Showing 1 - 3 of 3 annotations associated with Cohen, Marion
- Schilling, Carol
Summary:In Chronic Progressive, a collection of 151 short poems divided into three parts, Marion Deutsche Cohen, a well spouse, continues her startlingly candid account of caring for her husband Jeff that began in her previous collection, Epsilon Country (1995, see annotation). Part I of Chronic Progressive describes Cohen's frustrations during the last of the 16 years that she cared for Jeff at home, as multiple sclerosis left him almost completely dependent on her. Mother of four, a prolific writer, a poet, and a mathematician, Cohen describes unrelenting stress when family services and insurance providers fail her, when she feels she must protect the sanctity of her home as health care aides and agencies treat it like a hospital or nursing home, or when she's exhausted, which is most of the time. "It's a state, a / chronic state, a chronic progressive incurable state," she writes (55).
The middle section, the longest, follows Cohen during the ten years Jeff resides in Inglis House, a Philadelphia care facility. These poems mix reflections on the past with working out the rhythms of life without Jeff in the house, but still unshakably on her mind. In this section, she also writes "The Last Love Poem for Jeff" and anticipates his death in "A New Vow": "I will give you the best deathbed anyone ever had" (108). In Part III, Cohen experiences relief and begins life with a new spouse after Jeff's death. She recalls herself as ". . . the one he began with, the one he'll end with / the one who's been too much in the middle" (162). But she quickly turns to "Wedding Preparations Former Well Spouse Style" and the "Love Poem for Her New Love."
Taken altogether, the poems reveal a profound effort to sustain vitality and remake ways of living-with integrity-at the edge of human endurance. "Yes, how readily we reclaim our territories," Cohen observes near the end of her book (180).
- Aull, Felice
Summary:In 1977 Marion Cohen's physicist husband, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was 36 years old. Cohen, a mathematician and poet and mother of four, became his chief caregiver. As her husband's illness progressed, the caregiving role became increasingly absorbing, demanding, all-encompassing. Eventually daytime attendants were hired but sometimes they didn't show up. This collection of 77 poems is a kind of journal, primarily from late 1989 through January, 1991, that chronicles Marion's ambivalent caregiving, despair, resignation, "temper tantrums," love, and compassion.
Last Updated: Nov-21-2009
- Schilling, Carol
Summary:In Dirty Details, Marion Deutsche Cohen writes about the unrelenting labor entailed in caring for her husband Jeffrey at home as multiple sclerosis turns his symptoms from "mere inconveniences" (11) to extraordinary demands, which can disturb her sleep as frequently as twenty times a night. The premise of her unsparing narrative is that "we have got to spill the dirty details" (26) of such arrangements before the endurance-draining responsibilities of home care such as hers can be understood and redressed. In a culture that favors narratives of seemingly heroic individual effort, Cohen's brutally forthright descriptions of the effects of Jeff's needs on her life can be mistaken for a self-pitying complaint, rather than an urgent, revelatory, political call to action. Like her husband, a well-published physicist at the University of Pennsylvania when diagnosed with MS at age 36 in 1977, Cohen is an accomplished professional. With a PhD in mathematics, Cohen teaches college students as well as publishes poetry and prose. She and her husband also shared, with increasing asymmetry, the parenting of their four children.
Cohen captures the wearying routine of her days in her narrative's echoing refrain, "nights, lifting, and toilet." The nights refer to Cohen's dangerously disrupted sleep. Her husband's respirator can sound every half hour or so, inciting her to worry "about the psychological effects of seldom being allowed to finish my dreams" (23). (When she asks if the machine can be fixed, she's told that it's supposed to behave that way. By implication, so is she, despite the toll on her well-being.) Yet she daily rallies the strength to lift her husband on and off the toilet, a feat, among others, that sometimes defied the powers of several hospital nurses working together. Toilet also means responding to Jeffrey's regular calls to her to drop what she's doing, run upstairs, and bring him a jar. The jar at least relieves her from lifting. She experiences only intermittent relief, however, from finding and keeping home health aides who are able to show up reliably and behave civilly during the few hours per day they can be funded. What results from these tests of human stamina, Cohen tells us, is not "ordinary stress" that some optimistically believe can be managed by taking stress reduction workshops, but rather "dire straits." "Calling dire straits stress," she corrects, "undermines well spouses and makes us feel alienated and confused about where we stand" (32).
It's that standing in the broadest sense of the word that Cohen's book most searingly addresses. While Dirty Details contains one woman's account of caring for a disabled husband at home, the book's wider purpose is to make the labor of family caregivers visible with all its strains, conflicts, messiness, failures, anger, and, at times, humor. As the straights become increasingly dire, though, Cohen writes about what happens to love as she moves from sustaining tenderness, candor, and their physical intimacy to diminishing her compassion for Jeff and saving herself: a "pure survival instinct" (87). After sixteen years in his family's care, Jeff at first reluctantly enters Inglis House, a residence that provides as much independence as possible for those who cannot live independently, where he continues to write and publish. Cohen's professional life, social life, and beloved parenting once again flourish. The story she is freed to write (illustrated with photographs by Anna Moon taken with Jeff's consent) lead readers away from her particular circumstances toward a comprehensive interrogation of social and medical systems that operate by leaving the most chronically ill and disabled citizens in their families' care by default. And leave the families in dire straits.