It’s been nearly 14 months since Vanessa Bryant’s world changed in an instant. Some days, the grief from losing her husband Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, brings Vanessa to her knees.
“I can’t say that I’m strong every day,” she tells PEOPLE in the cover story for this week’s Women Changing the World issue. “I can’t say that there aren’t days when I feel like I can’t survive to the next.”
But while the world publicly mourned the NBA legend and “Gigi,” a budding basketball phenom in her own right, Vanessa, 38, quietly worked to rebuild a life for herself and their family: Natalia, 18, Bianka, 4, and 20-month-old Capri.
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She took charge of creative projects left unfinished at Granity Studios, the late star’s multi-media company she now helms. Recently, Vanessa relaunched Kobe’s charitable non-profit as Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, a nod to the father-daughter duo, to help empower young girls and provide equal opportunities to underserved athletes — a vision Kobe long championed.
All the while, Vanessa showed breathtaking resilience and grace as she navigated heartache while staying present for her daughters.
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“This pain is unimaginable [but] you just have to get up and push forward,” she says. “Lying in bed crying isn’t going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again. But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that’s what I do.”
Trying to focus on “finding the light in darkness,” Vanessa gleans inspiration from Kobe and Gigi.
“I guess the best way to describe it is that Kobe and Gigi motivate me to keep going,” she says. “They inspire me to try harder and be better every day. Their love is unconditional and they motivate me in so many different ways.”
The enduring power of love, and her devotion to Natalia, Bianka and Capri, have been a saving grace. “My girls help me smile through the pain,” she says. “They give me strength.”
In the end, says Vanessa, “I want to make Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka and Capri proud.”
For more from Vanessa Bryant’s exclusive interview and photoshoot — and more inspirational Women Changing the World honorees — please pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
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