Kobe and Vanessa Bryant had a pact never to fly together in the same helicopter — an arrangement that guaranteed one of them would be left behind to take care of their daughters if tragedy struck.
After Kobe and one of the pair's four daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, were killed in a crash in California earlier this week, Vanessa has been left to pick up the pieces and is understandably "devastated" but doing everything she can to hold it together for her three remaining children, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and seven-month-old Capri.
"She can hardly keep it together," a family insider told PEOPLE magazine. "She can't finish a sentence without crying. But she is working very hard to pull it together for the other girls. She now has to be the strong one.
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"Of course, you can never be prepared for this. Despite their ups and downs, (Vanessa and Kobe) were soulmates. She thought of him as her partner for life."
The Bryants had their tests over the course of a 20-year relationship but appeared to have entered a bright new chapter following his retirement from basketball.
In November last year, Kobe posted a sweet tribute to Vanessa on Instagram in celebration of the day they first met.
"On this day 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant I decided to take her on a date to Disneyland tonight to celebrate old school style (pre 4princesses) I love you my mamacita per sempre," Bryant captioned a throwback photo of the couple along with a photo of them at the time in the Anaheim, California, theme park.
In his 2018 Oscars speech — where he won Best Animated Short Film — Bryant thanked his wife and daughters in Italian. "To my wife Vanessa and our daughters Natalia, Gianna and Bianka, ti amo con tutto il cuore (I love you with all my heart). You are my inspiration," he said.
"Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world; it's my greatest accomplishment," Bryant added in an interview with PEOPLE that year. "I've learned so much, but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. I'm blessed to have had that experience four times now and there's nothing more powerful in this world."
In an essay for the Players' Tribune, baseball great Derek Jeter wrote about Bryant: "He cared much more about being a husband to Vanessa and a dad to his girls. He loved his family — he was his family. That's what was important. And that's the Kobe I'll remember."