Home Health & Wellness WHAT KOBE TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF

WHAT KOBE TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF

by Gary Vitti
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Kobe BryantSince I started the vittireport.com I have tried to produce one blog per week. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed on the blog front, first with the loss of my mother on New Year’s day followed by the horrific tragedy of losing Kobe, GiGi and seven other beautiful lives on January 26th, 2020. I’ve wanted to write but just couldn’t come up with a topic or the mental energy to find something meaningful to share. I woke up this morning with thoughts of Kobe saying come on GV, I know you’re not 100% but give me what you can. Tell them how I handled the Achilles. So here it goes.

It occurred to me that the one thing many of us are sharing as I write this is grief. After I retired I was asked by sports psychologist Dr. Bill Parham to speak to his class at Loyola Marymount University about the psychological aspects of athletic injury. I remember telling the class that athletes go through many of the same stages of grief as if they lost a loved one. Their sport is so meaningful to the inner core of who they are that losing that ability to participate is the same as losing someone they love.

Many athletes experience the loss of identity, a vulnerability of needing to ask for help and the fear of not being able to return to play.

The reactions to time loss injuries lead an athlete to the five phases of grief and the greatest example of this is when Kobe ruptured his Achilles tendon and here’s how he handled it.

DENIAL is the first phase:

When I got to him, he was writhing in pain and told me it felt like someone kicked him in the back of the leg. That is the telltale sign of an Achilles rupture. When I told him that’s what I thought it could be he told me he was trying to pull it back down. I told him it doesn’t work that way so he said: “let’s go in the back and you can tape it so I can play.” I told him that was not going to work either. At that moment he could not accept that he could not play. He was in denial trying to figure out how he/we could keep him in the game.

When I first heard the news of the helicopter crash my initial reaction was that is was a hoax. Even as credible sources confirmed the story I still didn’t want to believe it. I was in denial.

ANGER is the second phase:

At the moment Kobe ruptured his Achilles, he was fouled. We were in the bonus so there was an opportunity to shoot two free throws. I told Kobe he could shoot the free throws and make or miss we were going to foul to create a dead ball and then pull him out of the game. He heroically shot and made both free throws and then stoically shuffled off the floor and made his way to the training room never showing the emotions that were brewing within him. When we got to the training room he let loose. Throwing bottles of Gatorade, ranting why me, why now. He was in a fit of anger.

When I realized that the helicopter crash story was real, I became angry and I still am. Why Kobe, why Gigi, why these innocent young children and parents of children. These wonderful people, why take them? They have so much to offer the world.

NEGOTIATION is the third phase:

The negotiation or bargaining for Kobe was, if I didn’t make that move or if I didn’t play so many minutes maybe this wouldn’t have happened. It was his way of trying to explain how things could have been done differently or better. A way to explain what and why trying to regain control.

As the investigation goes on about the helicopter crash I find myself asking the same questions of how and why. Trying to negotiate a way that could have changed the outcome. If he never used the helicopter and drove, if it wasn’t so foggy if they had the right equipment. I have learned there is no solution to the negotiation phase it’s only a step to get to the next phase.

DEPRESSION is the fourth phase:

Vanessa, Natalia, and Gigi were at the game the night Kobe ruptured his Achilles. It took some time for security to usher them to the training room to see him. As emotional as Kobe was when we entered the training he turned it off as soon as he saw his family. He did not want them to see him that way. By the time we left the arena, he bypassed the depression phase and was off to the final phase.

I am still stuck in depression but I’m trying to work myself out of it. I went back to read text messages and voice mails he left for me. One message was a video of Gigi making a patented Black Mamba turn around fall away jump shot that was all net. In the text, he asked me if I recognized the move. I also retrieved a voice mail he left after my dad passed away. He asked about my daughters and the rest of my family. He sent condolences and love.

ACCEPTANCE is the fifth and final phase:

Before we left the arena the night Kobe ruptured his Achilles he had already accepted the injury and had a plan to return to play. It began with surgery that he wanted scheduled the very next day. His ability to move through the stages to acceptance was in typical Kobe fashion.

I am trying to get out of depression and into acceptance. I am too emotional to keep doing interviews and talking about this tragedy. I don’t like seeing myself that way or having other people see me that way. I also stopped watching the tragedy played over and over again on TV. I am still not good but I’m getting better. I don’t believe time heals all wounds. I think you can get better at handling it but the wound never heals and it will never be the same. I’m working on it. I’m not there yet but I’ll get there because Kobe would want me to.

This will be the last I speak of the tragedy for a while. It was therapeutic for me to write this blog and I hope it may help some of you.

21 comments

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21 comments

Gretchen Ratcliff Sawyer February 2, 2020 - 5:46 am

I’m a writer and screenwriter. I’ve won a few awards. This is a brilliant approach of weaving the past with the devastating present. It is enlightening and heart wrenching. 💔. Thank you for sharing this. Keep writing. You’ve got a way.

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Karina Moore February 3, 2020 - 5:30 am

Thank you for opening up and sharing Gary.

