Wednesday, October 4, 2017

In Memory of My Son, Michael Benjamin Cohen, March 25, 1992-September, 2017

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.


  1. A FB friend shared this with me and, as I read it, my heart stopped! My 33 year old son came home to visit us this past Labor Day week-end. He lives on the West Coast and we are on the East Coast. We had seen him 4th of July week-end and were horrified that he had lost over 35 lbs since his last visit!

    He had not mentioned weight loss and did not think anything was wrong with his health. However, we knew something was very bad.

    We took him to our doctor who ordered blood tests. Sure enough, he had undiagnosed Diabetes 1! His blood numbers were 718 (normal is low 100's).

    He was sitting on an airplane back home when we received this information.
    The doctor ordered him to go immediately to the hospital upon landing.
    He would easily have slipped into a coma!

    If he had not come home, he would not be alive today. Diabetes 1 is not in his genetics and he ignored any symptoms.

    I can only imagine your pain and second guessing. However, this disease is a sneaky snake; you could not have known and you had no control. Even calling him daily would not have saved him.

    I am sure there are millions of stories just like your's. I will become an activist for everyone who has a similar story and for those who still can be saved.

    I send my deepest condolences .

    1. Thank you for your important comment. I only just figured out how to reply. I am so glad you were able to save your son. We still don't know for sure that it was type 1 Diabetes that killed ours, though the evidence is very suggestive. If we find out it was after obtaining lab results from the coroner, I will join you in your activism. (Of course it is equally important whether or not my son died of it but somehow I want to draw some meaning from his death by working to ensure other families don't suffer as we are suffering.)

  2. I don't know if this helps in any way, coming from a complete stranger, who read this post by accident, possibly somehow because of being a former Berkeley grad student in math, and a father of three.

    First, as the previous comment also pointed out, it doesn't seem you would have had a real chance to save him. IF you had called him exactly in the short time period between when he started feeling something was wrong and when he went to coma, AND you could have convinced him over the phone that he should call or go to a doctor even if he didn't feel like doing that, THEN you could have helped. And really, calling your 25 year old son every day is probably not the easiest way to a normal relationship. "Preventable" looks relevant only in retrospect. If your mistakes didn't feel like mistakes while you were making them, they were probably not mistakes.

    Second, and this was really my very first thought when I read this post: writing about such a loss with such clarity, sticking to the main points, with love and determination for your son and the things you have to do in the world... This is an example I will have in my heart for the rest of my life (and although I would like to hope I will not have to use it ever, I'm sure I will).

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you never, never have to use me as an example.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. It is important and helpful.

  4. Dearest Marie: You shoul not take the death of Mikey upon you. I can tell you for certain that even had he spoken to you every day, even if you had seen him every day, we just don't always realize something is so terribly wrong. It wasn't us (the parents) that realized our son had diabetes, it was a close friend of my son ( a13 year old boy) that kept asking him why he was peeing so much and drinking so much. The kids were 13. We (the parents) didn't know or realize there was something wrong. And when the distance between parents and children is so great, it is practically impossible to do much for them. Things happen, people of all ages, don't always realize their situation might actually be dangerous, I remember hopping over once to see a nephew (he was 19), he was in bed after eating fish he was alergic to, he was red from head to toes. His father had told him on the phone to go rest, he'll be O.K.
    Had I not come in by chance he would not be alive today. I had to take him to the ER,and it took some time for him to recover. You are a special person, dedicated to the most needy kids. I hope you find some consolement in your work. But you must let go of any sort of guilt.
    You write beutifully and I hope you continue writing and working for these kids.
    Thinking of you with love