Last Tuesday morning, September 26, I was planning to put the finishing touches on a new blog post and publish it. But at 6:00 AM, my husband came stumbling into our bedroom. He told me our 25-year-old son, a sparkling presence in the world, was found dead in his temporary lodgings in Berkeley, California.
Our son, Michael Cohen, was a graduate student in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had a semester-long research fellowship at Berkeley. After not being able to reach him all weekend, we contacted his academic advisor, who went to his rental apartment. Unable to get in, his advisor contacted the police, who broke in and found our son dead. We are still awaiting lab tests, but there is reason to suspect that Michael was suffering from undiagnosed Type I diabetes. He had been sick all week, but told people he was getting better. At some point, he slipped into a coma and died.
It is really hard to get up in the morning now. What keeps me going that my husband, my daughter, my two elderly cats, and my dearest friends would suffer if I followed my son out of this life. Equally important is my mission to help abused and neglected children.
When I think of my treasured son who knew nothing but love, it is even more heartbreaking to think of all the children who even at this minute are being physically or emotionally abused or neglected, and even murdered, by their parents or guardians. It is heartbreaking to think of agencies that are so concerned with the rights of parents, or so overwhelmed due to underfunding, that they leave these children in dangerous and toxic homes. And it is unbearable to think of the children who have been removed from their families and placed in uncaring families or institutions that continue to abuse or neglect them.
I know that I must go on writing this blog. I must continue participating in the District of Columbia’s Citizen Review Panel on child abuse and neglect and its Child Fatality Review Committee.
I must do it in honor of Adrian Jones, whose body was fed to the pigs by the father and stepmother who killed him, and who was the subject of multiple CPS reports in two states before he died. I must do it in honor of Natalie Finn, who died of starvation at her adoptive home, isolated from help because she was “home-schooled.” I must do it for all of the other children who continue to suffer and die because the state fails in its duty to protect them.
I must do it in honor of my son, Michael Benjamin Cohen, whose energy and passion for the things he cared about never let up, even while his body was breaking down.
Parents and guardians, hug your children. Don’t think that they have a self-preservation instinct just because they are 25. If they live alone, tell them that you need to hear from them every 24 hours or you will send someone to their dwelling or call the police. Like the deaths of Adrian Jones and Natalie Finn and so many others, Michael’s death was eminently preventable. And for the rest of my life, I will suffer the consequences.