More Than Just Her Jeans

VanderbiltRemember those Gloria Vanderbilt jeans? Who didn’t love ‘em?

How funny is that, while the flamboyant Gloria was flaunting her famous name on those fabulous jeans, she faced a myriad of behind-the-scenes dramas. Not funny ha-ha...funny peculiar.

So last week I found myself mesmerized as I watched Gloria Vanderbilt talking about life and love with her son, Anderson Cooper.  They were promoting their new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk about Life, Love and Loss and their HBO documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid.

What started both the book and the documentary were emails between Gloria Vanderbilt’ and her son, Anderson Cooper. Then, after his ninety-two year old mom had a brief illness last year, Cooper realized there was too much unsaid between them. He didn’t want a repeat of what happened with his father, who died when Cooper was ten.

Cooper confesses that he always thought – hoped – that sometime, like when he turned sixteen or twenty-one, a letter from his deceased father would surface. He fantasized that father would tell son all the things the son didn’t know about his father, as well as all the father’s dreams for his son. But there was no such letter. And there was too much unsaid between father and son.

With that disappointment in his mind, and after his mom’s illness, Anderson Cooper decided he wanted everything to be out in the open. He thinks he’s like many adult children: that they don’t fully know their parent, but they want to. He decided to do something about it.

So the conversations between mother and son, which began as emails, started the process. In the documentary, Anderson Cooper rummages through his famous mother’s old letters, her attic storage and her own artwork. All the while mother and son chat about both facts and feelings, including the mother’s fears of abandonment, her low self-esteem and how much she regrets.

In the reflective tone of someone who has lived a full life, the nonagenarian reveals how distant her parents were and how she was raised – almost exclusively – by Nurse Dodo, who Gloria says was mother, father and everything to her.  One of the strangest and saddest revelations is Gloria describing how, after her father’s death, her mother took her to Paris to live. You might think she would say that the two bonded in Paris, but they didn’t. When mother and daughter went to Paris, Gloria’s mother rented two houses – one for herself and the other for Gloria and Dodo.

No wonder she has abandonment and self-esteem issues!

As she looks at pictures and tells stories, it’s interesting to hear how those same issues surface over and over again in her four marriages. Only seventeen when she was first married, Gloria says she was physically, mentally and verbally abused. She divorced him and, at twenty she married a man forty-years her senior (the father she never had). Spouse #3 was emotionally abusive. Her fourth marriage was to the love of her life (Anderson Cooper’s father), who died at fifty. Also, her second son from her second marriage detached from her some thirty years ago. Then her first son from her fourth marriage (Cooper’s older brother) committed suicide in front of her

As she talked about different people with whom she shared her life, Gloria confesses that she has many, many regrets. At one point in her life she said there were so many that she made a list. At the top of the list was regretting not being with Nurse Dodo when she died. The question of why, with all her money and resources, she let Dodo die in alone, penniless and in the care of Catholic Charities, hangs in the air like a bad smell. Still, it’s interesting to hear her stories.

On balance, Gloria Vanderbilt's life has been more than interesting. Yet, according to her son, she never had a plan for her life. Doesn’t it make you wonder what it would have been like, what she would have accomplished, if she had stepped into personal leadership earlier in her life?

Overall, Gloria Vanderbilt’s greatest victory seems to be getting through her challenges. She did it because she developed an attitude, “I could survive things and I did.”

When you're ninety-two (and statistically you have a great chance of getting there), how would you like to look back on your life? If you continue on your current path, is there anything you think you wish you had done differently now, while you’re in your forties, fifties, sixties? What do you think you might regret?

You’re still young enough to reverse most of your regrets. Will you?       

The next NO REGRETS workshop is scheduled for June. The date isn't set yet, but you can be the first to know by following me on Facebook at VictoriousWomanProject