Like Kobe Bryant, my husband died in a tragic accident. The worst came later when I realized how much died with him.

When Shannon Dingle learned of Kobe Bryant's death on Sunday, she was brought right back to the moment when her own husband died suddenly after an accident last summer at the beach. 
Dingle, a mother of 6, is familiar with the pain Bryant's wife, Vanessa, may be going through, and how much more difficult it could get. 
Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When I heard about Kobe Bryant's death on Sunday, my chest tightened with empathy for his wife, Vanessa. We're both 37. We're both mothers. And now, we're both widows.
It's the suddenness of the news that feels suffocating.
One moment my husband was playing in the waves on Oak Island, North Carolina, with three of our six kids. I was making lunch for everyone at the beach house we had rented for the week. The next moment, he suffered an accident that took his life. As he and the kids were coming in from deeper water, a wave knocked them down. The kids came up, like usual. He didn't. In the next moment, I was in the hospital, waiting. Beach days weren't supposed to end like that.
One moment Vanessa's husband and daughter were flying to a basketball game, an ordinary event for the NBA family, and the next, she was learning the unimaginable. 
I hope the person who broke the news to Vanessa Bryant did so in a gentle way, like the ER doctor did for me
I wonder who told her. I wonder how the news landed. I wonder when Vanessa realized that her two youngest daughters wouldn't remember their father. I remember being grateful that all six of my children were old enough to remember theirs.

For me, it was the ER doctor with a grim face in the sparse ICU family room, used primarily to deliver bad news. But I didn't know that then.
The doctor kept using the word "devastating." I wasn't sure at first if that meant death or disability, knowing that some people, even medical professionals, consider disability itself to be tragic. (With a daughter with cerebral palsy and a son with autism and myself with physical limitations, disability is normal, not devastating, in our household.) 
As I felt the sand still coating my shins from where I had knelt next to my husband on the beach, I realized I shouldn't be alone. My sister-in-law was in the waiting room. I left my bag with her, filled with charging cables and a pair of clothes for my husband to wear home.
As the doctor explained that my husband's neck was broken in multiple places, which kept oxygen from getting to his brain, I realized Lee would never wear those clothes I packed for him. He wouldn't be coming home. I tried to brush off the doctor's apology with "It's OK," when he stopped me. "No," he said. "Nothing is OK about this conversation." 
In an instant, I was a widow and a single mother to 6
He was right. Our beach vacation as a family of eight was ending as a family of seven. He was telling me that my children no longer had a father, not knowing that for four of them, Lee was their second dad.
The doctor was both direct and kind. I hope it was the same for Vanessa when she learned that she had been a wife and mother of four living girls but now is a widow and mother of three.

The most devastating part is that we will never experience so many dreams we had looked forward to
The life and dreams we planned to live together died with Lee. We grew our family young and quickly, with six kids by age 30, two by birth and four by adoption.
We were going to be 48 when our youngest child turned 18, and we talked about having a second stage of life, with travel and dates without babysitters. I was going to get my doctorate, as he continued to lead his engineering firm, where he had been promoted to president only two weeks before he died. 
Lee and I met young, when I was 18. We were college freshmen at a conference in New Orleans, and I tried to set him up with my friend Katherine, oblivious to his interest in me. Katherine caught on and didn't show up for a shopping day we planned for the three of us. That afternoon, after laughing and goofing off together in souvenir stores in the French Quarter, he put his arm around me. Shocked, I almost recoiled but stopped when I realized how well we fit together.

With his death, I realized I didn't have a place to fit anymore for the first time in my adult life.
The worst day for me wasn't the day my husband died
Vanessa and Kobe met young, too, when she was 17, and she's facing the same daunting persistence of death. Yes, the accidents that killed my husband in July and hers now are crushing to endure, but there may be harder days in store. 
She's likely in shock now. But that will wear off, and the adrenaline of needing to do tasks from the awful to-do list of death — signing legal paperwork, deciding on cremation or burial, setting a date for services, changing assets into the surviving spouse's name, updating the primary insured person on health insurance, finding passwords, making sure mental health supports are in place, stumbling over the small reminders that can never be anticipated — will diminish (though never disappear).
Donald Hall captures this reality in his poem Distressed Haiku:
You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could
Then they stay dead
It's the staying dead part that stabs at me, as if Lee's death was stepping on a piece of glass but living after his death is never being able to remove the shard as it cuts deeper.
Our story went viral, and that only exacerbated our pain

My husband's accident was so bizarre that it went viral. Lee died at 6:02 pm on a Friday, and the first reporter knocked on our door at 11:46 am on Saturday. 
I unplugged our home phone after Inside Edition called for an on-camera interview a couple of days after his death. We needed to grieve instead of having our story be treated as trauma porn for others to consume.
I know Vanessa is far more familiar with being in the spotlight, but this is different. I hope this coverage dies down soon, for her sake, because this experience may be more raw and vulnerable and intimate than anything they've known up until now. 
And that's how she and her living children will know life, as the before and after. I grieve the death of the before me along with the death of my husband. I was a different person on the morning of July 18 than I was on July 19. I miss the old me.
But even in the thick darkness of profound grief, I found my light bearers, those loved ones who showed up, not to make anything better — because they knew they couldn't. But rather, to be present.
It was friends and family who allowed me to get through the darkest period of my life
Some sat on the edge of my bed and let me tell the story of what happened, again and again. Some brought food or diapers or toilet paper. Some took my kids to the park or movies or mall or Dollar Tree or the trampoline place. One researched funeral homes and cemeteries. Another helped me choose the burial plot and casket. A group at Oak Island had a benefit concert for us. A few close friends helped me decide what clothes Lee should wear in the casket.
By showing up, they each lit a candle and brought it into my personal darkness. They didn't try to change me, but they reminded me that I wasn't alone.
My prayer for Vanessa is for light bearers to arrive in each moment of need.
The first week after Lee died, I never knew it was possible to feel so held and so empty at the same time.

Read more:
10 photos show how Kobe Bryant loved being a dad to girls and urged his 'princesses' to play sports, including basketball
Kobe Bryant fought anxiety and obesity with a children's podcast called 'The Punies' and a campaign to keep kids in sports
Kobe Bryant started using helicopters as a player as a way to maintain his body and spend more time with his family
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Stop using champagne flutes — this is the best way to drink champagne

Read more:

Similar news

BANKING AND PAYMENTS FOR GEN Z: These digital natives are the next big opportunity — here are the winning strategies 0 0 0
Senate Impeachment Timetable at a Glance 0 0 0
McConnell plans a speedy impeachment trial 0 0 0
Former Florida QB Feleipe Franks Transferring to Arkansas 0 0 0
How Chandler Parsons Could Be Compensated Following Career-Threatening Car Accident 0 0 0
Kellyanne Conway Says Martin Luther King Jr. Would Be Against Trump Impeachment 0 0 0
Everything That Went Down at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum 0 0 0
HR startup Personio raised $75 million from top-tier Silicon Valley investors without a pitch deck 0 0 0
FINTECH AND FINANCIAL INCLUSION: How low-overhead direct banking models enable banks to profitably serve the US' 33 million underbanked households 0 0 0
New poll on the eve of Trump's impeachment trial finds that 51% of Americans think he should be removed from office 0 0 0