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Reflections

'She was dying and I didn't know it. They didn't tell me.'

December 29, 1987

Fritzi Cohen was widowed 12 years ago and learned to live with that loss. Now she is trying to cope with the unexpected death of her 50-year-old daughter, Merilyn Goldberg. Mrs. Cohen, 91, lives in Reseda. I've had the greatest loss of my life. I lost my child. My darling daughter, who was the light of my life, my only child. She was a well-known lawyer in town. She died just last March, not even a year ago.

She called me on a Sunday when we planned to go out to dinner and said, "Mother, I think I've got the flu." I said, "You've had the flu so many times this year. I don't understand." Monday morning, she called her best friend and asked her if she would take her to the hospital. The next day, she had a heart attack and stroke. Thursday morning at five o'clock she died. The shock was terrible.

I didn't know that she had a disease. Her friends told me later that she had very bad diabetes. She knew she had it, but she never told me.

The last time I went to see her at the hospital, I didn't know she was dying. She was sleeping very peacefully and her hands were warm and her face was warm. I smoothed back her hair. and I wanted to hug her. But I didn't want to wake her up. She was dying, and I didn't know it. They didn't tell me. And, you know, that one thing chokes me when I think of it. I lie in bed and I think, why didn't I hug her, why didn't I kiss her? I thought I would wake her. And, a couple of hours after I left, she died. That will never leave me. If they had only told me.

I'm going to a group for bereaved parents at the Valley Storefront, Jewish Family Service. I have to tell it to somebody so I tell it to them. They're all strangers, and still I can say, "I'm heartbroken, I'm torn to pieces because I've lost the pride of my life and my whole support."

You cannot in any possible way know the pain of this experience unless you've gone through it. The pain hurts like somebody was hitting you in the stomach. The people there understand because they've gone through it.

I get some help from telling the story. I want to tell of the love, the joy, all the things about her that were so good, that people don't know. That gives me pleasure. She was an exceptionally bright child. She was a happy person and she was popular. She graduated from the University of Chicago when she was 18 years old. She graduated from law school magna cum laude.

She took me where very few children would take their 91-year-old mother. If a friend asked her to come to dinner, she would say, "Can I bring my mother?"

She was proud of me. She would go out of her way to take me across the room to meet somebody because she wanted them to know that I was her mother. She was proud that, at my age, I was so capable. That gave her pleasure. She and I traveled together quite a lot. She took me to Mexico and Hawaii.

I can't go anyplace alone. My sight is very poor and my legs are not too strong. So I do need someone at my side and she was always there.

Now that she's gone, I think her attention to me was unusual. The fact that I needed her so much and that she was always there makes it harder for me.

It is hard to learn to give up something that has meant so much and has been so precious and is suddenly whisked away without your permission. I never gave permission for that to be taken away. It was taken away by someone higher up that I had no control over.

I don't think there is anything that can compare with losing a child. I think that is the greatest hurt anyone could possibly go through. A lot of women have lost husbands. But, you know, we replace husbands, we replace wives. Have you ever heard of anybody replacing a child? You can't replace a child, never, never, never.

I'll never stop missing her. I'm accepting it now, but I personally think it is going to get worse because I'm missing her more. It's like she's on a trip and I can't wait until she gets back. But then I think, she's not coming back.

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