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  • Feeling the loss of Kobe Bryant: Why we grieve the deaths of famous athletes

    Mural honoring Kobe and Gianna Bryant behind a local barbershop in Signal Hill. Photo credit: Dr. Jason von Stietz

    It is not unusual for the death of a famous athlete to hit us harder than expected. We might even feel surprised and embarrassed by how intensely their passing can affect us. Here are a few reasons why the passing of our favorite athletes can have such a big impact on us:

    • We don’t know them, but we know them. They were a regular part of our lives for a long time. Some of the defining moments in our lives involved watching them perform or feeling inspired by their actions. We have even seen them grow and change overtime as we did the same.
    • We feel connected to them. They remind us of ourselves in our moments of triumph as well as in our moments of adversity.
    • They connect us to our friends and family who have died. We may have deceased loved ones who were avid fans of them. Now that they have passed, feelings related to our loved ones can resurface.
    • We connect with the way they died. Whether it was an accident, cancer, or an overdose, we often have a loved one who passed in a similar way or is currently struggling with a similar issue.
    • They were a comfort to us. Sometimes our favorite memories involve spending time with our loved ones watching them perform. Sometimes we watch their performances or stories about their lives to help us manage difficult times. This can lead to feeling a deep emotional connection to them.
    • We see it everywhere. We see stories of their passing on the news, on social media, and on other internet outlets. We are inundated with the tragic news.
    • It represents losing our youth or past. They played an important part of our lives as we grew older. Their passing can remind us that there are parts of our lives that we cannot get back.
    • Other people don’t get it. Not everyone understands the important role a famous athlete can play in our lives. Sometimes they might make insensitive comments that minimize our grief.
    • They will never do anything new. We have spent much of our lives anticipating their next performance. They will never perform again or give back to the community. Realizing this can lead to a deep sense of loss.

    Since mourning the loss of a famous athlete can be expected, what should we do? Here are some tips on managing the grief:

    • Take a break from the news. Constantly watching news coverage and social media posts related to their passing, or highlighting their life, can intensify our distress. We need to give ourselves a break from the coverage.
    • Remember that the positive impact on our lives is not gone. We can still revisit their past performance, biographies, and memorabilia in time. Their positive influence on our lives will live on.
    • Devote time to mourning. We can allow ourselves the time we need to mourn. We can connect with loved ones and other fans to discuss the meaning they added to our lives.
    • Sometimes it not about them. The passing of a celebrity athletes can trigger emotions we have not yet fully processed about the passing of one of our loved ones. We need to give ourselves the freedom to mourn the loss of our loved too.
    • Maintain a routine. Staying active helps to manage feelings of sadness and isolation. It forces us to continue doing activities we enjoy, even if we temporarily find them less enjoyable.

    Sources: 1, 2

    Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He works in the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and El Segundo.