Lessons on Life, Love & Legacy: Oprah’s Next Chapter Interview with the Houston Family
On the Sunday, March 11, 2012 episode of Next Chapter on OWN, Oprah Winfrey interviewed: Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown; her sister-in-law, manager and best friend Patricia Houston; and her brother Gary Houston. This was the Houston family’s first television interview since Whitney Houston passed away exactly one month before on February 11, 2012.
Sunday morning, before watching the show, I re-watched Whitney Houston’s spine-tingling, powerhouse rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the 1991 Superbowl and remembered the legend at the height of her career and the fact that Whitney’s talent and music defined my childhood and youth. Her voice was the soundtrack of my life growing up and I can trace many life moments and memories to her music which touched my heart and soul in myriad, tangible, unforgettable ways. Whitney Houston was unquestionably a musical genius and brilliant artist and as Oprah said the VOICE of our generation.
This interview on OWN was a landmark television moment because it served two distinctly valuable purposes. First, it served to dispel myths and rumours surrounding Ms. Houston’s passing and the days leading up to her death. Second, it served to demonstrate the universality of love and the common experience of grief, loss and remembrance, reminding us that though Ms. Houston may have been in the cadre of musical legend, she was first and foremost: mother, sister, daughter, friend, woman.
In the earlier segments of the interview, Oprah spoke with Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney Houston’s only child with singer Bobby Brown. Bobbi Kristina shared poignant remembrances of her mother including pieces of advice and light that Whitney Houston imparted to her daughter – “Keep moving baby, I’ve got you.” There was a transcendental quality to their relationship and a candour that was so refreshing.
Eschewing the tendency to hide the after-life connection we share with loved ones who pass, Bobbi Kristina bravely and evocatively shared the feeling that her mother is still around her, comforting her, and loving her, manifesting in small miracles, such as lights turning on in the house, and an undeniable inner strength and peace.
When Bobbi Kristina shared that Whitney was not only her mother but her best friend, I was shaken to the core, because I feel the same way about my mother. In that moment, I could not help but imagine what enduring such a loss would feel like. I connected to this story on a human, deeply personal level and it took my breath away!
Bobbi Kristina beautifully shared the impact that children and parents have on each other and how her relationship with her mother was not uni-directional or one-dimensional, but rather a robust, living, organic entity. She emotionally explained this relationship when she said, “we held each other through the hurt.”
This truth was further illuminated later in the hour when Oprah, Patricia Houston, and Gary Houston spoke of Cissy Houston, Whitney and Gary’s mother, and the impact of losing Whitney on Cissy. To see Whitney as both a mother and as a daughter and how her life was a conduit for love and genuine emotion in the history of her family, I could not help but be struck by how our lives are lived in connection to others. We are because we love. We are because we are loved. We are because of love.
Through such a profound, devastating loss, Bobbi Kristina demonstrates courage, grace and deep insight that is truly remarkable!
Later in the episode, Oprah spoke with Patricia Houston and Gary Houston about the details surrounding Whitney’s death, the days leading up to her death, and the funeral. They were grace personified, not laying blame or pointing fingers, but being candid, open, and heartbreakingly honest. Pat was Whitney’s best friend, her truth teller. Pat never let Whitney get away with being other than who she was and held her accountable to be her best self. Their bond was clearly soul to soul, heart to heart.
Watching Pat, I was filled with gratitude for the people in my life who keep me honest and love me unconditionally. At one point, Pat stated that she “had to stand for [Whitney]….that is what she would have wanted.” By her lived example, Pat Houston honors Whitney Houston and demonstrates that love, friendship and the bonds of sisterhood are timeless!
The interview was astonishingly revelatory in its deep respect for a legend who passed away and the loved ones left behind. An incredibly classy family, the Houstons used the interview as a platform to honor the truth of what happened, show respect for Whitney and her legacy, and create a path to move forward in dignity, grace, and light.
I pray for peace and comfort for the Houston family as they grapple with the profound loss of their daughter, mother, sister, and friend.
At the close of the show, Gary and Patricia gathered around the piano to sing Whitney’s classic, “I look to you.” In an utterly real, honest, heartbreaking moment, Gary was overcome with emotion and could not continue before it cut to Whitney’s unforgettable performance of this song. The following lyrics stood out for me:
I look to you. When all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong.
No truer words were spoken. Whitney lives on through her family and her music. In her family and in the whole world touched by her music, the best parts of her live on, inspire, and encourage us all to connect to the power within.
As I reflect back on the interview, one lesson echoes in my ears and reverberates in my heart: Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them now. Tell them often. Tell them constantly. Don’t wait another second.
After the episode, I picked up the phone and called my parents. I simply said, “I love you mom and dad.”
Thank you Oprah for being a beacon of comfort, truth, and love; for honouring and embracing Whitney and her family; and for showing us that love, loss, honor and respect transcend celebrity and are truly universal.