The Aftershock of Sudden Death
Johnathan Thomas, MBA, PhD, D.DIV
The sudden death of Kobe Bryant, revered basketball legend, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, along with his daughter, Gianna and six others, hit a wide range of people hard. The shock and sadness, amplified by media coverage, created a rush of sadness and loss for him, his daughter, and their family.
Even if you were not a basketball fan, hearing this horrible news may have also triggered feelings that reminded you of your own personal losses.
You may wonder why a celebrity’s death may impact so many people. As you might have seen on the news, thousands gathered at places like the Staples Center, where Kobe Bryant played, and in front of his community in Newport Beach. They also gathered in other places around the world and paid tribute to him — from jerseys and messages on the Grammy’s to turning the LA City Hall, Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel, and LAX pylons to gold and purple.
Although we may not know these celebrities personally, they come into our lives through television, sporting events, and other ways. They make us feel good, and we admire them for their abilities. We feel genuinely connected to them. We may want to be like them in some way. For example, Kobe Bryant wasn’t just a phenomenal basketball player. He won an Oscar and even Olympic medals. Beyond that, Kobe Bryant mentored youth, created places like the Mamba Sports Academy where kids could learn and play basketball, and funded many startups and philanthropic efforts.
Death is never easy, but for families and friends affected by a sudden death of a loved one, grief is especially traumatic. Deaths caused by accidents, homicide and suicide typically seem premature, unjust, and wrong. Completely wrong.
It’s common to have obsessive thoughts and feelings about what the death must have been like for the person who died, and what might have been done to prevent it.
Strong feelings of anger and regret are also common. Understanding and expressing these feelings helps survivors, over time and with the support of others, come to reconcile their loss.
WHAT IS SUDDEN DEATH?
Sudden, unexpected death is just that: death without warning. It may happen in a few seconds or minutes, such as in an accident or from a heart attack, or a random, seemingly senseless act of violence or act of God.
Sudden unexpected deaths also happen when the person is not expected to die in a certain way or place. He or she may not even be expected to die at all.
Some people, not knowing the person was ill, may think of their death as sudden and unexpected.
A person who was expected to take many months to die may also die a death that is seen as sudden. They may be expected to get worse slowly but then die in a short period of time. Death may also seem sudden when people are expecting a different outcome. The person may die in a few weeks when they were expected to live for months or even years.
WHAT THOUGHTS ARISE IN THOSE LEFT BEHIND?
The sudden loss and death of a person may cause shock and confusion at first. They may have more need to go over and over the events around the death. They may think that mistakes were made and feel guilty or angry.
The police, courts, media, and insurance companies may get involved with the death. People may feel they need to help resolve the practical issues involved in the situation, instead of facing their grief, and moving through it.
The following may be some of a survivor’s feelings or actions after the sudden unexpected death of a loved one:
- They may tire easily and be physically inactive
- They may instead become manic and way-too-busy
- They may tenaciously hang on to clothing or other belongings.
- They may have poor concentration, not able to think clearly, or have trouble making decisions.
- They may have no appetite at all or eat too much…or any combination of the two.
- They may sleep too much or not get enough sleep.
Grief is a cycling process, and all these symptoms may wax and wane, come and go, with the “seasons” of grieving. Simply, allow the thoughts and feelings to be present. Don’t resist them. Most importantly, be kind to yourself in the process.
IF YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE SUDDENLY
The following may help you cope with the sudden unexpected death of a loved one:
- Rest is important. Do not try to do everything all at the same time. Do only what is needed and let other things wait until later. Ask your family, friends, or caregivers for help.
- Share your feelings. Try saying what you really feel or share stories of the one who just passed away. Often just talking things out with someone you trust is a big help.
- Take good care of yourself. Do not forget to look after yourself and other family members or friends. You should eat healthy food and keep yourself healthy.
- When the time is right, try to get out of the house a little each day. Go for a walk or meet with a friend. Change your environment. Be sure to spend time with your family or friends. But, remember, it is also important that you have time to yourself each day.
WORKING WITH YOUR FEELINGS
You may be surprised about how sad you feel about the loss of Kobe Bryant. However, it’s important to know that grief is not negative. The feelings associated with grief are completely normal. Instead, it heightens our empathy and helps us be more in touch with our feelings. This celebrity loss provides a comfortable way to discuss feelings around death and loss more so than when discussing someone close to us that we’ve lost.
There are many ways that you can address the grief you are feeling over the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and even the other people on that helicopter:
- Donate to organizations that Kobe Bryant supported or created;
- Share your thoughts and tributes online like social media or through emails to media outlets like The New York Times ([email protected]);
- Write a letter to Kobe’s family; and
- Participate in a public memorial.
If this death has brought your own grief back to the surface, it’s a good time to address those feelings by talking to others and taking care of yourself. I recommend doing things like taking a walk, stepping away from the media coverage, social media and focusing on healthy habits (sleep, exercise, hydration, and proper food).
THE ESSENTIAL LESSON WITHIN
Here’s the truth of things: if your loved one died from a sudden death; you have been brought face-to-face with the realization that tomorrow is promised to no one. The only thing guaranteed is this moment. This awareness can help you keep in mind what is important in life, so you don’t get lost in trivial matters and lose sight of those things that are most important to you.
It is an ironic but one consequence of sudden death is that it can make you appreciate life more than you ever would have if you had not undergone such a traumatic experience.
Now we know that no one in their right mind would seek out such a loss in order to teach themselves a lasting life lesson, but it does let you pull something meaningful out of such a tragedy.
Finally, one of the best things you can do is emulate this person you admired so much. Think about what Kobe Bryant did that you admired and find ways to act the same in your own life. It might be to get involved in more community work and volunteer, write that book you wanted to do, make that movie, or get out on the basketball court and improve those three-point shots. By becoming more like the person, you admire, you are keeping their memory alive in a positive way while also actively addressing your grief.
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