February 12, 2020

3 Ways to Grieve your Heroes—even the Ones you’ve Never Met.


For another perspective, read “How I Feel about Kobe” by Waylon Lewis. 


When I was a child, heroes wore capes and masks—and they never died.

For me, Batman was the quintessential superhero. Nothing smoothed out the hard corners of life—school stress, family turmoil, drama with friends—like watching the Caped Crusader save the day, again and again and again. Batman was the ultimate good guy, the perfect protagonist. And decades later, he still is (even if the villains have become more frightening).

As I grew up, I found other heroes. In fact, I married one. My husband Bill was a human superhero. He was larger than life, immensely talented, and phenomenally strong in both body and mind. Bill inspired me, and in many ways he even rescued me.

But unlike comic book heroes, Bill wasn’t superhuman, even though I often thought of him that way. His death shattered me—and still affects me every day.

Two weeks ago, many of us lost a real-life hero. When Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed in Los Angeles killing him, his young daughter, and seven others, it sent shock waves through all of us. Bryant—like Batman and Bill and any number of other idolized hero figures—couldn’t die, and certainly not so young. The superhuman athlete, the NBA superstar, the MVP, the smiling giant was gone, just like that.

As a certified grief counselor, I understand the impossibility of processing something so sudden and so tragic. In the wake of this horrifying event, it’s important to be honest, open, and gentle with yourself—after all, you just lost a hero.

Don’t belittle your grief.

You don’t choose grief—grief chooses you. While the logical part of your mind might sneer at the sadness you feel for someone you’ve never met, you’re entitled to process your loss.

The thing about losing a hero is that there are so many losses interwoven with the death. You may be grieving the loss of your childhood, when you hung that #24 jersey on your bedroom wall. You could be mourning memories associated with Bryant, like evenings spent watching NBA games with your dad. This tragedy could remind you of other tragedies you’ve experienced and mourned, opening those wounds anew. Give yourself permission to feel your grief. Don’t reason with it—let it wash over you.

Gain perspective.

In the wake of tragedy, we often gain perspective. Our lives are fast-paced, high-stress, and brimming with to-do lists. Bryant’s death shocked us all, and it reminded us that life—even the lives of heroes—is fragile; it could be gone in a moment.

Don’t let that idea depress you. Let it motivate you to live better and love harder and give more. Don’t wait to forgive a friend, share a loving word, or do a good deed.

Honor their memory.

Grief is far more bearable when it has some place to go. Channel your grief into emulation, and honor the characteristics that made Bryant (or any of your heroes) heroic to you. Whether it was his skills on the court, his family-first mentality, his work ethic, or his desire to give back to the community, you’ll honor his legacy most by trying to bring those values into your life.

Bear in mind, we all experience grief differently. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you process the loss of your heroes. And remember, when we recognize and emulate the goodness and positive aspects of those we idolize, even real-life heroes can live forever.




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Kristi Hugstad (The Grief Girl)  |  Contribution: 960

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