, and it’s hard to imagine the kind of loss Vanessa Bryant was coping with, much less the media barrage that followed the tragic crash.

While people say to parents, “I don’t know how you wake up in the morning,” grieving parents often find that statement particularly hurtful. It suggests that the parent has another option, that, “not going on,” is the expected result. But life is precious. And Bryant has three other children, left behind as Kobe’s legacy, to carry on for. Heartwarming social media posts and photographs over the past 6 months have shown the woman’s incredible resiliency as she’s done just that.

Fresh in her grief, Bryant looks to hold on to the good memories

In February, Bryant shared a beautiful image of her family before the loss, captioning it, “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. … There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.

I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”

Baby Capri learns to stand

In February, Bryant experienced the unique heartache of a milestone of a child without the spouse she so dearly loved. Baby Capri, 7 months old when her father was killed, stood for the first time less than a month later. The mixture of joy and grief must be intense in those moments, the firsts you wish you could share with your spouse. And Capri’s milestone brought memories of Bryant’s older child as well; she captioned a beautiful video of the littlest Bryant learning to stand, “My Koko Bean. She looks just like my Gigi.”

Putting loss into words makes it feel more real

That same month, the former model talked about her reluctance to put her loss into words, “I’ve been reluctant to put my feelings into words. My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me. It feels wrong. Why should I be able to wake up another day when my baby girl isn’t being able to have that opportunity?! I’m so mad. She had so much life to live. Then I realize I need to be strong and be here for my 3 daughters. Mad I’m not with Kobe and Gigi but thankful I’m here with Natalia, Bianka and Capri. I know what I’m feeling is normal. It’s part of the grieving process. I just wanted to share in case there’s anyone out there that’s experienced a loss like this. God I wish they were here and this nightmare would be over.”

At a memorial, Vanessa’s words mark a legacy of love and potential

Us shares details of the dedication Bryant made to Kobe and Gianna at a memorial at the Los Angeles Staples Center in late February, and shared her words in part for Gianna, “‘Gianna had a sweet grace about her,’ Vanessa added. ‘Her smile was like sunshine. Her smile took up her entire face, like mine. Kobe always said she was me. She had my fire, my personality and sarcasm, but she was tender and loving on the inside. She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine. … Gianna made us all proud, and she still does.’

She went on: ‘I miss her sweet kisses, I miss her cleverness, I miss her sarcasm, her wit and that adorable sly side smile followed with a grin and a burst of laughter. We shared the same ‘cat that ate the canary’ grin. Gigi was sunshine. She brightened my day every day.’

In her eulogy, Vanessa mourned some of the opportunities she would miss without Gianna in her life. ‘We will not be able to able to see Gigi go to high school with Natalia and ask her how her day went. We didn’t get the chance to teach her how to drive a car. I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day. I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own. … I cannot imagine life without her.'”

More difficult days as Vanessa starts to heal and faces life after loss

In April, Bryant marked another heartbreaking milestone; what would have been Gianna’s 14th birthday. She shared, “‘Happy 14th Birthday to my sweet baby girl, Gianna,’ Vanessa captioned her touching April 2020 tribute. ‘Mommy loves you more than I can ever show you. You are part of MY SOUL forever. I miss you so much everyday. I wish I could wake up and have you here with me. I miss your smile, your hugs and your giggles. I miss EVERYTHING about YOU, Gigi. I LOVE YOU so much!!!!!!!’” And in May, Capri took her first steps.

Vanessa has remarkable strength and grace

Although Bryant’s Instagram is now private to avoid the public scrutiny that hasn’t always been respectful of her loss, Bryant continues to mark milestones and move forward in the face of unimaginable loss. A strong example for her children, Bryant has shown the world how to handle grief with courage and grace, and as she moves forward and heals, her family continues to mark those difficult days that are apart from those they love, but together with one another.

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