I mourn 'The Cosby Show,' but not Bill Cosby

Story highlights

  • Johnita Due: "The Cosby Show" had a special resonance for many African-Americans
  • She says it's hard to watch the show today without thinking of the accusations against Bill Cosby

Johnita P. Due is assistant general counsel for CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Once you've lost a parent or another loved one, it's hard to fully mourn the loss of somebody you don't know. Even if they were in your home once a week for family gatherings during your formative years.

So over the past year, I haven't mourned the loss of the man we thought was Bill Cosby. But now I'm allowing myself to mourn the loss of "The Cosby Show" and what it meant to my family and millions of others.
Johnita Due
Growing up as a middle class black child, it was very rare to find myself or my family reflected on TV. We watched "Good Times" reruns, "The Jeffersons" and "Diff'rent Strokes," but "The Cosby Show" was the first show where you could see an intact, educated black family with loving and achieving parents who had high expectations for their children.
    It was a Thursday night tradition to gather around the TV and laugh at, and with, a family that had more means and a better sense of humor than we ever did, but whose challenges and opportunities struck a chord and made us feel proud and normal.
    Growing up, my sisters and I were often told we were "different" than other blacks. We were told this by classmates in our predominantly white honors classes and by other black students at our schools. "The Cosby Show" proved we weren't so different after all.
    When my mother got sick and we had to move her to Atlanta for care in 2011, my sister Tananarive relocated her family from the West Coast so we could all be together.
    We always said that our mother's mystical force was somehow responsible for my sister finding a job at Spelman College and being awarded the prestigious Cosby Chair professorship, in the company of the likes of prior recipients such as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and award-winning author Pearl Cleage. My sister's term ended in May 2014. After initially suspending the professorship in December, Spelman said that it has now officially terminated the program.
    Soon after my mother died, I bought front row seats for my entire family to see Bill Cosby perform in Atlanta. The occasion was my father's birthday, and I felt we needed to laugh through the pain of our loss. We needed to be with someone who could transport us back to our family life together and make us feel the love and strength of family that our mother created.
    Every time Cosby looked down from the stage and nodded or smiled at us, I knew Mom would be pleased, if not a little jealous that she wasn't there, too.
    That was then. If my mother were still around today, I know she wouldn't want us to pay to see Bill Cosby. She would be as unequivocal as President Barack Obama was in telling us that if the allegations are true, then Bill Cosby is a rapist. But she wouldn't want us to destroy the almost 100 hours of episodes of "The Cosby Show" that she taped. The videotapes are in boxes in my parents' home.
    My son and daughter have only seen one episode of "The Cosby Show." I was waiting for them to get a little older so they would understand the humor. But early last fall, I was excited to come across an episode on TV that we could watch together. It was a Thanksgiving episode from one of the later seasons.
    There were so many characters I had to explain to my kids -- including the extended family and spouses of the daughters -- so they had trouble keeping up with all of the names, but they laughed hard at the sight of Dr. Huxtable going out to the store multiple times and getting drenched in the rain.
    We had to stop watching the show 20 minutes into it, so I recorded it for us to watch the conclusion another time. In the wake of the growing allegations against Cosby over the ensuing weeks, I never showed them the rest of the episode. I slowly let it disappear from my DVR.
    I don't know if I'll ever watch "The Cosby Show" with them again. Right now it's too difficult to separate the man from his art. It's doubtful that any networks will run it again in syndication any time soon.
    The TV show came at a time when we needed it most, but maybe it has served its purpose. It instilled within a generation of viewers that it is possible and normal for black families to achieve.
    And yet I don't know how I could ever watch the show again and laugh, or feel the way I did when I first saw those episodes. But our family still has those videotapes.