Sister, aunt, survivor of brainwashing experiments. Born Feb. 11, 1937, in Montreal, died May 23, 2012, of pneumonia and kidney failure, aged 75.
As a teenager, Marilyn Cohen loved drawing pictures.
In some, there was a house in the mountains surrounded by beautiful trees, sometimes with a little pond edged with flowers and stones that reflected in the water.
Or she’d draw a glamorous woman with flowing hair, a stylish outfit, high heels, lots of makeup and chunky earrings and necklaces. Marilyn would draw these pictures and her little nieces would carefully colour them in.
In those days, in the 1950s, Marilyn believed she might become that glamorous woman and live in that house in the mountains.
In the late 1950s, she finished secretarial school and went to work at Eaton’s. Outgoing, bubbly and efficient, she was quickly promoted to the executive floor.
On the way to her first day at the new job, she slipped while getting onto the bus, injuring her leg and feeling “shaken up” afterward. Shortly after that, her father died suddenly.
Marilyn was feeling stressed and her mother, trying to be supportive, took her to a highly respected psychiatrist recommended by the family doctor.
Marilyn was admitted to the Allan Memorial Institute for “sleep therapy.”
No one was allowed to visit her while she was in the sleep room, and it was several years later that the family found out what “sleep therapy” meant. Marilyn had been subjected to brainwashing experiments funded by the CIA and Canadian government.
For years after, she experienced flashbacks, memories of incidents that had never taken place. Many memories of real events were permanently obliterated.
Over the years she was often in hospital and on different medications, but no psychiatric interventions improved or reversed the changes in her brain. There is no known treatment for psychiatric illness caused by systematic brainwashing.
After the sleep treatments, Marilyn no longer remembered the pictures she had drawn, but she still loved spending time with her family. She had a great voice and loved singing Rosemary Clooney songs, which she would belt out while exhausting her nieces by teaching them how to dance.
She was also a great hairdresser, the family pony-tail specialist, ensuring that the two sides were even and the part was perfectly straight. Going through her jewellery box full of huge, shiny earrings and necklaces was always a treat. Marilyn spent her later years in a series of group homes. She was never bitter or angry.
On days she felt “well,” she would dress up in a colourful outfit, put on her makeup and, of course, accessorize. Over the past few years, her physical health deteriorated. At her funeral, her nieces all wore her chunky earrings and necklaces.
Arlene Anthony, Debra Aronson and Maureen Cales are Marilyn’s nieces.