Counting Her Blessings
She swore at him, then criticized a news segment he produced. "I thought
she was exceedingly attractive and had a big mouth, both highly acceptable
qualities," Cohen recalls. The attraction was mutual. After a four-year
courtship and some tough talk about the unknowns and what-ifs of MS — Cohen had
been diagnosed with the disease at 25, before he met Vieira — they leaped. And
they've been married for 21 years.
"He wasn't going to write a memoir," Vieira says about her husband's
book. "He was going to write something more generic about the disease, but
his editor convinced him to open up. It turned out to be a blessing — for him
and for other people with MS. It validated their feelings, gave them a chance
to open up."
Blindsided — brutal, vulnerable, optimistic — was a blessing for
their family as well. "For a long time, Richard didn't want to talk about
his illness," Vieira says. Denial can be both good and bad, she reflects.
"Part of the denial was because of his work." He was afraid he wouldn't
be hired if people knew. The disease has progressively robbed Cohen of his
sight — he is now legally blind — turned his limbs numb, and compromised his
balance, all of which interfered with his mobility. "When we moved to the
suburbs, people would think he was drunk," Vieira says. "I always felt
a certain amount of discomfort in not being open."
Things began to change when Ben was around 8. "He asked, ‘Am I going to
be like Dad? What's wrong with Daddy?'" Vieira started telling her son
about the illness. "The next day I said to Richard, ‘I think we should talk
about it.'" That felt right to him, too, and the doors began to open, first
to family and, slowly, to the public.
Vieira says the memoir has made their marriage stronger. "Whenever you
have closed doors, you're on eggshells. You never know what you can say, what
you can't say." When Vieira accompanies Cohen to his speaking engagements,
people often tell her she seems so chipper. "I'm not always chipper,"
she insists. "I'm angry sometimes, and I think it's important to say that.
It's hard sometimes. Harder mostly for Richard, but there are days when I'm
angry for the family or for myself, when I think, Why do I have to do this?
It's much better to get that out. And if Richard is extremely frustrated, it's
better for him to get it out. Illness is a family affair."
Right now, Vieira's biggest family challenge is adjusting to Ben's departure
for college. "He was already spending a lot of his time with his friends,
and I feel we did a good job," she says, bravely mustering her reasonable,
dry-eyed self. Trying to muster it, at least. "You're always preparing and
preparing for them to leave," she says philosophically. Still trying.
"We're really ready to let him go." Meltdown ahead. "Richard is
really ready to let him go," she says, and preempts a potentially weepy
moment with a laugh.