Friday, October 17, 2014

A Mother's Story

His face, a flower - sunlit, flooded with a beauty that blinds me. 

A Mother's Story by Gloria Vanderbilt (Penguin Group, 1997) 148 pages

A mother's love has an irresistible pull for me. A child who is lost to suicide is a devastating blow. This is a love letter to that child, to the family that bore that child. I sometimes wonder why I am drawn to such intense material but, in a manner, I find it profoundly cathartic. 

Carter Cooper, son of Glori Vanderbilt and Wyatt Cooper, seemed blessed at birth - handsome, intelligent with a winning, sensitive personality. And affluent ... no child could have had a more fortuitous beginning. But as every mother of an afflicted child knows, physical circumstances and the love of those around you cannot save you from the demons within. Ms. Vanderbilt watched her son Carter leap to his death from the the 14th story balcony of their NYC apartment. How one recovers from that boggles the mind.

The cause of the suicide is disturbingly unclear. Was it a reaction to his asthma medicine? She
Gloria with Carter 
and Anderson
scours medical research to try and determine this. Was he in a deep sleepwalking state, as his mother sadly conjectures? The final act was so uncharacteristic, it confounded the many who loved him. If it was some sort of mental illness or depression (he had just broken up with his girlfriend), Ms. Vanderbilt gives no hint of it or it remained well hidden by Carter himself.

But the book is more than a memorial to her son.  It is a melancholic paean to a lost time when the family was whole. Ms Vanderbilt's husband Wyatt Cooper died in 1977, her son in 1988. Her second son, the journalist and broadcaster Anderson Cooper, is the last member of her immediate family from this marriage (she also has two older sons).

The reader sees the yearning in Vanderbilt to build and maintain a family by one who lost her father as a toddler and was estranged from her mother for much of her life. She was famously fought over by her biological mother and her paternal aunt (the aunt won). That story has been immortalized in Little Gloria ... Happy at Last.

She is really a remarkable person - spiritual, positive, loving and open to the joys and vicissitudes of life.

An anecdote:
Two or three years ago, a friend invited me to a dinner celebrating the Carter V. Cooper/Exile Short Fiction Competition in Toronto. My friend was a finalist in the competition and generously purchased tickets for a group of us to attend the dinner. Two tables in front of me sat Gloria Vanderbilt - looking beautiful if fragile. Someone asked where Ms. Vanderbilt was sitting. Another guest pointed expectantly to a venerable white haired lady at the head table who appeared to be in her seventies. Nope, I replied - it's that sexy, red haired lady in front of us at the head table. She was beautifully made up and seemed rather sweet if subdued. I loved that she had named this prize after her son whom she felt had great promise as a writer.

No comments: