Vanessa Bryant covers PEOPLE Magazine’s Women Changing the World. She talks about coping with the unimaginable loss of her late husband, Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant. Not only has Vanessa had to grieve publicly, but Kobe’s superstar status means she has had to accept that a lot of the world is grieving with her, a totally different process. Some of the most touching parts of her interview included:
"It really takes a village, that includes 'aunties' and 'uncles' that have stepped in to be there for us and get us through holidays, special milestones, and birthdays. ... They've shown their love and support through this horrible year and I don't know how I could've managed without them."
"I can't say that I'm strong every day, I can't say that there aren't days when I feel like I can't survive to the next."
Her strength, obviously, is for daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. In the past year, Vanessa has opened up mostly on Instagram, sharing happy moments with her daughters with family and friends, as well as posts remembering Kobe and Gianna.
This has been unusual for myriad reasons. Vanessa is grieving two people, her husband and her child. And Kobe’s celebrity status must make everything either a thousand times worse (due to the scrutiny) or better- she speaks in the interview about the powerful effect that people’s positive thoughts and prayers have had on her and her family. But we don’t talk about grief enough, and it’s a universal and unavoidable reality. It can often feel like it won’t end, and relationships are so complicated, there is no road map. Even when people die of natural causes, the loss can still be monumental. I don’t even know if we give elders the space to talk openly about the end of their life and any type of isolation they may experience. Regardless of age, loneliness is definitely a by-product of death and mourning, and it’s refreshing to see Vanessa speak openly about how she feels in the present, and about who has been by her side supporting her while she rebuilds her life.
What has struck me is how the tragedy may have changed Vanessa so much, and if so, definitely more than I can pick up on. Grief is so complex, and changes anyone but I can’t imagine doing it in the public eye – and any time I’ve lost someone in my life, it’s been expected. Kobe’s magnitude is one thing, but Vanessa’s notoriously private nature is another. While their relationship was constantly on front street in the media, that was more due to scandals and Kobe’s fame, not Vanessa’s desire to be famous. In fact, she was often seen as a rebellious basketball wife in that she didn’t court a public profile the way we’ve seen with Ayesha Curry or Jackie Christie. Vanessa has always been different, and a lot of people didn’t like it. I remember reading a 2012 profile on her and other wives of NBA players in The Cut and it was clear Vanessa didn’t care much for what people thought. It was hilarious and amazing. She understood that the life Kobe provided came with a lot of perks, but she wasn’t one to mince words the rare times she spoke. A gem I remember her saying is, “If you’re sacrificing time away from my family and myself for the benefit of winning championships, then winning a championship should happen every single year.” Winning meant a whole lot to this family.
And what a champion Kobe Bryant was. His second act after his epic basketball career included so much creativity and art, and affection for his family. At 41, he spoke openly about how he was looking forward to a less hectic life with his family doing things he was passionate about.
While that is a part of his legacy, it clearly is also a part of his private legacy in their marriage. Vanessa is now running his charity, and according to the PEOPLE profile, “She took charge of creative projects left unfinished at Granity Studios, the late star's multi-media company she now helms. Recently, Vanessa relaunched Kobe's charitable non-profit as Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, a nod to the father-daughter duo, to help empower young girls and provide equal opportunities to underserved athletes — a vision Kobe long championed.
Everything hasn’t been all support and love though. Recently, she had to check Meek Mill for a really tasteless Kobe line in a song, and as usual, Meek didn’t take the critique well. My opinion is that no one is really right after Nicki Minaj leaves them, but I digress. Vanessa has also had to deal with lawsuits involving people taking pictures of the bodies at the scene of the helicopter accident. There was also the inhumane way that news outlets reported the crash initially, which made loved ones have to find out about it online. TMZ is notorious for their lack of humanity, but it seemed particularity cruel in this case.
It’s so nice to see Vanessa reclaiming the new life she has, and letting us in to see. Head to PEOPLE to see the feature on Vanessa Bryant.