This changes when we become adults, but we don't often explore new ways of talking and conversing, and we put off discussing complex issues or raising difficult questions. We think we'll do it one day, in the future, but life gets in the way, and then it's too late.
I didn't want there to be anything left unsaid between my mother and me, so on her ninety-first birthday I decided to start a new kind of conversation with her, a conversation about her life. Not the mundane details, but the things that really matter, her experiences that I didn't know about or fully understand.
We started the conversation through e-mail and continued it for most of the following year. My mom had only started to use e-mail recently. At first her notes were one or two lines long, but as she became more comfortable typing, she began sending me very detailed ones. As you will see in the pages ahead, her memories are remarkably intimate and deeply personal, revealing things to me she never said face- to-face.
The first e-mail she sent me was on the morning of her birthday.
91 years ago on this day, I was born.
I recall a note from my Aunt Gertrude, received on a birthday long ago.
"Just think, today you are 17 whole years old!" she wrote.
Well, today -- I am 91 whole years old -- a hell of a lot wiser, but somewhere still 17.
What is the answer? What is the secret? Is there one?
That e-mail and its three questions started the conversation that ended up changing our relationship, bringing us closer than either of us had ever thought possible.
It's the kind of conversation I think many parents and their grown children would like to have, and it has made this past year the most valuable of my life. By breaking down the walls of silence that existed between us, I have come to understand my mom and myself in ways I never imagined.
I know now that it's never too late to change the relationship you have with someone important in your life: a parent, a child, a lover, a friend. All it takes is a willingness to be honest and to shed your old skin, to let go of the long-standing assumptions and slights you still cling to.
I hope what follows will encourage you to think about your own relationships and perhaps help you start a new kind of conversation with someone you love.
After all, if not now, when?
Excerpt from "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss." Copyright © 2016 by Anderson Cooper. A Harper book, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
- Gloria Vanderbilt's many loves ("Sunday Morning," 11/05/04)
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