I had just awakened from a nap, then reached over and grabbed my phone to check the time and, of course, Facebook. After a scroll I saw photos of Kobe Bryant with very few words, but words that alerted me that something wasn’t right. I kept scrolling and read this headline: “Kobe Bryant Dead, Killed in Helicopter Crash”. I sat up on my bed saying, “Oh my God. Is this real?” My husband turned on the television to find out and soon after, we heard the tragic news. Like the rest of the nation, we were shocked, numb, and confused while searching for more information.
Kobe Bryant? Like THE Kobe Bryant, I kept wondering? What devastating news about such a young legend, who scored big with a successful NBA career and impacted athletes, aspiring athletes, and basketball fans during the span of his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, one of the greatest scorers (and players) in the NBA has shot his final shot, secured his last rebound, and played his final game – EVER.
Grieving fans, who will soon get past the loss, are left with fond memories, but for his beautiful wife and children it may take much longer to grieve and embrace a new normal.
I thought about the Bryants Sunday afternoon into Sunday evening and Monday morning during my commute to work. Not only has Vanessa lost a husband, but those beautiful girls lost their dad – a dad who, from the outside looking in, through photos and videos, was a good dad. My heart aches for them. I had questions. One being, how will they cope with the sudden, tragic loss?
As I rode down Millwood Avenue yesterday morning, I thought of Fredericka and her sister Tameka who had a similar loss back in the eighties. They lived on the same road as me and we often played together because our mothers were friends. When I was probably about thigh high to Momma, I can recall being at a baseball (or maybe softball) game in Britton’s Neck, sitting in the bleachers when I heard a crash. Everyone around me turned in the direction of the noise. There was a motorcycle accident just a stone’s throw from the field. Some quickly ran to the accident scene while others looked in shock. I learned my friends’ father was the motorcyclist and he later died.
Today, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I reached out to Fredericka. We live in different cities and probably haven’t spoken since our high school graduation, but I figured she, in some way, can relate to Kobe’s daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri who also lost their big sister Gianna “Gigi” in the helicopter crash.
Thankfully, Fredericka agreed to talk about this sensitive, yet timely, topic.
Chaunte: We were little girls when you lost your dad. Can you recall the moment you learned of his death?
Fredericka: We were at my grandmother’s house in Johnsonville because my mom had an Eastern Star meeting. They came and got my mom and didn’t say anything to us until after we got home. We were wondering why everybody was coming to the house. She told us he was in a bad accident. I think he lived two or three days before he actually died.
Chaunte: What were your thoughts when you received the news?
Fredericka: I can remember my thought was . . . Well, we were too young to visit him [in the hospital]. My mom let us write letters. I remember writing him a letter that he would get well and would be able to come home. And telling him Tameka thinks he’s dead, but I was telling her he was going to live. I didn’t know [his condition] was as serious as it was.
Chaunte: What did you miss about him most?
Fredericka: I missed waiting on him to come home from work. He was employed with Wellman. Every night around 8:00 he would come home. Me and Tameka would sit on his feet and he would walk around with us on his feet. That’s one of things I remembered, waiting on him to come home from work. Even if he came home late, he would always come in the room and wake us up and give us a kiss.
Chaunte: How did your mom help you and your sister deal with his passing?
Fredericka: For a while, every Father’s Day she would get flowers made to put in front of the church at Bethel. After church we would take them and put them on his grave.
Chaunte: Children are inquisitive. Did you and your sister have a lot of questions for your mom?
Fredericka: I remember us asking her was he ever going to come back? Were we going to see him again?
Right before they were going to pull the plug, my uncle Marvin asked me if I wanted to go see him. I think Blanche or Judy Ann said no, she doesn’t need to see him like that.
After he passed, I asked Momma was he still in the hospital. She had to explain to me that the funeral was the last goodbye and he was in heaven and he was always going to look down on us.
Chaunte: What advice or words of encouragement would you share with Kobe’s daughters and the other children who lost their parents?
Fredericka: My advice to kids is always remember the good times and the funniest things you ever heard them say or do because when you’re feeling down, it will always make you smile even when nobody else knows why you are smiling.
Chaunte: When you learned of Kobe’s passing, did your thoughts go back to the day you lost your dad?
Fredericka: It brought back more memories of me losing my mom. I’ve lost both parents. I lost my mom about a year after high school and my dad when I was about 7 or 8. It made me think about families and how we let things come between us to keep us from talking to each other. Just because you’re young, it doesn’t mean you have a long time to live. Kobe was young. People need to look at things differently and when you have a misunderstanding to not hold grudges.
It brought back a lot things. I started thinking about all the things you wish you had said or the time you could’ve spent and didn’t spend. All of that sort of crosses.
Chaunte: It has been nearly 36 years since Mr. Freddie’s passing. How do you and Tameka continue to honor him?
Fredericka: We always talk about him with family members and listen to old stories told to us by Aunt Jean, his older sister, on his birthday, November 4th.
#GirlDads are stepping up, honoring Kobe with the hashtag and sharing pictures of themselves with their daughters. I salute them! I pray they will hug their daughters AND sons a little tighter, spend more time, make more memories, say I love you, and have more conversations as often as possible. This tragedy has taught some, and reminded others, that every moment counts.
Remembering the 9 Calabasas Helicopter Crash Victims
A prayer for their families
Lord, sometimes I’m left totally speechless when tragedies like Sunday’s happen. I know you understand my heart and what I want to say and I’m indeed grateful for that. But Lord, if I’m struggling with what to say to you, I can just imagine the mute voices and silent tears of the spouses, children, siblings, parents and other loved ones of the victims. God, draw and hold them close to you. As they grieve, protect their minds from bad thoughts that will tempt them to turn to bad habits or make other bad choices. Protect their minds so they will maintain good mental health. Forever surround them with loving, caring people who have their best interest at heart. At a time when they may be feeling lost, remind them that you are their shepherd. When they feel empty, fill them with your love. May you be their source of hope today and always. In Jesus name, amen.