A Beautiful Discussion of Grief: Anderson Cooper Interviews Stephen Colbert
Anderson Cooper interviewed Stephen Colbert on CNN and in the latter half of their discussion, they delved into their experiences of grief. Stephen Colbert lost his father and two older brothers when he was ten years old. Anderson Cooper also lost his father at ten, and a few months before the interview lost his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Together, the two men delve into the meaning of these early losses in their lives. The abbreviated interview can be viewed here.
Two successful men speaking emotionally and vulnerably
Going against a cultural norm where masculinity is defined as self-controlled, emotionally repressed, and where men’s vulnerability is weakness or emasculating, these two men talk about childhood wounds. Both are successful and at the top of their game, with nothing culturally to gain by showing they both have been irreversibly impacted by childhood losses. They both agree to take a risk and show that men can speak to one another without pushing away emotions and daring to enter into an intimate conversation. Both men are in their 50s and early Gen Xers and this interview helps to redefine how that generation wants to age differently than their parents by demonstrating the value of male relationships. They share their grief with one another and decline to get into a competition about whose grief was worse or one up who has recovered better.
“I was personally shattered”
These men both talk about the depth of their loss. Instead of saying, “it wasn’t that bad” they choose to acknowledge and dwell for a moment with their pain. Anderson says losing his mother is like losing an extension of himself, like an arm and Stephen replies, “And, you know, quite possibly for the rest of your life.” And Anderson agrees, “Oh without a doubt.” This development shows that Anderson is deeply hurt and missing his mother. He’s lost everyone in his family from that generation and that can feel isolating, some might say even like abandonment. Stephen understands this kind of loss and, rather than soothing with a platitude, acknowledges that Anderson is changed.
Stephen is allowed to comment after buying the right to speak to Anderson’s pain earlier. He talked about the death of his own father and brothers saying, “I was personally shattered, and then you kind of reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created.” He’s showing Anderson he’s willing to talk about the darkness of loss and he’s had a profound experience with grief himself. When Anderson reciprocates, Stephen has the clout to join in that emotional space because he’s made the environment accepting and he’s made it safe to be vulnerable by revealing his own hurt.
“I feel like I’m a different person than I feel like I was meant to be”
Anderson reveals the loss of his father at ten years old has changing him in a fundamental way. He’s confessing that his grief is a significant part of who he is (and there is no doubt that the recent loss of his mother has brought back reflections of the loss of his father, and his later loss of his brother by suicide). He goes on to say, “I’m not the person that I started out being.” And Stephen, farther along his journey through the loss, replies, “but you’re entirely the person you’re meant to be” as he attempts to instill some hope and a sense of sympathetic connection and reinforcing that Anderson is complete, whole, and establishing that there is a life after grief. Anderson, is not quite ready to hear this and says, “I don’t know. Maybe not.” This is not defensiveness or rejection. Instead, it’s an incredibly introspective statement. He’s considered Stephen’s words, but from where he sits two months after his mother’s death, Anderson is not ready for this kind of thought. He’s not done with the grieving stage where he says things will never be the same and feel catastrophic.
Both these men discuss how their respective losses changed them and how they’ve come through the process of loss and coming to terms with grief. This interview has shown that they’re both willing to shirk stereotypes and be two confident, successful men that are also emotionally open and willing to admit that loss hurt them and changed them. They take the risk of having an intimate connection with another man, talk about the depth of their pain, and create an environment that gives permission to show vulnerability.