Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi. IMAGE INSTAGRAM/@houseofhighlights
Less than one week ago the world lost an icon. Suddenly. Tragically. Instantly. Kobe Bryant, Father, Husband, Sport ledgend, Community Leader, Role Model. The news coverage and social meida coverage has been 24/7 for a week. We all feel very badly for those lost and for their loved ones that survive them. All those lost, Kobe, his beloved daughter, Gigi, and the other seven passengers on that ill fated flight. This post serves as an open letter to all that grieve such sudden and heartbreaking loss in life. I feel a post is in order as so many people seem to be grieving the loss of these two humans at this time, His widow, his surviving children, other athletes, his former teammates and opponents, my own children, so many many people feel saddened by this loss. I hope this helps. Trust and believe in that in your darkest hour, that no matter what your personal tragedy might be, there will come a brighter day. You will grieve. You will recover. Some losses can seem insurmountable but I can assure you that survival is possible.
How can I be so sure? Allow me to share some personal experiences, not to testify to the negitiive but to attest to the possibilities of successful recovery. I have suffered my own sudden, tragic, seemingly unsurmountable loss. I am not alone. Many people have suffered these types of sudden loss. Loved ones killed in car accidents, the 3,000 plus lost on 9/11, any number of freak accidents. Allow yourself also to consider those lost in less sudden manners, such as those we lose to long term illnesses such as cancer. Try and keep in mind that at any time any person you come into contact my be dealing with their own personal tragedy that we may know nothing about.
Above is the home I lived in with my parents and most of my 16 brothers and sisters in my home town of Newark, NJ. This is the building as it stands today. I remember it was a wild time, the early 1980’s my big brother Richie and I always getting into some sort of trouble in the streets. My parents strict church going folks, more on that at a later date. In a family this size you don’t get to be close to all of your siblings. I was closest to two of mine, my brother Richie, he was a year older then me, and my younger brother Matthew, who was 5 years younger then myself. I had seven brothers and eight sisters.
The view from our front steps. Way back in the day, in 1980 /81 I used to sit on the steps or some times in the attic window with my brother Matthew and we would have long talks about the original World Trade Center, The Twin Towers, as they were clearly visible between these two houses across the street. If you look closely you can see the new Freedom Tower in the smae place. Photot by Brian Hester
The Freedom Tower as seen from Clifton Ave. Newark, NJ Photo by Brian Hester
The Freedom Tower as seen from Clifton Ave. Newark, NJ Photo by Brian Hester
My brother Mattthew and I were very close. I always helped him with all of his school projects. My father had a practice of not feeding us kids lunch on Saturday’s, not sure why?? I can still hear him saying Lunch? It’s Saturday we don’t get lunch! I would take my brother Matthew for sandwhiches from an Italian deli in the neaighborhood on Saturdays. Below is the stoop on which we would normally sit and eat.
Pictured here, a “stoop” and urban term reffering to a building entranceway with wide steps that double as a seating areas for folks in a neaighborhood. Photo by Brian Hester
Our fav stoop. Photo by Brian Hester
The former family home, now fully restored, and with lower side porch now enclosed. Photo by Brian Hester
So how is it that I can be so certain that all those that grieve may someday know peace again? I have been there. I have seen it with my own eyes. Lived it in my own life. This home picture above caught fire in the middle of the night 38 years ago this Feb. 1 and we lost three siblings in the blink of an eye. My 4 year old sister Theresa, my 6 year old brother Owen, and my 10 year p;d brother Matthew. In a second. Three. Gone. No warning. In addition to that everything we owned was gone as well although the material things nevered mattered at all. I wondered how would we move forward? I questioned how could the world go on? But the very next morning as walked down the block I noticed the bus coming down the street. I thought why? Why didn’t the bus stop? But the bus, and the rest of the world continued to spin around me and life itself continued. The bus rolled on.
A man boards a bus in Newark. The bus never stops running. Photo by Brian Hester
It will be painful. There will be tears. Don’t fight these. This is normal. It part of the healing process. And yes, trust me, you will heal. It may not be Kobe that makes you grieve. Anyone could have their own personal 9/11, fire, car crash, freak accident… But no matter how insurmountable your grief may seem at first, if you give yourself a chance, you will see your bus still rolling through your town. The first year is the hardest. You go through each and every holiday as a “first” and not a good “first”. The “first” Christmas, the “first” birthday, all “firsts”without that certain loved one. But push on. Persiet. Know that this is what your lost loved ones would most assuradle want. The bus rolled on.
The #27 bus in Newark rolls along. The bus never stops running. Photo by Brian Hester
Back in 1982 a few weeks after our fire I was supposed to return to my senior year of high school. I can still remember walking to the corner and standing there as the first bus came. And went. And the second. And the third. By this time I had simply stood there in the cold for about an hour and a half just watching, wondering, why the bus had never stoped. But then it occured to me, my brother would want me to get on the bus, as Spike would say. He would want me to move forward.
