So many have been affected by the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the other seven passengers on the helicopter. Here they are:

  • Kobe Bryant, 41
  • Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter
  • Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna’s basketball teammate
  • John Altobelli, 56, Alyssa’s father, and the baseball coach at Orange Coast College
  • Keri Altobelli, Alyssa’s mother
  • Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at the nearby Harbor Day School
  • Payton Chester, a middle-school student
  • Sarah Chester, Payton’s mother
  • Ara Zobayan, the pilot

For me, personally, this loss has hit me harder than I expected — perhaps because Kobe is just one year older than me, but accomplished SO MUCH, and at such a high level; Perhaps because of the nature of his death—scary, shocking, unimaginable; Perhaps because he was so visible and represented an ideal for so many.

Of course, there are painful losses going on all around us—not as high-profile, but tragedies none-the-less. We all have experienced loss—or we all will. 

So what do we do with devastating tragedy? Because this is how my brain works, I’ve organized some ideas that are helpful to me into the following outline:

  • Tragedy: What, not why
  • Tributes: Greatness and Grace
  • Time: Making it count

1. Tragedy

Tragedy has a way of slowing us down, making us sad, and causing us to question things—maybe the most basic questions of life:

  • “Why? Why did this happen?”
  • “Why would God allow this?”
  • “Is God good?”

The “Why” question isn’t helpful. It can’t be answered. If someone—who’s not walking on water—tries to convince you that they know the answer, don’t trust them. They are crazy, fanatical, or manipulative (and maybe all three).

The more helpful question is, “What?” What can I do with this tragedy and the pain that I feel?

Or,

How can I respond to this in a helpful and healthy way?

Of course, slowing down, being sad, and grieving the loss are important places to start. And when I say “start,” I don’t mean that I think this process is a quick one. Depending on the loss, the grieving process might last the rest of your life — though it gets better with time. 

Then, pay tribute.

2. Tribute

Offer a tribute to the lost.

We’re all familiar with a Memorial Service. They usually last an hour and include slide shows, programs, and flowers. They are an important part of the grieving process, and provide some small sense of closure and honor. 

A Memorial Service is a one-time event. However, a Memorial System is about the rest of your life.

For some losses, incorporating a Memorial System can be your most productive decision. Here’s what I mean…

A system is something that continues on with some level of regularity. You honor, remember, and celebrate the person through actions you take in the ongoing rhythms of real life. 

My wife, Hilary, lost her mom at 27 (her mom was just 55) — a devastating loss, as you can imagine. Hilary and her mom spoke every day. They were as close as any mother-daughter I’ve seen. 

Hilary’s mom was known for a lot of things, but one was her baking and Hilary would often jump in the kitchen and bake with her mom. They bonded over flour, butter, and delicious recipes. 

When mom passed, Hilary turned baking into a Memorial System. Every time Hilary has an excuse to bake, she jumps at it. “Cookies? You need cookies for your kids birthday party? I’m on it!” 

When Hilary bakes, she’s spending time with her mom. She’s reveling in the memories. She’s channeling the genius. She’s celebrating and becoming—in a real sense—like her mom. 

As it relates to Kobe, I’d like to pay tribute by celebrating two things that Kobe represents. Both these ideas can be built into a “Memorial System” that’s relevant to you. I think it’s these two words that are causing his loss to have the sweeping effect it’s having. 

GREATNESS: Kobe Bryant made the most of what he had. Sure, he had God-given abilities. But, more so than almost any other basketball-playing human to walk this earth, Kobe maximized what he’d been given. He left it all on the floor. He didn’t hold anything back, but gave us a show every time he stepped on the court. He personified “greatness” for so many of us. 

Kobe also reinventing himself after basketball. He had already won an Academy Award in film. He’d published children’s books and a podcast for kids. Kobe was working on a project with one of the greatest authors of our time, Paulo Coelho. When Kobe did something, he did it all the way, with everything he had. 

When we look at Kobe, we see a shadow of our own potential. We see a reflection of the greatness in each of us. And, just maybe, we gain a flicker of hope that we, too, can realize our dreams and unlock more of our own potential to be great—in our own unique way.

GRACE: Kobe screwed up in a big and public way. He, too, has spoken publicly about this, so I’m not talking out of turn. 

Kobe has also clearly communicated that he has received Grace, and that—from his perspective—”God is great,” and grace is real. Grace from God. Grace from his wife, and no doubt from his children, too. 

When you’re publicly crucified, it’s easier to shut down, get callous, or rebel and do whatever you want. But Kobe did the opposite. He rebuilt his life, reputation, and family.

Of course some people have a difficult time with Kobe’s poor choices and want those choices to forever stain his legacy — but that’s more about those people than it is about Kobe. There’s something unhealed, not dealt with, or not discussed…and I hope they find freedom. But for Kobe, he did find freedom and he gave us a glimpse of new beginnings, grace when it’s hard, and the power to change a life. 

The third and final point of this article turns the focus to you and me. 

3. Time

What will we do with the time we have left?

None of us knows how many days, opportunities, or breaths we have left. The only day we have is this one. 

So,

Slow down. Grieve appropriately. And let’s ask, How will I respond? And how will I make the most of today?

Where is the “great” in me? How do I double down on the gifts and abilities God has given me? 

Am I embracing grace, mercy, and second chances for myself and others? Or, am living in shame—or holding shame over others?

I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired by Kobe. I’m going to wake up a little earlier this week and I’m going ask myself the questions above. Because that’s something I can do in light of this terrible tragedy. And, I think, it’s part of the legacy that Kobe would be proud that he left behind.