On Wednesday, just three days after the NBA legend died alongside Gianna and seven others in a Calabasas helicopter crash, Vanessa, 37, changed her Instagram profile photo to an image that captured Bryant and Gianna sharing a warm embrace at the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
Vanessa also made her account public after turning it private following the shocking accident. Her page is filled with sweet memories of her family, including several photos and videos of Gianna showing off her love of basketball. Vanessa also often referred to Gianna as being Bryant’s twin.
On Jan. 17, Vanessa shared a heartwarming throwback photo of herself, Bryant, 41, and their daughter Natalia, now 17, from a trip they took to Italy in 2004.
Bryant is also survived by daughters Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri.
“It’s an extremely difficult and devastating time for Vanessa and the whole family,” a friend of the family previously told PEOPLE of the Bryants’ loved ones.
Another source told PEOPLE that Vanessa is “devastated.”
“She can hardly keep it together,” the insider said. “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.”
The insider noted, “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.”
Now, facing a difficult future, Vanessa “is surrounded by people who love her and love Kobe. She has a good support system. She is relying on her faith. She is not alone. But she will be grieving this for a very long time,” a second source explained.
Bryant, Gianna, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan were on their way to a youth basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Academy when the aircraft crashed into a mountain, according to ESPN.
On Monday, a friend close to the family told PEOPLE that the late Lakers star was “so proud to see [his daughters] take after not only him and Vanessa, but also grow into their own. He had a special bond with each of his daughters.”
Before his untimely death, Bryant often spoke lovingly of his beloved Vanessa and their children.
In November 2019, he dedicated 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.
That same month, the devoted parent told Maria Shriver: “Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world; it’s my greatest accomplishment. 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.”
And in his 2018 Oscars speech — when Dear Basketball won Best Animated Short Film — Bryant thanked his wife and daughters with a sweet message 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.