Leonard Cohen’s Story Of His Mother’s Last Written Words To Him

Leonard Cohen And His Mother, Masha

Masha Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s mother, was a Lithuanian Jew of Russian descent, a rabbi’s daughter, who emigrated to Montreal in 1927.

Shortly thereafter, she married Nathan Cohen, 16 years her senior, and together they had two children, Esther and Leonard.

Leonard Cohen credited his mother with encouraging his poetic and musical aspirations and described how she would, as she went through her day, sing Yiddish and Russian folk songs she had learned as a child.

He characterized her as romantic, beautiful, sensitive, and emotional, given to bouts of both joyfulness and melancholy.

Cohen wrote his mother into his music and poetry and enjoyed relating anecdotes about her to interviewers and biographers.1 One narrative has, however, remained unpublished – until now.

Masha’s Deathbed Note To Leonard Cohen

By June 1977, leukemia had severely debilitated Masha. Leonard Cohen, then engrossed in the tumultuous recording of his “Death Of A Ladies’ Man” album with Phil Spector, frequently interrupted his work to travel to Montreal to see his mother and, in fact, after the album was released returned to his home town so he could spend more time with her, including daily visits during her hospitalizations. After a long and arduous illness, Masha died in February 1978.

Many years later, Leonard Cohen is sharing a dinner at a restaurant with a friend, when the table talk somehow turns to the final days of his mother’s life. That friend, Sean Dixon, reports, with Leonard Cohen’s permission,2 the conversation that took place:

As Leonard related it, he was holding vigil with Masha at the hospital. She was still cogent and intermittently alert, but because of her illness and the medication, she was no longer able to speak.

Leonard showed how she motioned to him to give her a pen and paper because she had something important to tell him. Leonard fetched her a notepad and watched patiently as she began to write.

Masha struggled, carefully forming the letters one by one, a process that required several minutes. It was obvious that this was a herculean task for Masha but she was determined. Before she broke free from this world, there was something her son had to know, something only she could tell him.

Leonard confessed that at the time he couldn’t imagine what would be so important. Regardless, he was profoundly moved by her superhuman effort.

Finally, after what seemed like twenty long, painful minutes, she put down her pen with a sigh. Then, with trembling hands she passed the note to Leonard.

While telling me the story, Leonard had busied himself composing a sketch, hidden from my view, on a cocktail napkin. He now revealed his drawing, a representation of her handwritten message, so that I could see the note just as she presented it to him.

Click here to read the conclusion of this post

Note: Originally posted Jun 8, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. Perhaps the two best known of these stories are Best Advice My Mother Gave Me and Leonard Cohen Summoned To Canadian Consulate In Cuba After 1961 Bombing For Special Message []
  2. My email requesting his “blessing” to post this story resulted in this response:

    Allan,

    Completely forgotten about that story.
    Not quite up to recreating it right now.
    Happy to go with Sean’s version.
    She has an amazing memory.

    Warm regards,

    Leonard []

5 Replies to “Leonard Cohen’s Story Of His Mother’s Last Written Words To Him”

  1. Allan Showalter

    This post and the comments on it were lost in a host site transfer. I’ve reposed the article but would appreciate it if those who left comments on the original post would re-comment on this replacement post. Thanks.

  2. Chrissie Clark

    This did make me cry…so touching….her message may have been as indescipherable as Leonard’s response was inscrutable…..very very affecting scenario

  3. Tina Horkan

    Tears,so moving,and what great love she had for her son,to make this superhuman effort to communicate one last time. I wonder did Leonard think of contacting an expert in deciphering handwriting in order to find out what she was trying to tell him.The power of love….

  4. Christine Roberts

    I’m so very moved by this and can only imagine how long the period of waiting for the note must have been for Leonard; the death-bed vigil alone must have been so traumatic for him as he and his mother were, I understand, very close.Thanks for sharing Dr. H.