What Stephen Colbert can teach us about grief and life..
Maybe I'm biased. I have been following Colbert since he was on the John Stewart's The Daily Show up to his nightly appearances on The Late Show (w/ Stephen Colbert). While he is a versatile comedian, what many don't know is that there is a lot of pain in his past.
A political satirist and off-the wall comedian may seem like the person to turn to for a lesson in consoling grief. However, Stephen Colbert (pronounced 'COLE-Burt', not 'COLE-Bear' as his TV personality goes by) has experienced more than his share of tragedy.
At the age of 10 and the youngest of 11, Colbert lost his father and two closest (in age) brothers in a terrible accident. Dad, James Colbert, and brothers, Paul and Peter Colbert, were aboard the ill-fated Eastern Airlines flight 212 which crashed in Charlotte, N.C. in 1974, killing 72 people, including the Colberts.
This horrible event immediately thrust Stephen alone as his 8 other brothers and sisters had already left home. Stephen and his widowed mother were all they had for each other, and he claims she saved him, as he saved her. 9 years ago, Lorna Colbert (stephen's mom) passed away, aged 92.
Stephen claimed that he thought about giving up comedy at that time. He realized at that moment, that his whole career had been catered to making him mom laugh again. That's what kept him going. Stephen has a family and children of his own now, but his life has been storied with difficult event.
Two days ago, CNN's Anderson Cooper sat down with Colbert to discuss politics and late night TV, among other things. However, the conversation took a more serious tone when Cooper asked about comments Stephen had made about grief. Anderson Cooper also lost his father at the age of 10. Ten years later his only brother committed suicide, and just two months ago he lost his last remaining direct relative, his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, aged 95.
In the wake of Vanderbilt's funeral, Stephen Colbert sent Anderson Cooper a letter, saying "I hope you find peace in your grief..". Cooper took the opportunity in the interview this week to admit that those coming forth to open up to him with stories of their own experience with loss has helped him immensely.
"I found it to be the most powerful and moving thing, and I kind of, oddly, don't want that to stop, because in regular times people don't do that." src
Cooper then put Stephen on the spot, asking him how he dealt with the loss of his father and brothers at such a young age and how, if any, he felt that altered his life.
Quoting Stephen Colbert (who was actually quoting J.R.R. Tolkien), Cooper says..
"You told an interviewer that you have learned to – in your words – love the thing that I most wish had not happened.... ...You went on to say, 'What punishments of God are not gifts?' Do you really believe that?"
Stephen's answer is one for the ages:
"Yes.... It's a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that." src
"I don't want it to have happened," Colbert clarified. "I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is – and I am not always – but it's the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can't pick and choose what you're grateful for."
Colbert continued with what I believe to be one of the most poignant on-the-pulse comments about realizing, accepting, and overcoming grief, or rather coming to terms with it in your life. He said:
"So, what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people's loss, which allows you to connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it's like to be a human being, if it's true that all humans suffer."
Suffering is a part of life, and if we can allow it to open up connection and understanding across humanity, than it can be a powerful tool indeed. Some times all it takes is a comedian to lay the truth bare..