Even though we’ve had a few days for it to soak in, the death of Kobe Bryant, one of the world’s most beloved basketball stars, still feels like a bad dream. He was headed to his daughter’s basketball game and he is no more. How did something so mundane become so terminal? And why are we reeling from the loss of this man we only knew through our television screens?
“Celebrities are often the subject of our affection, and though it’s an affection that is unrequited, it can foster a powerful sense of connection,” said Joshua Flatow, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Los Angeles. “When that celebrity dies, especially in an unexpected way or at a young age, the grief that follows results from that connection. You may never have met the person or even been in the same room with them, yet you have shared their ups and downs with them. You have seen private details of their lives. You have memories with them. You miss them. And you mourn them.”
With Kobe Bryant’s passing, the community of Los Angeles immediately flocked to the home of the LA Lakers, the Staples Center, in order to show their respects. But they also flocked there as a first response to grief.
“Death has an interesting ability to unite people through grief,” said Mottsin Thomas, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Los Angeles. “When a loved one dies, families typically come together to console and support one another through the grieving period. When a celebrity dies, shared grief brings entire communities and, in some cases, the world together to grieve. Grief is real, it is powerful, and it can become complicated and debilitating.”
“There’s no silver lining here, it’s just awful… It’s all bad. It’s all sad.” - Jimmy Kimmel
Grieving and Loss: Time Heals Most Things
Time and retrospect are almost miraculous in their ability to help people focus on how human beings, particularly loved ones, lived and impacted their world - as opposed to how long they lived. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger… they died before they were 40 years old but the love we have for them continues to this day. In some cases, their memory has lived longer than they did.
Remembering those who have died is a healthy aspect of grief, one that can bring comfort during times of immense sadness. Connecting with others is also useful, especially others who are grieving, as they understand how you feel and share the same sense of loss.
“It is important to remember that grief does not come in one simple form, nor does it progress in a linear fashion,” said Dr. Flatow. “Grief can cause sleep disturbances, appetite changes, stomach upset, and headaches. It can also cause feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness, despair and irritability.”
Most people will experience bouts of sadness and anger that pass fairly quickly – they are likely experiencing a normal grieving pattern.
Understanding Grief and Managing Mental Health During Times of Loss
With the onset of grief, many people fall into a sudden and acute state of pain. At first, it’s important to let yourself feel the pain of your loss. Knowing that it’s normal and many others who are grieving will also experience this symptom can help you through this phase.
While you may be tempted to shift into isolation, this is where psychotherapy or talking to people close to you can help you validate your feelings. Some people find that chronicling their feelings in a journal is helpful as well, and even writing a note to someone who has passed away can be cathartic.
Maintaining a normal routine can also be helpful in times of grief. Patterns provide comfort and restore a sense of predictability and security, especially after an unexpected or senseless death like Kobe Bryant’s.
If you or a loved one believes that your cycles of grief are impairing your ability to function, treatments are available. Specialized psychotherapy targeting grief as well as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications like Lexapro, Prozac, or Zoloft may also be a first-line approach to treat event-provoked or grief-induced depression. The practitioners at Pacific Mind Health are available to support you through grief whatever your treatment requires.
Pacific Mind Health offers comprehensive mental health care for a range of psychiatric conditions. If you are looking for a psychiatrist in Los Angeles or Long Beach, California, or telepsychiatry in California, please contact us to schedule an appointment.