This book arrived as a suggestion after I’d finished reading The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull. That “woman” was American Thelma Furness who was married to a British Viscount during her long-running affair with King Edward VIII while he was still Prince of Wales. In fact, she was the one who introduced the Prince to Wallis Simpson and her husband. (Side note: there is a veritable cottage industry of books about the women before Wallis.) Thelma is also the identical twin sister of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and aunt of the famed heiress, designer, artist, and author Gloria Vanderbilt—who also happens to be the mother of Anderson Cooper.
I knew about Gloria was Anderson’s mother, but not the rest. Did you?
As if to prove the point that money and position can’t buy happiness, Ms. Vanderbilt and Mr. Cooper recount a few of the tragedies that impacted their early lives in an exchange of candid emails when she was ninety-one.
You may or may not know that after her own father died when she was a baby, young Gloria was the subject of a bitter, very public, and scandal-soaked custody battle between her grandmother and her mother. The judge awarded custody to her father’s sister and forbade contact with her nurse—the only “mother” she had ever known. Little Gloria was devastated. Her mother remained a distant presence throughout her life.
Gloria Vanderbilt spent much of her teens and twenties “looking for love in all the wrong places” including affairs with Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra and three impulsive marriages. Sadly, Vanderbilt’s fourth husband, writer Wyatt Cooper died when Anderson was ten. His older brother Carter committed suicide in his twenties.
Gloria reflects on the person she was and who she is now.
“So much of our adult lives is influenced by what happened to us as children. It is all still there, the memories, the feelings, and fears, stored just beneath the surface in the hidden crannies of our cortex… We repeated patterns without even knowing it or wanting to.”
“…I’m sorry for the times I disappointed you as a mother. My flaws are rooted in things that happened way back in the beginning, as they are for most people, and I hope that knowing me now as you do, you understand where they came from, and can find it in your heart to forgive me. You have proved, by your life and what you have made of yourself, that you have triumphed over whatever shortcomings I may have had as a mother.”
And she also reflects on the reality of aging and death.
“I have found solace in living long enough to understand and forgive the person I once was.”
“Today we can delay the decline, but the inevitable lies ahead. Inside, however, in our core, past the aches, pains and creaking joints of age, youth still resides. Keep that in mind.”
“Unexpected gifts await as age takes hold; past tragedies, although never forgotten, are made more bearable, settling into a landscape that is mercifully behind me.”
“Oh hell, please don’t label me a hopeless optimist. We all have moments when we die a little, or a lot. But stay calm. Take a look at yourself in the mirror. No crying, please. These moments can be the beginning of a rebirth, another chance to reinvent yourself…. ‘The rainbow comes and goes,’ Wordsworth wrote, and boy, was he right.”
“We are not meant always to be happy, and who would want to be? Happiness would become meaningless if it were a constant state. If you accept that, then you will not be surprised when something bad occurs, you will not gnash your teeth and ask, ‘Why me? Why has this happened to me?’ It has happened to you because that is the nature of things. No one escapes. The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns…It may seem like a small thing, but rainbows come in all sizes.”
And a few final words from Anderson: “At ninety-two, each day is a kind of celebration, a chance to read a new book, begin a new painting, or simply reflect on all she’s lived through. When she wakes up, she takes a moment to make a wish, then gets out of bed and makes it come true.”
I loved this book and its message of self-compassion for choices we made in the past. I also enjoyed the candor with which mother and son communicated with one another, even if it didn’t happen until near the end of her life. The love simply shines through. Recommend.
Gloria Vanderbilt died at the age of ninety-five in 2019.