'Fighting for joy:' Families of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash victims find different ways to cope


USA TODAY Sports is marking the first anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others with a six-day series of stories, photos and videos looking back at the Lakers legend and the aftermath of his death.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. —  Sitting on a couch in a music studio, Matt Mauser demonstrated how he used to react when a helicopter passed overhead.

Mauser thrust a middle finger toward the sky.

His wife, Christina, died alongside Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and seven others in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, 2020, leaving Mauser, 50, to raise three children.

He said he saw a therapist for six months but found another place to grieve and begin to heal — the music studio.

Mauser, a singer, songwriter and musician, has recorded songs that celebrate his wife and also address his pain after the tragedy. Recently, he taped a performance to help mark the first anniversary of the crash.

Photos of Christina Mauser are displayed for a vigil held the evening of Jan. 26 following a helicopter crash that killed her and eight others.

Photos of Christina Mauser are displayed for a vigil held the evening of Jan. 26 following a helicopter crash that killed her and eight others.
Mark Rightmire, MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Billed as “Concert for Christina: A Musical Tribute and Fundraiser Benefiting The Christina Mauser Foundation,” the performance is scheduled to stream at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday on mattmauser.com and benefit female athletes.

Christina Mauser was the top assistant coach on Kobe Bryant’s girls basketball team that included his daughter Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash.

“We’re going to honor and celebrate all the people that passed away,’’ Mauser said.

Everyone aboard the helicopter headed for a basketball game involving Gianna Bryant’s team was killed. Families have grieved in their own way.

Like Mauser, Vanessa Bryant found herself mourning the loss of her spouse and suddenly a single parent raising three children — daughters Natalia, 18; Bianka, 4; and Capri, 1. She has documented part of their year with photos and videos on her Instagram account.

There’s Vanessa cheering on Capri as she takes her first steps. And the girls dressed up for Easter and Cinco de Mayo.

There they are on a boat near the Golden Gate Bridge with Pau Gasol, one of Kobe’s former teammates with the Lakers. And getting off a jet after an expedition with Ciara, the pop singer and wife of NFL quarterback Russell Wilson.

There also was a trip to Disneyland, swim lessons and birthday parties. 

Then in December, there was a different kind of Instagram post from Vanessa Bryant, a statement after her mother, Sofia Laine, filed a lawsuit seeking financial support from her daughter, alleging that she worked unpaid as a “longtime personal assistant and nanny” for the Bryant family. 

“She was a grandmother who was supported by me and her son-in-law at my request,” Vanessa Bryant wrote. “She now wants to back charge me $96 per hour for supposedly working 12 hours a day for 18 years for watching her grandchildren. In reality, she only occasionally babysat my older girls when they were toddlers.”

The Bryant family, from left, Vanessa, Kobe, Natalia and Gianna, shown in 2018.

The Bryant family, from left, Vanessa, Kobe, Natalia and Gianna, shown in 2018.
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images for Disney

While there always will be public interest in the Bryant family, Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton died in the helicopter crash, leaving behind twin teenage sons, is maintaining a lower profile. He declined an interview request from USA TODAY Sports and issued a statement.

“Today, as every day, we remember and celebrate Sarah and Payton, their love of life, their beauty, and the light and joy they brought into our family and the world.  We miss them deeply.  As we honor their memory, we continue to request privacy.  Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.’’

Jim Altobelli has been handing out commemorative coins that on one side bear the image of his son John, who was a successful college baseball coach. John Altobelli died alongside his wife, Keri, and their 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa.

J.J. Altobelli, his fiancee Carly Konigsfeld and Lexi Altobelli speak about their father, John Altobelli, during a memorial service.

J.J. Altobelli, his fiancee Carly Konigsfeld and Lexi Altobelli speak about their father, John Altobelli, during a memorial service.
Damian Dovarganes, AP

Altobelli said he’s handed out more than 1,500 coins.

“I got one,’’ said Mauser, who needed more than two months after the crash before returning to 17 Street Studios.

“I remember how stoked I was that he called me and said, ’Hey, dude, I need to come record.’ ” said Darren Hubbard, a producer who works with Mauser. “I was like, ‘That might save his life, doing music.’ “

Eventually able to stop crying long enough to work, Mauser recorded “Lost.’’

“This one was the hardest,’’ he said while listening to a recording of his singing about lost love.

You’ve got some thinking to do

Perhaps some drinking to do

All of the things you’ll go through

The songs kept coming.

Like “New Life Story,’’ about Mauser and his three children — Penny, 12; Tom, 11; and Ivy, 4 — moving on without Christina.

“We dance, you know?’’ said Mauser, a former schoolteacher. “I dance with my kids. I make them swim with me.

“They’re learning the things that I’m good at, you know? Music, Spanish and history and swimming.”

The songs kept coming.

“When You Wake Up and She’s Gone.”

The week before Christina Mauser died, the entire family was at 17 Street Studios recording a song called “Green Bike.”

“My (younger) daughter cries,’’ he said. “My son gets angry. ‘I want Mom.’ What do you do? You just hold them. Then you go into your room and cry.’’

After a pause, Mauser said, “My wife was funny. Funny as hell.”

Matt Mauser has found some peace of mind in his music since last year's deadly helicopter crash.

Matt Mauser has found some peace of mind in his music since last year’s deadly helicopter crash.
Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

So surely she would approve of what her husband and children did when helicopters flew overhead.

“We would do the one-finger salute,’’ he said, demonstrating by lifting his right middle finger into the air. “But then I just kind of started changing my way of thinking and started waving to the helicopters.

“And I came with this idea that here are these angels passing by. I thought about all the people in the helicopter as angels. And they are now, so I talk about how she’s with the angels now and our life together, and I need strength.’’

“Wave As the Angels Pass By’’ is his latest song, being polished in time for the anniversary of the tragedy that claimed Mauser’s wife and his children’s mother.

From the spark of our first kiss

Till the star fell from the sky

Wave as the Angels pass by

“Wave As the Angels Pass By’’ might also serve as a title of the album featuring the songs that helped Mauser grieve and begin to heal, said Mauser, adding that all  proceeds will go to the foundation he created in his wife’s honor.

“I’m trying to find the positive,’’ he said. “I’m fighting for joy.”

Published

Updated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.