What Kobe's Memorial Can Teach Us About Connection in the Face of Tragedy

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Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game
Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is executive director of Vets4Warriors, a national 24/7 peer support network for veteran and military communities 100% staffed by trained veterans and members of the military community, their families or caregivers. If you want to speak with a peer, call Vets4Warriors at 1-855-838-8255, visit www.Vets4Warriors.com or follow us on social @Vets4Warriors to learn more.

The news of former NBA champion Kobe Bryant's death sent shockwaves throughout the basketball community, and to everyone around the world who followed his illustrious career.

Bryant, one of the most legendary athletes of our time, tragically died alongside his young daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash while headed to a youth basketball academy. An accident investigator said the helicopter reached a climbing height of 2,300 feet before it dove to the ground.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel explained during a monologue following Bryant's death how it seemed almost unfathomable for fans to lose the former basketball star so tragically.

"Kobe was, and I know this might not make sense, the last person you could ever imagine something like this happening to. He was so strong, and handsome, and smart, and energetic ..."

In fact, Kimmel's point makes perfect sense. Our minds do not prepare to lose someone who seemed larger than life, was admired by millions of fans, and who also devoted his life to his family.

Who would ever have considered the possibility of disaster striking so violently as it did that Sunday morning outside of Los Angeles?

Moreover, the Bryant family certainly never prepared for this day.

Unlike a majority of Americans, most military families, especially families of deployed troops, must face the possibility of tragedy as a part of their everyday lives.

Military spouses and parents imagine and perhaps even try to prepare for when a tragic day hits their own households. They imagine how on earth they will go on, or how their children will cope. They hope that the day never comes.

Deployed service members themselves are acutely aware of the risks of the job and must mentally accept that a tragic day may fall upon their family.

They carry the weight of pressure to stay alive for their families back home, while perhaps also keeping comrades-in-arms out of harm's way.

Remarkably, Bryant himself, during an interview at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, beautifully articulated the pressure the military community endures:

"It's funny because people ask me about playing under pressure, and things of that nature, and I say, 'Well, if I miss a game winning shot, we lose a ball game.' If you look at our armed forces, and what they do, that's real pressure -- at a level that is beyond our comprehension and what they have to face on a daily basis. … And having all road games. That's serious pressure and my hat goes off to them, and there's just so much respect that I have."

Almost two months ago, the military community faced this "serious pressure" head on as they were confronted with rare, rapid deployment to Iraq amid tensions with Iran-backed forces. Of course, our military trains for these precise moments, and so we have trust and confidence in our men and women in uniform who were deployed for these special missions.

Meanwhile, thousands of military families were faced with sudden uncertainty about what events might transpire and whether their loved ones would return.

But the hard truth is that almost nothing prepares you for a tragic loss like losing a spouse or child.

As a Gold Star parent myself, I can attest firsthand that being a part of a supportive community helped our family to endure, to keep breathing, to grieve and, yes, to survive.

After the sudden death of Bryant and his fellow passengers, I was struck by the thousands of fans who didn't just comment on losing Kobe, but also called on each other to pray and support the spouses, parents and children of those that perished.

Similarly, it brought me back to my own family's experience and what a difference it made when our community and my peers rallied to support us through the toughest time in our lives.

Families, whether civilian or military, should never have to experience the traumatic loss of a loved one. But with sustained support from a caring community, it is possible to one day find strength and purpose again.

No matter when tragedy strikes, or to whom, there may be nothing more valued than a community that collectively lifts up a family left behind.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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