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Counting Her Blessings

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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.

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