What You Can Learn from Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper

I recently finished reading The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss (HarperCollins 2016) by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Do I recommend this book? Sure I do—it's chock full of details about these celebrities' lives, and in particular accounts of young Gloria's early years read like high fiction. But it's not the drama and inside scoop that endear this book to me; it's the naturally unfolding "getting-to-know-you" that happens between mother and son.

Cooper and his mother undertook an extended email conversation, one in which they were able to—finally—explore deep emotions and speak of tragedies of which they had previously chosen to remain silent. Vanderbilt's words are poetic, ripe with passion, honesty, and resilience. Cooper's questions are probing, and raw in their search for an understanding not only of his mother, but of the impact their relationship and experiences have had on him as a person.

“[Even as adults] we don’t often explore new ways of talking and conversing, and we put off discussing complex issues or raising difficult questions,” Cooper writes. “We think we’ll do it one day, in the future, but life gets in the way, and then it’s too late.”
“I didn’t want there to be anything left unsaid between my mother and me, so on her ninety-first birthday I decided to start a new kind of conversation with her, a conversation about her life. Not the mundane details, but the things that really matter, her experiences that I didn’t know about or fully understand....”

And what a gift these two gave to one another! Check this book out from the library, or better yet, buy it for yourself. I hope you may be inspired to embark upon your own extended conversation (theirs was via email over the course of a year) with a parent or other loved one.

“If not now, when?”

Why not...start an extended email conversation with your parents to discover the experiences that shaped them?

Anderson Cooper did. And it resulted in the most meaningful year of his life.

Of course you can open a wonderful dialogue with a loved one by writing good old-fashioned letters (and who doesn't love getting a hand-written letter!), but email is by far a more expedient way to communicate—and one that may be easier to turn into your own keepsake book later, should that idea appeal.

Of course you can open a wonderful dialogue with a loved one by writing good old-fashioned letters (and who doesn't love getting a hand-written letter!), but email is by far a more expedient way to communicate—and one that may be easier to turn into your own keepsake book later, should that idea appeal.

“The most valuable year of my life”

Not sure your mother or father would find such an exchange worthwhile? Perhaps give them the book. Or just bite the bullet and express your desire to get to know them better: Simply ask.

Vanderbilt was new to email at the time she began this endeavor with her son, but despite some initial reservations, her written correspondence matured and deepened over the course of the year they wrote to one another. And I can almost guarantee that once the floodgates are open—and each of you is able to see how deeply affected you are by the other's insights and memories—the richer the experience will become.

As Cooper writes:

“It’s the kind of conversation I think many parents and their grown children would like to have, and it has made this past year the most valuable of my life. By breaking down the walls of silence that existed between us, I have come to understand my mom and myself in ways I never imagined.
I know now that it’s never too late to change the relationship you have with someone important in your life: a parent, a child, a lover, a friend. All it takes is a willingness to be honest and to shed your old skin, to let go of the longstanding assumptions and slights you still cling to.”

I hope this book, or even just the idea of it, will encourage you to think about your own relationships and perhaps help you start a new kind of conversation with someone you love.

After all, if not now, when?