Over the course of the many thousands of books I have read some stick, not only in my mind, but also in my heart. One such book was "A Mother’s Story" by Gloria Vanderbilt. It is a poignantly written memoir about the suicide of Vanderbilt’s son Carter Cooper; brother of journalist Anderson Cooper. As painful as the book is, it is a profound testament to the human spirit that allows us to keep putting one foot forward even during the most devastating of tragedies; one slow foot at a time as we find our way towards a new kind of normal. Published 12 years after Carter’s death in 1988, Publisher’s Weekly had this to say about "A Mother’s Story".
“The author's 23-year-old son, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper--Princeton graduate, editor at American Heritage, outwardly confident and in control of his life--committed suicide, falling from the terrace of her Manhattan apartment as she watched helplessly. This luminous, wise, healing and deeply moving memoir opens with Vanderbilt's flashbacks to other personal losses, including abandonment by her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, who left for Paris in 1925, dumping her at the age of one year on her maternal grandmother and an Irish nurse; the death of her father, Reginald, three months later; and the death of her actor/screenwriter husband, Wyatt Cooper, in 1978 after he suffered several heart attacks. Some of these traumas were covered in her 1985 autobiography, Once Upon a Time, and the self-conscious narrative is padded with diary excerpts from 1971. But when Vanderbilt finally recalls her son's death--which she believes was the result of a psychotic episode induced by a prescription allergy drug the writing shines, communicating her almost unbearable pain and sorrow with shattering intensity.”
Frequently over the years I have found myself going to the stacks and pulling A Mother’s Story off, re-reading and drawing strength from certain passages. I would end my recommendation of this book by quoting Ms. Vanderbilt as she writes;
“Each day, each year that passes as I live with Carter’s death, I come to see it in the perspective of the tragedies that have happened and are happening every day in our world---the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia---tragedies so indescribable that one mother’s pain is maybe not so important after all. Except to me, of course. But perhaps in some small way it will be to you---perhaps if you are suffering from loss and feel you can’t go on, it will reach you, for what I am trying to say to you is: Don’t give up, don’t ever give up, because without the pain there cannot be joy, and both make us know we are alive. You have the courage to let the pain you feel possess you, the courage not to deny it, and if you do this the day will come when you wake and know that you are working through it, and because you are, there is a hope, small though it may be, a hope you can trust, and the more you allow yourself to trust it, the more it will tell you that although nothing will ever be the same, and the suffering you are working through will be with you always—you will come through, and when you do you’ll know who you really are, and someday there will be moments when you will be able to love again, and laugh again, and live again. I hope this will come true for you as it has for me.”
"A Mother’s Story"….a slim book with a huge message.