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CNN One Thing

You’ve been overwhelmed with headlines all week – what's worth a closer look? One Thing takes you into the story and helps you make sense of the news everyone's been talking about. Each Sunday, host David Rind interviews one of CNN’s world-class reporters to tell us what they've found – and why it matters. From the team behind CNN 5 Things.

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Anderson Cooper on Loss, Grief, and Covering War in Israel
CNN One Thing
Dec 3, 2023

In the last few years, Anderson Cooper has been going through boxes of things that belonged to belonged to his dad, who died when he was 10, his brother, who died when he was 21, and his mom, who died in 2019. He documented that journey in the first season of his podcast, “All There Is.” Now the podcast is back for a new season. In this episode, we hear from Anderson about what drove him to keep exploring grief and loss and how he brought what he learned with him to cover the Israel-Hamas war. 

Guest: Anderson Cooper, CNN Anchor 

Listen to “All There Is” here. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health matters, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 to connect with a trained counselor, or visit the 988 Lifeline website. 

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Episode Transcript
David Rind
00:00:03
A week of reunions in Israel really ran the gamut of emotion.
Nats
00:00:10
Mother screaming.
David Rind
00:00:13
You had the primal scream of a Palestinian mother brought together with their daughter, Malak, who was released as part of the Hamas hostage deal after serving almost eight years in an Israeli jail. Thomas Hand was able to hug his nine year old daughter, Emily, again after initially being told she was killed during the Hamas terror attack. Emily was released from captivity in Gaza, but not without emotional scars.
Thomas Hand
00:00:39
She cried until her face was red and blotchy and she couldn't stop. She she didn't want any comfort. I think I guess she's forgotten how to be comforted.
David Rind
00:00:51
There was little comfort for family members waiting by the phone to see if their loved one was on the list to be freed. Yarden Gonen's sister, was kidnaped from the Nova Music Festival.
Yarden Gonen
00:01:02
I don't know even if she's have if she have her hand or not, if maybe she's cut off. Maybe she's not alive. And I can't stress how much. The unknowing is painful. Truly painful.
David Rind
00:01:21
And then there are those whose loved ones were killed by Hamas. Reuma Aroussi Tarshansky’s son was killed on October 7th, but her 13 year old daughter was taken hostage. She was eventually freed. But before that, Reuma told CNN that she could not even begin the grieving process for her son, Leor there just wasn't any space.
Reuma
00:01:48
'Now we're making things that Gali will come and Leor will be the next grief that we will - when Gali comes we'll have time to grieve for Leor. Until then our friends are surrounding us. Then it's very warm in the heart that they do that for us.
David Rind
00:02:05
Others had to do the grieving for her until she was ready. That really stuck with me and it got me wondering, is there a playbook for grief? How do we even know where to start? My guest this week is CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's the anchor of AC 360 and host of the podcast All There Is, which is back for a new season exploring grief and loss. We're going to talk about what he's learned about how we all can face our grief and how he brought those lessons with him to Israel from CNN, this is One Thing. I'm David Rind.
David Rind
00:02:48
Hey Anderson.
Anderson Cooper
00:02:48
Hey.
David Rind
00:02:49
So for those who have not heard the first season of all there is, how would you describe it?
David Rind
00:02:55
It's a podcast that I started. I'm not like a podcast person. I'm going to listen to a couple of podcasts in my life that have been amazing. And it's not that I'm it's a failure on my part that I'm old and can't even really figure out exactly where to get podcasts. But but I didn't plan on doing a podcast. I was going through my mom's things after she died, a couple years after she died, I was selling her apartment and finding boxes of things that belonged to my dad and my brother. And I started making these recordings because that's sort of what I do to help either write stuff out or I record stuff to just help me sort of figure stuff out. And yeah, I just felt so lonely in this process and I thought, This is weird that I feel so lonely in this because this is something everybody will have to do at some point in their life, more or less. And the first season was was built around me going through these things and discovering these things that are belong to my dad and my brother. And it brought up memories and conversations about loss, which I had never really had before.
David Rind
00:04:01
Right. And so what made you want to do a season two?
David Rind
00:04:05
