The late night host, 58, whose father and two brothers died in a plane crash in 1974, spoke with the CNN anchor about his philosophy on loss. Cooper, 55, who has also experienced the death of multiple family members, including his brother Carter by suicide in 1988, expressed that Colbert’s belief — that it’s possible to find “gratitude” in grief — was profoundly moving.
Colbert shared, “I lost my father and my brothers, Peter and Paul, when I was 10. And that realization did not come until, you know, I’m on the doorstep of middle age. Literally walking down the street, I was struck with this realization that I had a gratitude for the pain of that grief. It doesn’t take the pain away. It doesn’t make the grief less profound. In some ways, it makes it more profound, because it allows you to look at it. It allows you to examine your grief in a way that it is not, like, holding up red hot ember in your hands, but rather seeing that pain as something that can warm you and light your knowledge of what other people might be going through. Which is really just another way of saying there is a value to having experienced it. Now, how does that become gratitude? That’s the part that shocked me, so I can’t tell you how to get to it.”
Colbert shared that waves of concern over his own mortality would hit him hardest as his kids were growing up.
“Since my father, my brothers died when I was 10, when my kids were younger, it would hit me at unexpected moments,” he explained. “In moments of great happiness, like even just my daughter, like jumping off the swing at the right point and landing and being happy about and running over and saying, ‘Did you see Daddy?’ and, you know, giving me a hug. That moment of absolutely inexpressible transporting joy. And she’s 6, let’s say in this memory. I’d go like, ‘Oh, isn’t this great? Four more years!’”
Cooper and Colbert first came together to discuss grief in a 2019 interview on CNN, where Cooper asked The Colbert Report alum about his experiences with death. Colbert, who is Catholic, said, “We’re asked to accept the world that God gives us and to accept it with love. If God is everywhere, and God is in everything, then the world as it is is all just an expression of God and his love, and you have to accept it with gratitude.”
In an earlier podcast episode, Cooper — who is now a father of two — shared that he never wanted his sons to see the grief that he often saw reflected in his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, who was present when her son died by suicide.
“As a new parent of these two adorable sweet and joy-filled boys, I don’t want them to ever see in me what I sometimes saw in my mom,” he explained. “I don’t want them to see shadows of loss and grief hiding somewhere deep behind my eyes like I did with my mom. When my kids look in my eyes I want them to see my love for them reflected back, and that’s it. That’s what I want them to see. I want them to feel that stability, to know they’re in good hands and to know they’re loved.”
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