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June 12, 2017

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss

By: Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt

There are times when fact is stranger than fiction; such is the case with the life of Gloria Vanderbilt. This latest book on her life, released in 2016, further explores the intriguing life journey of an American icon. Vanderbilt rarely does things in a traditional manner so the fact that this introspective is presented as an email correspondence between Gloria and her journalist son Anderson Cooper should not be surprising. In the public eye almost from birth, Gloria is known as an heiress, actress, artist, designer, writer, and business woman. Throw in a heated custody battle when she was just a child, four marriages, and the suicide of a son and you’ll get a sense of the drama she has experienced. Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt’s youngest child, has achieved a different kind of celebrity in his own right. Intelligent, studious, and relentless, he counts himself lucky to have been spared the intense scrutiny that surrounds the Vanderbilt name. Being a “Cooper” allowed him to find his own way in the world as a less public personality. Television journalism is his forte and this is his second published book, the first being Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival. The pair share a creative drive to achieve and a dogged persistence to overcome all odds.

The impetus for the yearlong correspondence was a life-threatening illness suffered by Vanderbilt at the age of 91. Cooper realized that his only living relative was not immortal and there was much about her life and their relationship that he wished to explore, discuss, and clarify. He was loath for time to run out before they had the opportunity to know each other fully as adults. It is easy to take our immediate families for granted, assuming they will always be around. Cooper’s father, the author Wyatt Cooper, died when he was just ten years old. His only full sibling, an older brother named Carter, committed suicide when Anderson was a young man of 21, away at college. Cooper understands better than most that life is transient and tomorrow is not guaranteed. We could all benefit from this epiphany by opening similar conversations with loved ones, especially those of advanced age.

Due to Cooper’s frequent travel and the busy schedules kept by both mother and son, the two settled on email correspondence to facilitate their conversation. This strategy proved helpful as their dialogue progressed; it seems easier to address difficult or highly personal topics via the written word rather than to voice them face-to-face. As their exchange progresses and becomes increasingly relaxed, each gains new insight into the other’s experience and motivations. Long repressed emotions and unknown events come to light, resulting in deeper understanding and a closer, more intimate relationship.

The title of this book is indicative of the sense of optimism with which Gloria Vanderbilt lives. Drawn from a William Wordsworth poem, Cooper translates its meaning, “The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns.” Though she has endured much hardship and devastating loss in her life, Vanderbilt has also enjoyed great privilege and opportunity. She remains ever hopeful that wonderful things are just around the corner. She continues to engage in creative pursuits and take an interest in the world and those in it. Living for over nine decades gives one a broad view; the wisdom Vanderbilt has developed can benefit us all. Never preachy, she maintains a self-deprecating sense of humor and a youthful exuberance that I found refreshing. “Let it be my motto, as well as yours. Ever upward, as a new life, a new day begins. Have faith that something unexpected and wonderful is moving toward you at incredible speed-EXCELSIOR! Yes, ever upward we must go, and go together.”

Cooper does his own soul-searching and is willing to share his perspectives and emotions. Serious and probing in his public persona, he draws out his mother with gentle care and conveys his own internal struggles and uncertainty. Learning more about her early life and personal battles, he better comprehends and appreciates her. He can relate and accepts her shortcomings as well as his own, celebrating all that makes them unique – both the good and the bad.

Though I experienced a sense of voyeurism, eavesdropping on the dialog between this exceptional pair was an enlightening experience. It is true that both Vanderbilt and Cooper are well-known, but it can be difficult to get behind the mask of celebrity. This book helps us to delve deeper and gain a better understanding of how their personal histories have affected their lives and their relationships. Perhaps the reader too can benefit from what they have learned about themselves and each other.

Review By:  Pam Lamberger