The 4 Words That Saved a Grieving Mom's Life

gloria vanderbilt anderson cooperAnderson Cooper, the drastically handsome CNN anchor, recently premiered his daytime talk show, and I agree that he's better than Oprah. Cooper isn’t someone I’d typically like: he grew up privileged, and I’m more of a self-made-man kinda girl. Yet he's proven that he works way harder than me despite having no need for cash, so okay, he continues to be my TV boyfriend. He only cemented this role when he brought his mom, uber-heiress and designer-jeans-pioneer Gloria Vanderbilt, onto the show to talk about his brother Carter’s suicide 20 years ago. His mom saw everything as Carter swung himself onto their penthouse apartment’s ledge and let go, and felt her heart crash to the sidewalk with him. But she managed to go on.

How? How does a mom go on after her child’s death? Now that I have babies of my own, I ponder this question (because I’m weird and like to torture myself) all the time. The answer will haunt you.

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They say being a mom makes us more sensitive, makes us so tired we can’t function, makes us crabby and frightened and helicopter-y. Moms get blamed for all sorts of ills: being too protective, being too neglectful, you name it. But what nobody tells us, because it’s impossible to understand until you go through it, is that being a mom makes you able to deal with things you never, never thought you could survive.

My friend Rebecca and I talk about this all the time. How we would call each other sobbing, in our 20s, because we didn’t get a job or we had a bad date. “We had no idea,” we tell each other, that we’d roll with difficult marriages, long colicky evenings, divorce, illness, sorrow, and barely pause to patch up our wounded psyches before moving on to the next diaper-change. You do it because someone depends on you. It’s not heroic. It’s what you do.

Anderson Cooper’s brother was 23 and going through a depressed time after a breakup. He seemed sad and disoriented, but was seeing a therapist. He came home to stay with his mom for a few days, and asked her to leave the window open while he napped even though the day was beastly hot. She checked on him several times. The last time she went into his room, he was sitting on the ledge. She begged him to come back in, but he vaulted over the edge. She’s poised when she discussed it. She’s controlled. But the pain shows through, like the grainy image of an ultrasound.

What stopped her from going over the edge after her son? “I thought of you,” she says to her other son. “I thought of you and it stopped me from doing that.”

I’ll admit it: when I had a second kid, a dark part of me thought, “Okay. An heir and a spare, now I don’t have to obsessively worry about my child dying because I have two now.” But the truth is much harder: Now I worry twice as much, because I have two hearts walking around outside by body.

Cooper and his mom seem to talk about the things that haunt them all the time, and to me their relationship looks amazing and close. I know it’s just TV and I only see one slice, but I still aspire to that closeness and strength. I only hope mine is never tested in this awful way.

Do you worry about your children and what you’d do if one of them ... you-know-whatted? Were you touched by Gloria’s confession to her surviving child?


Image via AndersonCooper.com

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