I did not plan on doing a season two. I was sort of overwhelmed by the first season and I was amazed by the response to it. I the interactions I had with people in airports and on the street were deeply personal and incredibly moving to me. But I went from like 0 to 60 from like never talking about grief and loss to suddenly talking about it. And I just needed to take a break. After, like eight episodes, I just decided I'm going to I'm going to stop doing this. But I had solicited voicemails from people for the last episode. I wanted the last episode to be from from listeners, and we got a ton of them. I only had time to listen like 200 voicemails before I had to select some and write the last episode. And there were more than a thousand calls I hadn't heard. And a couple of months ago I felt bad about that. I felt guilty about it, and I felt like I've asked these people to leave and, you know, very deeply moving messages and I haven't listened to them all. So I just started listening to them on my own. I lost my father when I was ten.
Speaker 4
00:05:04
My dear son died three years ago...
00:05:08
My mother died when I was 13...
00:05:10
I felt compelled to call...
00:05:13
We lost our son Brad eight years ago...
00:05:17
My dad took my mom's life and then took his own. ..
David Rind
00:05:21
It ended up being more than 46 hours of messages.
David Rind
00:05:23
Wow.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:24
yeah, it was among the most moving experiences of my life.
Speaker 4
00:05:29
I could feel this heart pounding in my chest. I said it's alright I got you. I love you. And I felt this heart. Stop.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:05:38
Today I've listened to probably three hours of voicemails from people every now and then except to stop because it's.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:05:48
So I'm in the basement of my house and surprise, it is filled with boxes.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:55
And it motivated me to start going through the boxes of stuff again that I had stopped going through when the podcast ended because it was just too much.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:06:02
Here it is.
Anderson Cooper
00:06:04
And then literally the first box I opened up was turned out to be a box of my dad's papers.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:06:10
Doesn't have a year on it, but.
Anderson Cooper
00:06:12
And the first thing in that box I took was a file, an eye opener of the file. And it was an essay my dad had written 40 years ago entitled "The Importance of Grieving."
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:06:21
And then he quotes a psychologist. Psychoanalytic studies have shown that when a person is unable to complete a mourning task in childhood, he either has to surrender his emotions in order that they do not suddenly overwhelm him or else he may be haunted constantly throughout his life with a sadness for which he can never find an appropriate explanation.
Anderson Cooper
00:06:45
And I realized this is me.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:06:49
Here it is. My dad writing this when I was a little kid. He knew he was at great risk of dying early. And maybe he did write this with me in mind, my brother in mind. And maybe he maybe thought one day, maybe those kids will come across this. I like to think of it as like a message from him.
Anderson Cooper
00:07:11
It made me realize I've never really grieved. I've never really allowed myself to grieve. And like a lot of people, I pushed it down deep inside as a little kid, and I ran very fast my entire life from it and ran toward it in war zones and disasters and would touch it, but be able to leave it. And and that's why I decided to do a second season because I need to talk to people who have lived with grief and are living with it and have learned from it because I need to figure out how to do that.
Anderson Cooper
00:07:55
I did want to ask about your time in Israel covering the war, because grief is right at the forefront of these conversations that you're having with people who have lost someone or who are family members being held hostage. So how do you approach those conversations?
Anderson Cooper
00:08:12
Very tenderly and very softly. And I think these are the most important conversations one can have. I have had a hard time even talking about the three weeks that I spent in Israel. I've seen a lot of death up close, and I'm incredibly moved to be in the company of people who have suffered and to be able to step into somebody's pain and step into somebody's life at the tenderest worst moment of their life and talk to them. And I think that really seriously. I mean, look, Israel, Gaza, grief is everywhere. I mean, it is people in cafes and on the street in, you know, kibbutzim in wherever you went, everybody had lost somebody.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:09:00
Shiri's children are so beautiful. I when I saw the photo of, is it Kfir?
Yifat Zailer
00:09:08
Yes.
Anderson Cooper
00:09:09
Kfir with his red hair. And I'm his. His face. They're just so. Their innocence is just extraordinary.
Yifat Zailer
00:09:17
Kfir is a Hebrew word for lion.
Anderson Cooper Nats
00:09:21
Kfir is the Hebrew word for lion?
Anderson Cooper
00:09:21
Well, you know, I talked to a Yifat Zailer who's her cousin, Shiri Babas, and her two little beautiful children, and her husband, Yarden, were all taken. And, you know, she was inconsolable.
Yifat Zailer
00:09:38
