To be a parent is to want to give our children the world. We hope to protect their innocence as long as we can, to shield them from bullies and bad news, even though we know that “the world” holds as much pain as it does joy, and that our arms are not long enough, our good intentions not strong enough to cocoon our babies – big and small – from this reality.
A reality like death.
On Jan. 25, my 12-year-old son, Sol, attended his first funeral. We flew from L.A. to DeRidder, La., to help lay my Uncle Junior to rest. I regretted that the funeral would be Sol’s first introduction to this man who had such a profound impact on my family when I was growing up. Still, I sensed that it was important for him to attend the memorial because I knew that in addition to mourning, there would be great songs of praise, more hugs than we could count and recollections of the positive contributions Uncle Junior had made.
Sol squeezed my hand as we passed the open casket and, for a moment, I doubted my decision to bring him.
After the burial, we gathered in family members’ houses. We sang, played guitar, peeled crawfish and enjoyed a cousin’s gumbo. We hung onto each other’s words, leaning in close. I watched my son grinning from ear to ear as relatives he’d never met took him under their wings. I had made the right decision.
The next morning, the day before we were scheduled to fly back to L.A., I received a text bearing tragic news: A helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others had crashed in Calabasas, just five miles from the L.A. Parent office.
“Oh nooooooo,” we texted, posted, howled, whispered. While waiting for our flight the next day, Sol and I read the articles (“All of L.A. is lit up in purple and gold”), and our eyes and hearts burned for our city. Sol grabbed my hand again, this time just before takeoff. “We should pray, Mommy,” he said, and we did.
When we arrived at LAX that night, its iconic columns flashed purple and gold. “It’s surreal,” my son said. “You just felt like you knew Kobe. He’s who I would think of whenever I try to make a shot. And to know Gigi was on there …” his voice trailed off.
“And all the other people,” I added. They were John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Payton and Sarah Chester and Ara Zobayan.
Throughout the week, we kept reading – social media posts, articles – until one evening Sol said, “I have to stop the mourning for a while, Mom. I liked what Magic said in his video about all the good moments with Kobe.” And so, I followed his lead. We focused on Bryant’s film “Dear Basketball” and testimonies of all of the passengers’ passions and work ethic.
The following Sunday, we joined thousands of others paying their respects at Staples Center, where all of L.A. Live was awash in purple and gold flower bouquets and balloons, T-shirts, hats and hoodies memorializing Bryant and Gigi, chalked art, teddy bears, blankets, live artwork and handwritten prayers for the victims’ families on makeshift murals. I watched my son and his friend Eli take in the outpouring of quiet grief and love – and process their own.
Couples and friends leaned into each other. Little kids perched on dads’ shoulders. It was clear that this public memorial was personal – an attempt to honor the victims, to comfort the survivors, to spend precious time with our own loved ones.
Eli added a T-shirt he’d bought to one of the memorials. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep it for yourself?” I asked him.
“No,” he said, glancing around. “I hope his family gets some of this.”
We would give our children only the best of the world if we could. But this is as impossible as immortality. And in the midst of this hard and humbling reality, our children learn to give of themselves.