‘My son right now needs me more than anything’: Death of son’s mother brings new perspective for Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard has felt the frustration of a potentially lost NBA season because of the novel coronavirus. He has felt the agony surrounding Kobe Bryant and Bryant's 13-year-old daughter dying in a helicopter crash about four months ago. And he has felt anxiety from anticipating when he might feel safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he processed those raw emotions, Howard then dealt with more tragedy. Melissa Rios, the mother of Howard’s 6-year-old son, David, died on March 27 near her home in Calabasas, California. Howard said the death was not related to COVID-19, and that it stemmed from Rios having a seizure after fighting epilepsy.

“It’s extremely difficult for me to try to understand how to talk to my son,” Howard said Friday in a conference call from his home outside of Atlanta. “So I wouldn’t know how to talk to my son about it. So with just with him being here and stuff like that, it’s kind of given me some extra life. But I also try to think about how to cope with losing somebody like that.”

Howard said he had texted with Rios about visiting his home shortly before learning of her death just over two weeks after the NBA halted play because of COVID-19. Howard then joined David to attend Rios' services on April 13 at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Cemetary in Reno, Nevada. The Rios family could not hold a traditional funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions. So instead, the family had a viewing at the funeral home and an outdoor burial for a handful of family members and friends. 

“There was no way I could not be there for my son and even for her family,” Howard said. “I definitely would’ve felt like that would’ve been bad. She deserves and he would deserve better if I didn’t do that.”

Since then, Howard has mostly stayed at his 23-acre home. The Lakers plan to open their practice facility on Saturday for voluntary individual workouts, but Howard plans to stay at his home until health officials consider it safe enough for him to fly commercially to Los Angeles. Though Georgia has eased some social distancing rules to allow for the opening of various businesses, Howard said he has stayed home both for his safety and to maximize family time.

During that time, Howard has tried to help his son handle his mother’s death.

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“I really just had to try to explain it to him in the best way possible,” Howard said. “But even the fact that he’s still young, he still wouldn’t be able to understand. So I’m just trying to find ways to bring analogies to life and his mom, and how she’ll always be here with us. So it’s just a learning process. I wouldn’t know how to deal with it.”

Howard has found ways to keep himself and his children occupied.

He has entertained his children with games of hide-and-seek and Uno, and has bragged he knows all the best hiding spots by his property. They have bonded over bonfires, playtime in the pool and hanging out with their 2-year-old dog, Diablo, whom Howard chided for his repeated barking and mused he “will scare the devil out of you” when he becomes mad. And Howard has included his children in his workouts: basketball drills on his private court, boxing exercises and conditioning drills, and at least 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and a 2-mile run each day.

“It’s kind of given me some extra life, but also to try to think about how to cope with losing somebody,” Howard said. “Just being with (my son) and seeing him grow has kept me more grounded and understanding that every moment counts. Be grateful for every situation that you have and just be grateful for life.”

Nonetheless, Howard cannot help but think about year filled with potential and frustration.

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