How Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa's overcame toughest year from losing him and Gianna to legal battle and rift with mother

SHE was left heartbroken when her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and beloved daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash last year.

But ever since then, Vanessa has remained a pillar of strength to her other children, Natalia, 18, Bianka, four, and Capri, one, while fighting her own grief.

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Tragically, losing Kobe and Gianna was just the start of what quickly turned into a horrendous year for Vanessa, as she's since battled a major rift with her mom and several public legal fights to seek justice.

Despite all this, she is continuing to show her strength with a stream of loved-up photos with her kids and wider family and friends, as she marks a year without her husband today.

Just recently she sent an inspiring message to her followers, advising anyone experiencing grief to "find their reason to live", adding: "I know it's hard.

"I look at my daughters and I try to push through that feeling for them. Death is guaranteed but living the rest of the day isn't. Find your reason."

A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant)

Here we look at how Vanessa has weathered her toughest year and shown resilience throughout…

'We wake up each day, trying to keep pushing'

Kobe and Gianna lost their lives alongside seven others when the helicopter they were in crashed in Calabasas, California, on the way to a basketball game on January 26 last year.

Vanessa showed immense strength from the start, and in her first public post after the accident, she opened up about her grief and shared a moving message for the families of the other victims.

She said: "I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them.

"But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way.

"Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever."

She also thanked the "millions of people" who had shown an outpouring of support for her and her family during the "horrific time" and added: "We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately."

Vanessa and her children were immediately flooded with heartfelt messages from celebrities, friends and social media followers from around the world.

In the days and weeks that followed, Vanessa continued to share tributes to both of them on social media, remembering their love for each other and their incredible talents.

'I want my daughters to know and remember'

Vanessa then led a memorial service to Kobe and Gianna a month after their deaths, paying a lengthy and moving tribute to them.

Addressing an enormous crowd at the Staples Center, she described Kobe's "magic arms" and how he looked after their daughters so well and described his death as a "loss I do not understand".

She acknowledged that Kobe wouldn't be there to take little Capri to her kindergarden classroom – or to tell Vanessa to "get a grip, V!" when they had to drop off their little girl.

"He won't be there to spin me around on the dance floor while singing P.Y.T to me," she said.

"But I want me daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband and father he was."

Ongoing legal fights for justice

Alongside battling her grief, Vanessa has also been forced to go through legal hell over the last year as she continues to seek justice for her husband and daughter.

On the same day of the memorial, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter company, claiming the aircraft shouldn't have been out in such dangerous conditions.

The 27-count complaint claimed Island Express was subject to strict visual flight rules and it alleged weather conditions on the day of the tragedy weren't suitable for flying due to low fog, reported TMZ.

It also claimed the pilot, Ara George Zobayan, didn't adequately monitor the weather before takeoff.

Island Express Helicopters later argued that the crash was caused by events "beyond the control of and unrelated to any actions or conduct", according to People.

But it was just one of two legal fights that would begin around that time, as days after filing her lawsuit, Vanessa also shared a lengthy statement from her lawyer on Instagram revealing she had been left "devastated" by allegations that LA County Sheriff’s deputies had shared photos of the helicopter crash site.

A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant)

It was claimed a young officer had shown a graphic photo of the crash site to someone in a bar in the days following the tragedy.

Vanessa later sued the county sheriff and his department, claiming they caused severe emotional distress by allegedly taking the photos.

The lawsuit alleged that "no fewer than eight sheriff's deputies at the crash site pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches," according to TMZ.

"Ms. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online," it reportedly said.

The department has since been accused of attempting to cover up the scandal, by ordering officers to delete the photos, according to the LA Times.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva told NBC4 he asked officers to delete them to stop them from reaching the public domain.

'It’s more than painful'

And they're not the only legal fights Vanessa has had to deal with this year.

In a particularly heartbreaking development, she has also gone through a high profile rift with her own mom, Sofia Laine.

In an emotional interview with Univision's El Gordo y La Flaca in September, Sofia claimed her daughter had cut ties with her and even kicked her out of her home.

But Vanessa vehemently refuted her mom's shocking claims in a statement to the Spanish-language news station at the time.

“My husband and daughter passed away unexpectedly, and yet my mother had the audacity to do a television interview speaking negatively of me while shedding tears for a car and a house that were not in her name," Vanessa said.

"My husband and I have supported her financially for the past 20 years, and continue to do so, in addition to her monthly alimony," she added.

"Now I see what is most important to my mother and it’s more than painful," she went on.

Sofia had often looked very close to her daughter and Kobe, and appeared in a family photo on Thanksgiving that Kobe shared on his Instagram page.

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant)

After her son-in-law's death, a source told US Weekly she helped her daughter with her grandchildren a lot.

The source said Vanessa “is incredibly close to her mom” and that she was “her rock” in the weeks following her husband’s unexpected death. 

However, the rift only deepened towards the end of last year as Sofia sued her daughter, alleging she worked for years as an unpaid “longtime personal assistant and nanny” to the couple.

She also claimed former Lakers legend Kobe had “promised to take care” of her for the rest of her days before his death.

In an Instagram post in December, Vanessa insisted her mom was lying and accused her of trying to "extort a financial windfall from our family".

"I have supported her for nearly 20 years, and was never my or Kobe's personal assistant, nor was she a nanny," she wrote.

"I have always been a stay at home mother and my husband and I were my daughter's full-time care givers.

"In reality, she only occasionally babysat my older girls when they were toddlers."

"This lawsuit is frivolous, disgraceful, and unimaginably hurtful. My husband never promised my mother anything, and he would be so disappointed in her behavior and lack of empathy," she added.

'Making snow memories'

But despite the difficult legal rows, Vanessa has demonstrated her resiliencethroughout and ensured that she and her children have each had happy birthdays and celebrated major milestones together.

A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant)

A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant)

In April, the mom posted a sweet photo with her late husband to mark their 19th wedding anniversary, writing: "My king, my heart, my best friend. Happy 19th wedding anniversary baby. I miss you so much. I wish you were here to hold me in your arms. I love you."

And in May she paid tribute to Gianna on her 14th birthday, writing: "Mommy loves you more than I can ever show you. You are part of MY SOUL forever. I miss you so much everyday. I wish I could wake up and have you here with me. I miss your smile, your hugs and your giggles. I miss EVERYTHING about YOU, Gigi. I LOVE YOU so much!!!!!!!"

She has also been treated to small surprises from her daughter Natalia and her younger siblings, while each of them have shared photos smiling together and enjoying happy moments.

A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant)

On Capri's first birthday in June, Vanessa shared a moving photo of Kobe holding the newborn, while the family threw a birthday party to celebrate.

And on Kobe's birthday in August, she shared a lengthy message alongside a photo of them together, writing: "To my baby~Happy birthday. I love you and miss you more than I can ever explain."

The family enjoyed a ski break recently with friends, and Vanessa shared a string of photos and videos of them smiling and laughing together throughout.

She captioned one photo: "Making snow memories."

Vanessa has gone above and beyond for each of their milestone moments over the last year – ensuring they find happiness amid their ongoing grief.

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