Each year, each day we get stronger, we move forward, we recover. A very good friend of mine, has helped me work through many issues in my life, childhood tragedies such as the fire of 1982, child abuse prior to the fire, sexual and spiritual abuse from clergy and phsyical and emotional abuse from parents. My mother blamed me for the loss of my siblings. She reminded me that I was the one that had removed the battery from the one smoke dectector in the house about a year and half prior to the night of the fire. I had done this. I can still remember, it was a hot August day in the summer of 1980. The older technolgy in smoke dectectors would cause them to beep or chirp every 2 or 3 minutes to alert you that the battery was dying. As my mother started to loss it over this constant beeping she yelled for it to be silenced, keep in mind she had over a dozen kids and had just moved into a new house. I was 15 years old. I jumped up on a chair, removed the battery and closed the cover, never to think about it again until it was way to late. The current smoke detector technolgy does not allow for this to happen as the covers do not close now without a battery in the compartment. The bus rolls on.
I know now that it was NOT my fault. I was 15 years old. It took many years, over two decades of mental help and counseling to fully accept that this was not my fault. And as for my mother, I no longer blame her for balming me as she was most likely out of her mind with grief. We all were. There can be no greater loss than the loss of a child, let alone three. At once. The Bus rolls on….
NJ Transit bus rolls along the streets of Newark, NJ Photo by Brian Hester
Every year, for many, many years now, I have driven to the old house, the place where I last saw my beloved brothers and sister on the anniversary of the tragedy. Usually I sit in the car at the street level. I pray. I refelect. I notice, The bus rolls on. This year I thought I would try something different, motivated by my desire to help others dealing with grief. Greif over Kobe. Grief over whatever personal tramus that they may be experienceing. I thought I would do two things. One was to share my experiences to show people that there is hope for recovery from horrific events. The second was more personal still, I decided that I would use my creative skills of photography to help me capture and deal with my loss. I walked around the neighborhood for a few hours this afternoon. I went down to the old Italian deli for a sandwhich and planned to eat it on the same stoop that I had shared with my brother almost fourty years ago. The deli was long gone, replaced by some very friendly Spanishh people that sold these tasty empenadas and some supper caffinated coffee. Just what I need. High Test Coffee. Probably why i’m still up at 3:30 AM writing. The bus rolls on.
Two tasty empenadas and fine cup of coffee sit on a stop in Newark, NJ as an NJ Transit bus rolls on in the background. Photo by Brian Hester
Even though my baby brother is long gone, for some reason I purchased an empanada for him as well. I set it out on the bag the same way we used to share our Saturday sandwhich. Not wanting Matthew’s empenada to go to waste, I ate it over course. Had an entire conversation with him in my head while I dined. It was very thereputic. And the bus rolled on.
Then there was only one empenada … and still, in the background, The bus rolls on. Photo by Brian Hester
Empenadas all gone and coffer as well. and still The bus rolls on. Photo by Brian Hester
After a long walk and a tasty lunch I walked back up the hill to the old homestead. As I took a few last photos I notice that the attic window that I used to look out with my brother Matthew was open. In the middle of winter? I had always wanted to walk back up the giant two flights of concrete stairs to the front door of the house on each of the years that I had stopped by the location but I didn’t need or want to go inside. For some reason I just wanted to stand on the front porch and see the magnificent view that I always remembered of New York City. This year I actually got up the courage to walk up the flights of steps and ring the door bell. I had only planned to tell the current residents that I had lived there as a child and merely wanted to take a picture of NYC from the porch. It was a long nervous walk up the stairs.
The two flights of stairs that lead up to the old front porch. Photo by Brian Hester
As I stepped up onto the porch a super calm feeling came over me, washing down to my core, peace, tranquility. I rang both of the door bells as the building is now a two family home, and waited nervously to askk them if it was ok to take a few photos of NYC from the porch and leave. As fate and luck would have it no one answered either doorbell. I waved politely to the Ring cameras so as not to alarm the residents. Then, in plain view of the camera, I made a sign of the cross and sat down on thier steps and began to pray. On the street one block down I could see, The bus rolling on. I also noticed a beautiful religous staute had been placed on the front yard. It all seemed so peacful. I could not explain the utter peace I felt at this point. The bus rolled on. I suddenly and for the first time in as long as I can remember did NOT blame myself for this terrible tragedy. Peace and tears flowed. The bus rolled on.
A photo of my own shadow, finally standing tall after all these years. Photo by Brian Hester
Seeing one of the two attic windows wide open, the same window in which Matthew and I would sit and look out at the original World Trade Center / Twin Towers made me feel somehow closer to him. Noticing that the original Twin Towers are now long gone and remembering 9/11, that fateful horrible day in history, it was touching to see that a new building has risen from the ashes to reach to the stars. We rebuilt. Life moves forward. The bus rolls on.
An unexplainably open attic window on a winters day at the end of January. Photo by Brian Hester
Photo by Brian Hester
I felt inspired by those morning the lose of a man that I never met to share my own journey in the hopes of helping others to heal. I find it fitting that the day that the City of Los Angles will hold a huge memorial for Kobe Bryant lines up almost exactly with the anniversary of my own personal truma. I always picture that my siblings that perished that hellish fateful night nearly four decades ago have always remained forever young. For all we know Kobe is up there coaching my Matthew along side his Gigi, playing hoops in heaven. The bus rolls on. RIP Kobe, Gigi , all that were lost. Prayers and condolenses to all those that mourn. The bus rolls on…
Two NJ Tranist bues roll along Mt. Prospect Avenue in the City of Newark, NJ Photo by Brian Hester