The late New York socialite never got the closure every parent deserves. "Not a day goes by that I do not think of him," she had said when she was 93 years old.
On July 22, 1988, Gloria Vanderbilt's 23-year-old son, Carter Cooper paid her a visit. Things seemed to be going fine; there was no argument and no conflict between the mother and son. But within fleeting moments, Vanderbilt saw her son go plummetting down 14 floors to his death right before her eyes.
From that day on, Vanderbilt was never the same again. For the next three decades of her life, until the day she passed away in June 2019, the New York socialite felt the emptiness that her son, Carter Cooper, left behind. She believed that once you witness something so harrowing, it's nearly impossible for things to feel the same or to even get a sense of closure.
"The most terrible word in the English language, 'closure,'" Vanderbilt told People.
"It doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing," added Anderson Cooper, her younger son she had with Wyatt Cooper.
When Vanderbilt spoke with USA Today, she talked about closure then as well and said, "I love to talk about Carter, because for me, it brings him alive again. People talk about 'bringing closure,' but in my opinion, there's never closure."
Before she watched her 23-year-old son jump from the balcony a few inches away from her and end his own life, Carter was under medication for depression, according to UPI. His brother, Anderson Cooper later wrote about his brother for CNN and said, "He felt things too deeply... He was gentle. Which makes the violence of his death that much more incomprehensible."
Losing him put Vanderbilt through an extremely tough phase in their lives.
"I thought the worst thing that had ever happened to me was when I was 9," she said, referring to the harsh battle her aunt and her mother fought over young Vanderbilt's custody in the documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid, according to Town & Country. "But that wasn't the worst. The worst is to lose a child."
She even wrote on Instagram, "Not a day goes by that I do not think of him. He is close to me because he lives in my mind and heart forever."
Despite the enormous grief, she didn't want to stop talking about him or remembering him. Others may have felt awkward bringing him up but she didn't mind it because she felt it kept his memory alive.
"Some people... who knew Carter will start to talk about him and then say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ And I say, ‘No, I love to talk about him. More, more, more,'" Vanderbilt told People. Because for her, "it means that he hasn’t been forgotten."
Speaking nearly 30 years after his death, she said in the same People interview with Andeson Cooper that she would still sometimes see him in her dreams.
"I think that maybe it was some kind of dream that happened and he seems so real to me still... Does that make any sense?"
Anderson Cooper asked in response, "You’re saying you still dream of him?"
"Yes, I do," she replied.
"And the dream feels very real?" asked her son, who works as a news anchor.
To that, Vanderbilt's response was: "The dream feels absolutely real. Just as a real as we are here."
Vanderbilt has seen a number of tragedies in her life, the worst of which was losing her son. But with everything that came her way, she kept going. On her 95th birthday, she wrote on Instagram, "Today I turn 95. It feels like yesterday i was 16 and posing for my first picture for Harper’s Bazaar. There is so much i wish I had known then. I do believe that it is only once you accept that life is a tragedy that you can truly start to live.... and, oh, how i have lived! So many lives, so much work, so much love. It is incalculable."
After she passed away, Anderson Cooper said in a statement, according to CNN, "Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms. She was a painter, a writer and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they'd tell you: She was the youngest person they knew..."