Gloria Vanderbilt, my mother, lived her whole life in the open. Born in 1924, her father Reginald was the heir to the Vanderbilt railway fortune, but gambled away most of his legacy and died when my mother was just a baby.
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, her mother, was not ready to be a mother or a widow.
My mother grew up in France and knew nothing about the Vanderbilt family or the money she would inherit when she turned 21. She had no idea of the problems that money would cause.
When she was 10, her father's sister complained that my mother was being taken away from her own mother. It was a custody battle that the world had never seen before.
It took place during the height of the depression and generated headlines every day for months. The court granted custody of my mother to her aunt Gertrude, whom she barely knew. The judge also dismissed the only person my mother really loved and needed, her nanny whom she called Dodo.
As a teenager she tried to avoid the spotlight, but reporters and cameramen would follow her everywhere.
She was determined to make something of her life and to find the love and family she so desperately wanted. She married at the age of 17 against her aunt's wishes. She knew it was a mistake from the start.
At the age of 21 she married again and had two sons with the legendary conductor, Leopold Stokowski.
The marriage lasted more than a decade. Then she met and married director Sidney Lumet and then my father, writer Wyatt Cooper.
In the course of her life my mother was photographed by all the great photographers. She worked as a painter, writer, actor and designer. If you were around in the early 80s, it was pretty hard to miss the jeans she helped create, but that was her public face. The one she learned to hide as a child.
Her private self, her real self, that was fascinating and more beautiful than anything she showed the public.
I always thought of her as a visitor from another world, a traveler who was stranded here and who came from a distant star that burned down long ago. I always thought it was my job to protect her. She was the strongest person I have ever met, but she was not difficult.
She has never developed thick skin to protect herself against pain. She wanted to feel it all. She wanted to feel the joys of life as well as her pains. She trusted too freely, too completely and suffered enormous losses, but she always persisted, always worked hard, always believed that the best was yet to come.
She was always in love. In love with men or with friends or books and art, in love her children and then her grandchildren and then her great-grandchildren. Love is what she believed in more than anything.
Earlier this month we had to take her to the hospital. There she learned that she had very advanced cancer in her stomach and that it had spread. when the doctor told her she had cancer, she paused for a while.
And then she said, well, it's like that old song. Show me the way to get out of this world, because there is everything. Later she made a joke and we started to giggle. I never knew we had the same giggling. I recorded it and it makes me giggle every time I look at it.
Joseph Conrad wrote that we only live when we die. He was wrong in my mother's case. Gloria Vanderbilt died while she lived, on her own terms. I know she was hoping for a little more time, at least a few days or weeks, there were paintings she wanted to make, more books she wanted to read, more dreams to dream, but she was ready. she was ready to go.
She spent a lot of time alone in her head, but when the end came, she wasn't the only one. She was surrounded by beauty and family and friends. The last couple of weeks, every time I kiss her goodbye, I'd say, "I love your mother."
She looked at me and said, "I love you too, you know that." And she was right. I knew that.
I knew it from the moment I was born and I will know it for the rest of my life and in the end, what a greater gift a mother can give her son.
Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mother. And what an incredible woman.
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