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Tommy. February 3, 2020 - 9:59 pm

Yes, YOU WILL get there! Love you Bro, hope to see you soon👍♥️

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Jeancarlo February 27, 2020 - 7:32 am

Thank you Gary, sooo much for sharing this, it helps. Also sorry for the loss of your mother. This a very tough time. As you go thru these stages, just keep that mamba mentality. Trying your best is all you can do. Again thank you

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Dolores Cunningham February 4, 2020 - 4:54 am

Don’t think that time heals a traumatic loss like this but one learns how best to live with it. Read your blog and think it is amazing how quickly Kobe went through the 5 stages but he was fortunate, he was able to play again. The death of a loved one takes even more time, and depending on the relationship one has had with the person it may take a very long time. One may go through all 5 stages and maybe not. Believing that you need to grieve and giving yourself permission to do so is truly what needs to take place for one to move on and heal.

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Marion R. February 8, 2020 - 1:07 pm

This was a beautiful read, Gary. Thank you.

Am sorry for the loss that you have experienced the past month and hope that strength and healing comes to you during this difficult time.

We may not know each other personally, but know that your words about Kobe’s will to get through a seemingly impossible, insurmountable challenge, somehow helps me, a long time Laker, basketball and Kobe fan from across the globe, deal with this tragic loss too.

Through your post, I am reminded that Kobe’s inspiration and drive to get through difficult, painful times, transcends this earth. While this is painful to accept and believe, his legacy of bringing people together, and helping them find that resilience and passion from within, lives on and will continue to do so. Realizing that we are stronger than we perceive ourselves to be, that we can be so much more just when we think we have reached our limit – those are just some of the many nuggets that #24 has ingrained in my thinking. Reading your blog and how you are willing yourself to move past each stage is testimony of that Mamba mindset to always push harder – even when it gets to be painful, exhausting and very real to your core.

Know that you have the support of many more people around you who also “love you more than you’ll ever know.” Know that you also have the gratitude of many, many Laker fans all over the world who are eternally indebted to you for
helping Kobe in so many ways. Thank you for being one of the biggest reasons that he graced the hardwood for 2 decades. You are a Laker great, just like Kobe is and forever will be.

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Razmikkhach February 9, 2020 - 12:57 am

Thank you Mr. Vitti for sharing this with us! Raz K.

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Henry Johnston February 9, 2020 - 6:36 pm

WOW, I have watched how you worked with Kobe all those years and was always very impressed at how you two worked together. Now I can say Gary Vitti helped me through a devastating injury. Thank You GV

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Jacqueline Chavez February 9, 2020 - 8:38 pm

Beautiful . Thank you for helping Kobe throughout his career.

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Isaac Contreras February 10, 2020 - 6:22 am

This was great to read. I feel like I am still in the denial stage. Thank you for sharing this Mr. Vitti and wish you the best.

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Stacy Brown Gruen February 10, 2020 - 10:12 pm

Sending all of my love and condolences your way. Although I’ve been away for a long time, the Lakers – and you – will always feel like family to me.

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Glenn Cooper February 27, 2020 - 3:47 am

Gary, we have met a few times particularly during the pre-season trip over to Las Vegas and Lakers party. I retired from ESPN LA and worked with a great mutual friend of ours, Richard Walsh. When that terrible news started coming on Sunday morning, you’re on the first people of I thought about because you told me how close you were to Kobe and his family. This is the first ‘Vitti Report’ I’ve read and I congratulate you for your strength in writing about Kobe and friends. Be strong. Like you said, its going to be an open wound, but think of all that he taught us and excitement he gave us. Hope to see you soon!

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Aiden Sausen February 27, 2020 - 6:33 am

MAMBA MENTALITY

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LT February 27, 2020 - 6:39 am

Thank you Gary, I know Kobe would’ve appreciated that insight, The 5 stages are real and a lot of us are still in stage 4. This helps a lot more than you know thanks GV #Lakers4Life #RIPGiGi #RIPKobe

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C1SC0 February 27, 2020 - 7:10 am

Beautiful, well said

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Rob February 27, 2020 - 12:21 pm

Thank you GV!

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spencer harris February 27, 2020 - 12:47 pm

I’m having a more difficult time accepting that. I’ve been a funk for a couple of weeks. Kobe Bryant is the epitome of what professional athlete should be. That plane crash should’ve never happened with all the technical advances now and having a 12 yr daughter of my own just made it that much worse! I followed him in high school preinternet age I respected his work ethic, his swagger and his passion to be the best! I know he’s in a better place, but damn this was a hard one to swallow!

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William H February 27, 2020 - 5:06 pm

Thank you Gary Vitti for sharing. As a long time Lakers fan it is good to hear your thoughts. As a counselor, I also understand that we cycle through the different stages of grief. It is not linear. I still ho through denial everytime I talk to someone or see a Kobe highlight. I like to say we never get over the loss, we just eventually adjust to life without our loved one. My condolences to you on your family loss and to the Bryant family and the LA community on the passing of Kobe, Gi Gi, and the families of all involved in this tragic accident.

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Dino February 27, 2020 - 5:37 pm

Thank you Gary. The Grief is all to real for so many of us and it will be a long time before I truly arrive at acceptance. The one thing I take solace in is that Kobe will never be gone. His footprints have forever been marked on this earth, and he has touched the lives of so many. We will carry his legacy forward.

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Luke February 27, 2020 - 8:51 pm

Thanks for this Gary. Great read. All the best mate

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Bridget Ormond Kopek February 28, 2020 - 8:47 pm

Beautiful explanation of the stages of grief.
Time will pass and the memories you shared will make your heart smile 💕

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