Kate Ferguson

Mostly writing about random things and trying to make movies.

What it’s like Going to a Friend’s Funeral On the Day Kobe Bryant Dies

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. This also to be the day that a celebration of life was being held for my friend David Opser in Marina Del Rey. I suspected the former tragedy might come up at the event, and indeed it did!

In came up in passing, via jokes during speeches, and was also brought up in very dramatic seriousness during a speech/performance that was already shocking and felt a bit inappropriate to the memorial at hand…which I found off-putting and therefore hilarious.

Here are some thematic takeaways from the day:

  1. On inspiration

Obviously, Kobe Bryant was and is a legend, and his loss is particularly felt in Los Angeles. I keep seeing people post quotes about his thoughts on living in the moment and being present to inspire people to be their best. These are some of the life truisms that are remarkably easy to forget in the day to day.

My friend Osper was also someone who encouraged people to be better versions of themselves, albeit through a more forceful hand…kind of like a disappointed father…but in a protective way. Person after person

got up at this memorial and shared how Osper had seen something deep in them, like a goal or talent, and then really never let up on trying to make sure that they were properly executing their path toward it.

My own experience of this with him was his belief in me as a writer. I think he was rooting for me even before he’d ever read anything I wrote, but especially after that.

He would do things like drunkenly just say “I believe in you,” but he’d also invite me to have lunch at whichever office he was currently producing TV shows for and introduce me as Kate the writer. “You should hire her if you ever need a writer.” He was extremely unwarranted and bold in that way, and he was personally successful because of it.

People also shared that he was incredibly difficult to work for, partly because he expected people to perform at their utmost potential rather than their current state of being. He wasn’t afraid to be cantankerous or angry, whether he ended up being right or wrong. His energy field was rooted so widely it was like he was operating as a human through all these people, as opposed to someone like me who feels mostly internal and has to make an effort to speak up and retain those connections.

The fact that he was able to hang out with as many people as he did, let alone touch that many people in the same way that he did, is actually astounding to me. Time-wise alone. I don’t know how he did it.

2. On flying

Kobe died in a helicopter crash. My friend Osper had his pilot license, which ended up being another common theme in the speeches, as I don’t think there was a single person in the room at that memorial who had ever accepted an invite to go flying with him. His dad mentioned it. Our friend Diego mentioned how Osper had wanted him to take up his new baby daughter. Lots of no’s on that.

I was terrified when I found out that Osper wanted to fly and also said no thank you. I once knew a family that died in a small plane crash leaving our group vacation in Palm Springs. A father and two kids died, one of which I had a crush on. The mom, who had traveled separately, survived. I think I feel justifiably scared of small planes. Although flying did not kill David Osper. Cancer did. And I’m sure he was happy that he was more adventurous than most of us and just did what he wanted and got his license to fly. Even if no one would dare join him. We joined him elsewhere.

3. On family

Kobe’s Bryant’s death would have been shocking and sad even if he was a single man, but he wasn’t. He had a longterm wife and a few kids, one of which also died on Sunday. All of that together is heartbreaking to consider, and probably part of the reason why so many people that didn’t know him are so moved by this. That’s everyone’s worst nightmare. A mother lost her husband and first child the same day. Some children lost their big sister and their dad. It’s horrifying.

My friend Opser was outlived by his parents, his brother, his sister, and at least one grandparent from what I could gather. One of his other brothers had previously passed away, which of course is a family tragedy that they were already carrying. My heart aches for their younger brother. My stomach hurts thinking about their father’s speech.

In the year before he died, Opser told me that he wished he’d been married and had children. He never got himself to that point in life and he was feeling the sadness, and for him, the wrongness of not. Even amidst facing the potential of not making it, he mostly expressed regret to me about not having a family.

4. On absurdity

Death is absurd. Being a human and attempting to figure out whether everything means something or nothing means anything is absurd. Funerals, memorial services, whatever form they take, are absurd. Death being the driving factor to get a bunch of old friends together is also totally absurd. I hung out with people yesterday that I hadn’t seen in a long time for no reason.

There were also a lot of people absent from the memorial that I would have expected to see there. Perhaps they weren’t available to attend. Perhaps they found tremendous resistance towards the idea of attending (as I initially did), based on the fact that it forces you into the next stage of processing, or grief, whether your own ego feels ready for that or not. While I reached out to people to discuss this and encourage myself to go, perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps I should have reached out to them.

It’s incredible that one person can bring together so many people. It’s absurd that we can feel more connected through that, and find humor mixed in with our sadness, and maybe humor at our sadness, all at the same time.

I did not enjoy one of the speeches given at Osper’s memorial. I found it egoic and rude. I exchanged eyes with my friend Nicki when it really started heating up, and scanned around the room to check on furrowed brows. But that too is so wildly human and absurd. Maybe that was mostly my own experience. Maybe it was collective. I felt like I was living inside a movie that was about the absurdity of such events. That I found humorous. It would have been extra hilarious had it been in a movie. Osper might have loved it. Or not. We won’t know. Does it matter? Also, who knows.

What I do know, is that I am sorry to have lost another friend, and I am sorry that at this point in life, this sort of thing isn’t going to stop. Losing a friend at 20 to cancer, and losing an ex-boyfriend to suicide, those deaths were shocking and life-altering. Losing a 40-something man to prostate cancer, while no less horrible, is a little less shocking. And the fact that it feels less shocking, is scary to me.

I didn’t feel as much as I thought I should be feeling about Osper’s death before I attended his memorial. But I do now. My resistance to going was forced into going and facing the reality of it. I’m mourning my friend and I’m mourning the fun we had together and I’m mourning the loss of innocence that goes along with accepting the finality about all of that.

I hope he’s okay, wherever he is. He loved aliens, so maybe he was greeted by some. Perhaps he was even there to greet Kobe yesterday. If there was anyone who could make instant friends with Kobe, it would be Osper. Although he’d probably also have some pointers for how he could have done things slightly better. Jarring perhaps but not totally wrong.

We can all use friends like Osper. Friends who act like dads. Who ask for accountability and high performance. Friends who apologize when they piss you off, even though they really hate being wrong. And friends that are way more apt to explore the edges of the world than you are, so that the times you do act usually accept their far fetched invitations, it always ends up being an unforgettable adventure.

Such as the time we went sailing on Easter. Conditions were horrible. I turned green and projectile vomited all over the lower floor of the boat. He still wouldn’t turn back to land. He, vaguely irritated at my lack of seamanship, just told me to clean it up. And kept sailing.

That was David Osper.