Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach has fallen for Anderson Cooper. His podcast, anyway. On it, he unpacks his grief at the death of his famous mother, the heiress and fashion trendsetter Gloria Vanderbilt, and the suicide of his brother, Carter. Like most people in their 70s, Sternbach has lost loved ones and has become accustomed to carrying her grief with her. “The older we get, the more we lose,” she writes in this latest column on aging. “And yet, as we continue on, we are expected to carry more. More memories, more grief, more tools to deal with said grief. We fill up a virtual backpack with it all and just keep walking as the load gets heavier.”
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Lately I have been spending quite a bit of time with Anderson Cooper.
Not in person, although his podcast, “All There Is,” feels so personal it is almost as if he is right beside me as I take my daily walk, whether it be by the shore or strolling down Pacific Avenue. With my earbuds in it feels as if he is speaking only to me. It feels intimate. And I am wild about his giggle.
I was a podcast virgin. Then, Anderson popped that cherry.
And I’m glad he did. I have been slow to explore the popular world of podcasts. Technology is still something I am not always comfortable with. Perhaps it’s my age. But now I feel like a window has opened and there is so much to explore. How marvelous to have access to so many voices.
When Anderson’s mother, fashion icon and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, died in 2019, he was devastated. She had lived a long and colorful life, while also acknowledging the great tragedies of her time on Earth. The death of her husband when Anderson was only 10 and the death of her son and Anderson’s brother, Carter, by suicide (which she witnessed), when he was 23 and Anderson was 20. It was left to Anderson to clean out his mother’s apartments, which were filled to overflowing with artwork, letters going back decades, fashion and photographs.
While facing this monumental task, he began to record the process. It became a podcast. I’ve become addicted.
The older we get, the more we lose. Friends, family, health we can depend on without even thinking about it, and often small things, like the ability to touch our toes without bending our knees.
And yet, as we continue on, we are expected to carry more. More memories, more grief, more tools to deal with said grief. We fill up a virtual backpack with it all and just keep walking as the load gets heavier.
The other day, while sitting on the steps down at Seacliff State Beach, I listened to Anderson as he spoke with Stephen Colbert about the losses he has experienced.
Stephen lost his father and two brothers in a terrible car accident when he was just a boy. Both men, while discussing the pain they experienced and still feel, cried as they talked. Stephen spoke about the fact that he kept his brother Peter’s belt after the accident and has been moving it from place to place, apartment to apartment, for 40 years. It dawned on him what he had been doing only when his own son, named Peter, had a growth spurt and needed a new belt.
Stephen looked in his closet and hanging on a hook was his brother’s belt. It was then he realized he had been carrying this talisman with him everywhere he went for four decades. He had not even been aware of it. Not until that moment. He wept at the realization.
We hang on to physical things because they are a link to the person we are missing.
I can relate. I wear my mother’s wedding ring on my right hand and think of her each time I look down.
I think of all the things my mother’s hand did while wearing this small ring. When I was a newborn, she fed me. She fed my younger twin sisters. She cooked over a hot stove, frying chicken while wearing this ring. She hung laundry out to dry while wearing this promise of love on her hand.
She put the ring away after my father left.
When she married again, she and her husband had the ring remodeled. Altered to look a bit different, but still they were the original stones, just refashioned. She was practical.
I remember that when I look at it as well. And I wear it while I wash the dishes, write letters to friends. Someday my daughter will wear it.
A few days ago would have been my late sister Carol’s 71st birthday. She has been gone for almost a decade and each year as her birthday approaches, I feel the loss. I become fragile.
I often find myself sitting down in a dark hole not wanting to be rescued.
I have found over the years that it is much more helpful to sit with my grief until I can begin to make my way back up to the light and life and all that is joy. My husband, Michael, recognizes when it is happening. His first instinct, dear man, is always to cheer me up.
But I have told him, what would be much more helpful would be for him to just come down to where I am and sit with me in the dark. Just be there so I know I am not alone. And when I am ready and able I will resurface.
We age. And as we age, we begin to carry more, not less.
We carry our loved ones. We carry memories of times we can never get back. And I carry tools. Bits of wisdom I may manipulate to construct a ladder which, when necessary, I can use to climb out of the darkness and into the light.