I want my family back. Everyone needs to come back.
Anderson Cooper
00:09:43
I sat down with her in a park and, you know, she was weeping.
Yifat Zailer
00:09:48
I want my family, by any chance, watching this? I want you to know that we love them and we're doing everything we can to get them to. They want them to be strong and we are strong.
Anderson Cooper
00:10:09
And one of the things she said to me, it really stays with me. She said, you know, that the only thing that was sort of keeping her going in that moment was sitting there on that bench talking to me. And it wasn't something about me. It was just the need to sort of talk about it.
Anderson Cooper
00:10:24
The act of doing. Yeah, kept it going.
Anderson Cooper
00:10:27
And Rachel Goldberg and John Poland, whose son Hirsch had his left arm blown off. And it's been taken by Hamas and they don't know where he is or if he's alive. If he's not.
'John Polin-Goldberg
00:10:39
It's hard for us to advocate for our kid over other kids. And it's it's not even that I want to do that. Hirsch is not the only wounded one. I know there are other wounded. And I just think that probably deserves to be a category. People who need immediate medical attention. Have been discussed.
Anderson Cooper
00:10:57
These are deep wellsprings of pain. And to be invited into somebody's home and talk to them in that most tender of moments is something I think about and take very seriously.
Anderson Cooper
00:11:09
For me personally, like, I consider myself very lucky because I have not experienced a ton of loss in my life yet. But. But I know that I will.
Anderson Cooper
00:11:17
Yeah.
Anderson Cooper
00:11:18
And I guess I'm wondering, like, how people in that situation can prepare themselves or start doing that work. Like, how do you think about that?
Anderson Cooper
00:11:29
I don't know. I mean, I clearly don't know much about grief because I just realized I've never grieved before. So the thing I recommend for people is to just think about. I mean, thankfully we all have phones now and we all have millions of pictures of the people we love and we have lots of recordings of the people we love. I didn't have a voice recording of my dad who died in 1978 until somebody sent me a radio interview a few years ago. But that's the only little sound I have of my dad's voice. And, you know, one of the things I encourage a lot of people to try to do is have conversations, particularly with the older people in their life, grandparents, parents, not just the conversations you have as the grandchild or the child of somebody, but getting to know these people in your life in a different way before the end of their lives. It's something I consciously did with my mom when she turned 91. We consciously set, you know, had a year long conversation via email and on the phone about all these things that we didn't know about each other or never talked about with each other. So that by 95 when she died, there was there was nothing left unsaid between us because it's a lot different to lose somebody when they know you and you know them. And there is nothing left unsaid between you. It's a lot easier to grieve that than it is. All the would have, should have and could have. And I wish I had.
Anderson Cooper
00:12:53
I could not share what you're missing out on when you don't have those those conversations and then you can't.
Anderson Cooper
00:12:59
Yeah, it's true. I mean, no one knows how much time we have, and suddenly it's too late. And you can never, you know, you think you're going to remember all these things about a person. I used to remember the sound my brother made when he would come home from school and the sound of the lock opening up and him putting his keys down on the table by the door and, you know, his shoes walking in the wooden floor. I remember I used to know all those sounds. I don't remember them anymore. I don't remember the sound of his voice anymore. I don't have any recordings of his voice. Those are things it was impossible for me to imagine right when he died that I wouldn't always remember. But I don't. And I think it happens very fast. You immediately start to forget all these little details. And I think it's I urge people to record that stuff and write it down and write down the stories and interview the people that you love, because those are things you can hold on to.
Anderson Cooper
00:13:55
Hmm. That's great advice. Well, again, the podcast is all there is. The first episode of the second season is out right now. Anderson, thank you.
Anderson Cooper
00:14:02
Thank you. Appreciate it.
Anderson Cooper
00:14:14
One Thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me, David Rind. Our senior producer is Faiz Jamil. Our supervising producer is Greg Peppers. Matt Dempsey is our production manager. Dan Dzula is our technical director. And Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. We get support from Alex Manasser, Robert Mathers, John Dianora, Lenny Steinhart, James Andrest, Nicole Pessaru, and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Shimrit Sheetrit, Ronnie Bettis and Katie Hinman. We'll be back next Sunday with another episode. And if you're enjoying the show, the easiest thing you can do is just tell a friend. Word of mouth, it still works. Talk to you later.