For Mother’s Day, I bought my mother the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Through the years, Anderson and Gloria have experienced many tragedies, from the death of Anderson's father, Wyatt Cooper, in 1978 when Anderson was only 10 years old to the suicide of his brother, Carter Cooper in 1988.
The Rainbow Comes and Goes is structured as an exchange of email messages between Anderson and Gloria. Mother and son write about the pain of loss and how they have survived. The book primarily focuses on Gloria’s life, providing insight into her glamorous but tumultuous adolescence that saw her pushed into the center of a fierce custody battle between her mother and aunt. Eventually, custody of Gloria went to the aunt. As the book progresses, Gloria discusses the men she fell in love with, her relationship with her sons, the death of Wyatt Cooper and the suicide of Carter.
It’s a candid book that both my mother and I emotionally connected to. In our podcast, we have an equally candid discussion about how the book affected us and what it’s been like to live through our own tragedies, including the death of my father in 2006 when I was 16 years old. We laugh, we cry, we hold nothing back.
You can listen to the podcast and read the transcript here:
Highlights from our conversation:
I’ve always said that once daddy died it was like safety was gone, protection was gone. I was 16 years old and it was like the world changed. You have these perceptions about the world, you thought things were good, you thought things were going to be okay, you thought your life was a certain way and then you realize it’s not that way at all, that this can happen, that death is possible, that you can lose someone. You can wake up one day with them alive and you can go to bed and they’re gone and it’s just… it completely shatters you and takes away any kind of stability that you might have felt you had.
I always wonder what would I be like if daddy hadn’t died. I always think, would I have ...what would I have accomplished? What would I have done? Because the last ten years have been so debilitating for me, like, yeah, I went to college, I’ve done things that I guess people would look and say “Oh she’s accomplished something” but not nearly what I wanted. When I was a teenager, I had a lot of dreams and things I wanted to be, things I wanted to do, and it’s like, once he was gone, it was like “What do I do?” It’s so hard. You think about who you would have been, what would you be like if that person was still here? If that thing hadn’t happened, if that death hadn’t happened, who would you be? And you don’t know.
Other people have said this, we have words for certain kinds of loss. If your parents are gone, you’re an orphan. If your husband dies, you’re a widow. If your wife dies, you’re a widower. But when your child dies, we don’t have a word for it. What do you call yourself? We literally don’t have the language for that kind of loss. We just don’t have the language for it or a word for it. I don’t think anything would probably ever capture it….I appreciate Anderson and Gloria’s candidness when it comes to loss. I know it helped me. To read Anderson’s parts and what he wrote about his father and to think “Oh yeah me too. Me too.” And the connection of that. How powerful is that, when you’re reading something and you can say “Me too.”? For a moment, you feel a little less alone. You’re still in pain, you’re still grappling with your grief, but you can say “Me too” and it just diminishes something for that moment. When I was reading Anderson’s parts, I just thought “Yeah, me too.” Unfortunately. I get this and wow it’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s thought these things or felt these things and that’s what’s so important about books and writing, is that when you read these things you can say “Me too.”