Vanessa Bryant 'So Grateful' for Fans' Love, Wants to 'Hug Everyone That Has Prayed for My Family'

"I don't think I'd be as strong without everyone's prayers and positive vibes sent our way, " Vanessa Bryant tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

vanessa bryant
Photo: Photographer - BriaPhotographer - Brian Bowen Smith; Stylist - Law Roach/The Only Agency Bowen Smith; Stylist - Law Roach/The Only Agency

Vanessa Bryant knows she couldn't have done it all on her own.

Since losing her husband Kobe and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna nearly 14 months ago, Vanessa and her kids, Natalia, 18, Bianka, 4, and Capri, 20 months, have leaned on a loving support system of dear friends and family to help get them through.

"It really takes a village," she tells PEOPLE in the cover story for this week's Women Changing the World issue.

For more on Vanessa Bryant's cover story, listen below to the episode of PEOPLE Every Day.

"That includes 'aunties' and 'uncles' that have stepped in to be there for us and get us through holidays, special milestones, and birthdays. ... They've shown their love and support through this horrible year and I don't know how I could've managed without them."

Noting that "family" doesn't just mean blood relatives, and support and inspiration can come in many forms, Vanessa, 38, has been deeply moved by the kindness of strangers.

"The outpouring of love and support is so meaningful to me," she says. "I don't think I'd be as strong without everyone's prayers and positive vibes sent our way. ... I really want to hug everyone that has prayed for my family and me. ... I am so thankful and touched by their love."

vanessa bryant with her daughters in 2020
Vanessa Bryant with her daughters. Photographer - Brian Bowen Smith; Stylist - Law Roach/The Only Agency

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.

Especially resonant are the commemorative murals depicting Kobe and Gigi that have gone up in cities far and wide. "I love all of the murals all over the world [and] I was moved by the fact that not one mural in L.A. was damaged during protests [following George Floyd's killing]," she says.

"People have had Gigi and Kobe tattooed on their bodies to express their admiration and artists have created incredible murals all over the world to celebrate my babies."

Vanessa has also found solace in hearing from others who share personal experiences of loss, and gleaned inspiration and hope from her story.

"I've had fans reach out and message me on Instagram to tell me that they look forward to coming to my page to see my girls and I smile," she says. "That it gives them hope that they can get through whatever tough things they're going through. Or, to thoughtfully share their stories of hardships. We've all experienced pain and suffering in different ways and have learned to cope in different ways."

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As she navigates her family's future and continues to help them heal, Vanessa will take all the "love, hugs, prayers, personal stories and smiles" people send her way.

She says: "From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate all of our fans and love them all so much!"

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