Colbert, who is the youngest of 11 siblings, lost his father and two teenage brothers Peter and Paul, in a plane crash near Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 11, 1974. He was just 10 years old at the time.
“That is such a cliff that I fell off emotionally and psychically and spiritually at that age,” he said.
Cooper was also 10 when he lost his father in 1978 at age 50 after a heart attack. Ten years later, Cooper’s brother, Carter, died by suicide.
Colbert went on to say, “You can’t win against grief because you’re the one doing it to you. Grief itself is a natural process that has to be experienced.”
Cooper admitted he always assumed he would be dead by age 50, like his father. He was afraid if he had children, they would grow up fatherless.
After he had turned 50 and received assurances from his doctor that he was in good health, Cooper said he felt safer having kids. He now has two young sons, Wyatt and Sebastian.
Similarly, Colbert shared that because he had never experienced life with a father past the age of 10, he viewed his own mortality through the ages of his three children and said that he would constantly do “that horrible math all the time,” fearing he would die as each approached the age of 10.
Colbert has learned to accept his losses, but describes his grief as “like living with a beloved tiger. It can surprise you, it can pounce on you. And it can really hurt you, but it’s my tiger, and it’s going to live as long as I do.”
Colbert counseled Cooper, who said he is still trying to understand his grief, to talk about his loved ones and share stories of their lives. Instead of thinking of grief as a trap of depression, Colbert said he tries to look at it as a doorway, “because you’re going to be a different person on the other side of it.”
Since his podcast’s debut last week, Cooper has received thousands of messages from listeners writing about their own journeys through loss and why it is so important to finally talk about it out loud.
New episodes of CNN’s All There Is with Anderson Cooper are available on Wednesdays on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Megan Marcus is the executive producer of CNN Audio.