Friday, November 11, 2005

The Last Time (revised) ...

I believe it was an act of Divine Kindness that I last saw my son Benjamin Wednesday morning, November 22, 2000. Having just left *shul to drop off my dry cleaning, I turned around to leave and saw Ben standing just behind me. He had woken up late for work, saw my car parked outside the dry cleaners, and asked me to drive him to the train. It was pretty much like any other morning but with two significant differences: I was pleasantly surprised to see Ben that morning. Why so unusual? First, Ben lived in his mom's house. I had moved out the previous summer. So seeing Ben that morning was a special treat, and secondly ... this was to be our last few moments together.

Off we drove to the train but five minutes away. Our last conversation as I recall went something like this:

"How are you, Ben?"
"Fine, Dad. You?"
"Okay. How are you?"
"Good."
"You feeling good?"
"Yup."
(by this time we were right in front of the train station. I pulled over.)
"Do you have money on you?"
"Yes, Dad. See ya later!"
"Be safe!"


and off he went ... I got to work a few minutes later. Seemed like just another day until about 1:30 or so ... when I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as an ER doctor at Cook County Hospital. He told me that Ben had been in a very serious traffic accident, and that I should come down immediately!


Upon arriving, I was rushed into the ER whereupon I saw Ben. They placed me behind a glass partition with a full view of a frenzied team of doctors, nurses and technicians struggling mightily to save my son. Having called my dad on the way down, he arrived soon by my side, choking back the tears and pleading with Ben that he hold on! I subsequently learned that the attending trauma surgeon later testified in a deposition I read that he was worried about my dad witnessing what proved to be futile efforts lest something befall him.

Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask ... failed! Electric shock ... failed!

Moments later, the lead surgeon turned to me and sadly shook his head. Ben was gone! He asked me if I wanted to be with him. My dad was taken aside. A curtain was drawn. Whether it be in life or death, and at that particular moment, the transition from one to the other was almost entirely seamless-the dividing line being so thin-that I stood over Ben's face, placed a **kippah upon his head, kissed his handsome nose and repeatedly sang the 23rd Psalm, thanking him for having been such a good son! It was all I knew to do at that moment! Ben and I spent about half an hour together that final afternoon.

Soon thereafter, the body had to be moved. My friend Rabbi Louis had arrived just minutes before. Almost as gut retching as watching Ben leave forever was that now Ben's mom had to be told. She had just arrived from work, having had to drive a far greater distance than I. I was led to a room opposite the emergency room where she sat awaiting news. Accompanied by my dad and Rabbi Louis, I approached her. My younger son Zac sat off to his mom's right. Several of Ben's buddies were there too. It was they whom I later learned had brought Zac to the hospital.

"Ben is gone!" I cried out placing my forehead upon the top of her head.

Only from a bereaved mother can there be heard such a primal utterance of pain! I shall never forget its sound! Between that horrific moment and my hallway conversation with the lead doctor, I do not know what subsequently happened in that waiting room. I soon thereafter informed the doctor that Ben was a Jew and that I forbad any autopsy. He assured me that he understood. After several hours, only Rabbi Louis and I were left. When there was nothing more that we could do, we left the hospital. We walked together to my truck. I was to drive him home as he had taken a cab to the hospital. Therein we sat. Rabbi Louis called Rabbi Moshe, a chaplain with the Chicago Police Department, to see if he could expedite the transfer of Ben's body from the morgue to the funeral home. When the truck was warm, I drove Rabbi Louis home just a mile or so from my apartment. After that, I remember nothing more of that Wednesday, November 22, the day before Thanksgiving. I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment!

*shul ... synagogue morning services
**
Kippah ... a skullcap signifying God's presence overhead.

2 comments:

Jan said...

Alan..no matter how many times that I read the account of your last moments with Ben, I feel great sadness. It is approaching another anniversary of Ben's departure from this life, and I know that nothing, and no one, can ever replace him, but how wonderful that The Giver Of Life has given you two other precious ones. How very blessed you are...but I know, that you know that.

Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Jan,

Please accept my most sincere "thank-you for your many kindnesses and on-going support from those early, rough notes (remember those?) to what I am attempting to accomplish now! On an unrelated matter, go to OU.org for an excellent website on the basics underlying Judaism, and I know that you will understand it when I gently remind you that literature of whatever sort has to be placed within its historical context that it might be better understood, and in matters of the Oral Law (Talmud) I would really suggest that you seek out a competent orthodox rabbi.

Sincerely,

Alan