“The most terrible word in the English language, ‘closure,’ ” Vanderbilt, 92, says in a recent interview with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle.
“It doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing,” adds Cooper, 48.
Carter left a permanent hole in their hearts after he died in July 1988 after swinging off the terrace wall of his mother’s 14th floor Manhattan apartment. His passing came ten years after the death of Carter and Anderson’s father, author Wyatt Cooper, a man Anderson and Vanderbilt both describe as the glue who held the family together.
Vanderbilt, who looked on helplessly during Carter’s final moments, says her bond with Anderson became stronger after Carter’s death, even if holidays like Christmas were never the same.
“Well, I remember the first Christmas we were together after it happened – cause he died July 22 – and we went to the movies,” she says while looking over at Anderson. “And then we went to the automat, and from then on we’ve never done anything about Christmas.”
Anderson agrees with his mom, then adds: “I think it obviously brought us together in ways and I think you can’t help but come closer going through something like that, and, you know, it left us with each other. And, I think it’s still hard to believe it’s been so long because I think it’s still so present in our lives, that sense of loss.”
Watch more of The Jess Cagle Interview with Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt all this week on People.com.
The television journalist painfully ponders the person his brother (who would have been 50 this year) might have become, and how their relationship could have deepened over the years.
“I think it’s hard for me to imagine that he would be 50,” Anderson says. “It’s stunning for me to think of how long ago it was that he died, that I’ve lived more of my life without him than I lived with him. That’s incomprehensible to me. He’s forever frozen in time.”
“When we were growing up, I used to imagine us being adults and being closer when we were adults and having families and kind of getting to know each other in a new way, and we never had that opportunity,” he continues.
Anderson, a 60 Minutes contributor and anchor of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, also reflects on how his brother’s death affected his career choices, and how his work in turn helped him make sense of his personal loss.
“I started going overseas and going to places where life and death was very real and where people were suffering tremendous losses. Hearing their stories and hearing people talk about it sort of helped me to get to a place where I could talk about it, I think,” he explains.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has always welcomed people telling stories about Carter, even if they felt awkward bringing him up.
“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.’ Because that brings him alive and it brings him closer and it means that he hasn’t been forgotten.”
Vanderbilt says Carter lives on in her memories, even if after nearly 30 years it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate memories from myth.
“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?” she says.
“You’re saying you still dream of him?” Anderson asks in response.
“Yes, I do,” she replies.
“And the dream feels very real?” he asks.
“The dream feels absolutely real,” she says. “Just as a real as we are here.”
Cooper and Vanderbilt’s relationship will be featured in an upcoming HBO documentary and, before that, in a memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love, and Loss, due out April 5.