By Steve Dypiangco
The morning after Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and several other passengers died in a helicopter crash, I drove my two daughters 9 and 7-years-old to school.
Having grown up in LA watching Kobe throughout his career from high-flying rookie to legendary champion, I could feel (via social media, texts, and phone calls) how deeply his untimely passing had affected my friends and family in LA and beyond.
I turned on the local sports talk radio station in my car to listen to what people were saying about this tragedy. I was looking for more information, to feel connected to others, and to show my girls the significance of this event. But the hosts’ comments about experiencing the death of a child seemed too strong for my kids to grasp without much background info, so I turned the radio off.
I wanted my kids to understand what was happening and to use this opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with them. Since my kids didn’t know much about Kobe, I explained the situation in a simple way they would hopefully understand. Here’s what I said…
The Timing Was Hard to Believe
I started off by explaining that Kobe was a very popular basketball player who lots of sports fans were talking about the day before. When Lebron James (who they do know) passed Kobe’s 3rd place on the NBA all-time scoring list on Saturday night, all of the sports news sites were talking about Kobe. So it was incredible for this tragedy to happen Sunday morning right after everyone was already thinking about him. We had just seen him on the news. How could he be dead the very next day?
People Die Every Day
People dying is not something new or surprising. In fact, people young and old, rich and poor experience the end of their lives every single day in hospitals, homes, and elsewhere. But what’s different is that those people aren’t famous. We don’t know them, who they are, and what they did. So it doesn’t bother us if they are gone. We have no connection with them.
But Kobe’s death is different because he was famous, and lots of people knew and followed him.
So Many People Felt Connected to Kobe
Lots of people care a lot about sports: their favorite teams and players. Kobe was one of the most popular and successful basketball players to ever play the game. So there are lots of people who cheered for him and followed his career closely. Because they watched him, read about him, and loved what he did on the court, especially his work ethic, he made a big impact on their lives. People, especially those in Los Angeles, felt connected to him, almost as if they knew him, like he was their friend or their hero.
So when he died, it really affected many people and made them very sad.
Hardest Parts for Me / What I Didn’t Say
The one area that I had the hardest time talking about was how kids died in the helicopter crash. I did mention it, but it wasn’t a point that I wanted to dwell on. I didn’t want to scare my kids into thinking they might die sometime soon.
I also didn’t talk much about Kobe as a dad because I didn’t want them to be afraid about me dying suddenly. I guess I was also afraid of getting too emotional in front of them and having that freak them out. I wish I had a better approach here, but I couldn’t figure it out on the spot.
Now that I’ve had a little time to process this conversation, I’m going to follow up with them to more directly discuss the topic of death. Not to scare them. But to show them that it does scare me and make me sad to think about these things, and that those are ok feelings to have.
What the Kids Wanted to Know
The parts of the story that they wanted to know about were very factual about the who, what, and how of the accident.
My 7-year-old asked about the pilot and what happened to him. I said there was a pilot, and he died, too.
My 9-year-old asked what the helicopter crashed into. I said it crashed into the ground. She asked if it was taking off, and I said that I didn’t know.
I don’t know how much they’ll remember this conversation when they’re older. But I’m glad that I made the effort to make the world of grown up news more easy to digest for their young minds.
Is There a Right Way?
I’m not sure that this was the right way to talk about Kobe’s death or if there even is a right way to do so. But I hope this helps other parents out there who are trying to figure out how to have an open and honest conversation with their kids about this tragedy.
Steve Dypiangco is the co-founder and CEO of Dadventures, an online resource helping make family fun easy. He’s a proud husband and father of 3 kids. You can reach him at [email protected]