"I've been away from the 'Report' for a week," Colbert said, "because one week ago today, my mother, Lorna Tuck Colbert, died. And I want to thank everybody who offered their thoughts and prayers."
Overcome with emotion, he paused for a moment before continuing: "When you watch this show, if you also like me, that's because of my mom. So before we start the show again I'd like to tell you a little bit about her."
The host painted a loving, vivid portrait of his mother, describing how she'd met his father at a cotillion at the age of 12, then driven her friends crazy by forcing them to join her and ride their bikes across town to pass by his house -- without her ever looking up to see if he was in the yard.
"Evidently she also drove my father crazy because they were married and promptly had 11 children," he joked.
Colbert also choked up speaking about the "fun" atmosphere of his childhood home, recalling how his mother, who trained as an actress, taught her children to do stage falls by pretending to faint in the kitchen (a skill he demonstrated later in his sign-off).
The host praised his mother for remaining hopeful despite the premature loss of her husband, brother and three of her sons. (Warning: Right now would be a good time to grab a tissue, if you haven't already.)
"Her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on but to love life without bitterness and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we have together," he said. "And I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut."
Colbert ended the segment by recalling how, in her final day, his mother was still able to recite the Child's Prayer -- in German, no less -- something she often did with her family while stationed in Munich in the late 1940s.
"We were the light of her life and she let us know it until the end," he said.
Though Colbert rarely breaks character, he has done so before when speaking about his family. Last year, he took a sudden leave of absence from the show when his mother fell ill. Returning to the air several days later, he made light of the speculation surrounding the hiatus before briefly paying tribute to his mother. "Evidently, having 11 children makes you tough as nails," he said, without having to mention her by name. "Confidential to a lovely lady."
And just last month, Colbert spoke candidly about the frustration of seeing his sister lose to former Gov. Mark Sanford in a special election in a South Carolina congressional race, suggesting the outcome was the unfortunate result of a bitterly partisan political atmosphere.