Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dear Readers,

It is with a sense of bittersweet pleasure that I announce the forthcoming publication of this poem, Chapter 26 of In Memory of Ben, in a thematic poetry anthology that will appear, I suspect, in the spring of 2006. For Ben ...

Chapter 26: Mourning's Reflections

Illusory strength...
quivering knees.
witnessing ...

Near the edge ...

clutching a moment's time more
until words enough,

this end a beginning,
reality obscene.

Linger intimate friends,
voices hushed.
sobbing disbelief ...
soon resignation,
what choice ...

Faith ... that Thou art with me,
though alone I remain
but a shadow of time before;
a mound of earth returns to its void,
last glance,

turn to depart
from this ground.

Fading memory
searching ...
mind moments yet recalled.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dear Readers ... below please find Chapter 53 of In Memory of Ben

Please feel free to comment though I sense that some readers may be reluctant to do so because the content is sensitive. However, I welcome any and all comments. It is just one way that you can help me keep Ben's memory alive!

Ben’s Leaf on the Etz Chaim

“In Memory Of
Benjamin Busch
Whose Good Deeds, Kind
Nature & Gentle Manner
Will Forever Be An
Inspiration To Us”

These words are inscribed on a leaf of the “Etz Chaim”, the Tree of Life, in my synagogue. Have you ever wondered why we affix a memorial leaf to a ‘Tree of Life’? For the same reason, I suppose, that the “Mourner’s Kaddish” makes no mention of death whatsoever … and for the same reason that we say “L’Chaim-To Life”- upon raising a glass in celebration together.

The answer is actually this: that the leaf-though it painfully confronts me with both the realization and recollection of Ben’s death-is in fact a reminder of my obligation to celebrate his life. No matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly, agonizingly! However, the very unimagineably worst part of it all is-having read the attending paramedic’s deposition-that Ben was both conscious and able to speak for a brief while before finally and permanently losing consciousness … that he understood what had happened, during which time he suffered horrendous pain and bespoke his fear that he was dying. As Ben’s dad, the certain knowledge that my son’s last waking moments were consumed by such trauma and fear leaves me cold and quiet, my thoughts inchoate …

As a Jew, I am thankful that our faith is one of eternal optimism. We learn that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy; we are guardians of life’s sanctity. Often over these last five years, I have had to revert back to this sustaining belief-in those moments when the unalterable fact of the death of my child has become nearly overwhelming, when the solitude of a Sunday morning is replaced by the uneasy quiet of a mourner’s lonely room … when all that tangibly remains are a few personal belongings: a shirt, suit, some old boots, a bicycle in need of repair, a signature that surprisingly appeared when I turned the page of scrapbook … when the absolute permanence and enormity of a child’s death makes one feel so insignificant, so powerlessly tiny! To have to navigate daily these treacherous waters is no simple task as we are invariably reminded of how vast God’s ocean is whilst we remain adrift in such a small boat! Life’s only antidote to the pain of our loss is the tenacity with which we remember our children … that we simply refuse to allow their memory to die; though their bodies are gone, their physicality ended, our linkage to them instead becomes one of remembrance, of dedication and rededication, all of which reminds us how very fortunate we are indeed to have enjoyed their time with us for as long as we did.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In Memory of Ben, Z"L
A Series of Vignettes about My Son, Olav Ha Shalom

Alan D. Busch

A Note to Readers: Below please find Chapter 1A of In Memory of Ben.

Please feel free to comment. Not to worry ... this bereft parent welcomes any and all feedback!

Postscript: A Glimpse at an Earlier and Happier Moment

In our much younger years one Sunday evening, the three of us: Ben, Ben's mom and I were sharing dinner together. Back then Ben's mom often worked evenings requiring that I become a highly proficient "Mr. Mom". It was just after having begun our sumptuous repast of white rice, beef and peapods, that Ben- already very fidgety in his high chair-let us know rather vociferously that he wanted out whereupon he contented himself upon my knee. Always a rather sizeable child, I balanced Ben upon my left knee while trying to feed the both of us with my right hand. Alternating between his mouth and mine, we shared our meal together, but for a moment as I took a mouthful, Ben-obviously still very hungry and growing somewhat restless-blurted out: "More 'wice' daddy!" Well, upon hearing those delightful but impatient words, Ben's mom and I guffawed so hysterically ... I guess it was one of those moments-you just had to have been there!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

In Memory of Ben, Z"L
A Series of Vignettes about My Son, Olav Ha Shalom

Alan D. Busch

A Note to Readers: Below please find the current Table of Contents to In Memory of Ben and Chapter 1

Please feel free to comment. Not to worry ... this bereft parent welcomes any and all feedback!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Contents ~~~~~~~~~~~~

Preface: In Memory of Ben

Chapter 1: The Last Time

Chapter 1a: Postscript-A Glimpse at an Earlier and Happier Moment

Chapter 2: Asher Yatzar es Ha Adom B'chochma

Chapter 3: Tattoos

Chapter 4: Diagonals

Chapter 4a: Postscript-A Glimpse Forward in Time

Chapter 5: Lancets, Cotton Balls, Syringes and Insulin

Chapter 6: To Have His Own Place

Chapter 6a: Postscript-Kimberly's Deposition

Chapter 7: Mazel Run Out

Chapter 7a: Postscript to Mazel Run Out

Chapter 8: Evocative of the Presence

Chapter 8a: Postscript-A Moment Forward to Zac's Bar Mitzvah

Chapter 9: Al Ha Nissim

Chapter 9a: Postscript to: Al Ha Nissim- *Rachomim

Chapter 10: Kindergarten Chairs

Chapter 11: Reaching In

Chapter 12: Ben ... Torah

Chapter 13: Choices

Chapter 14: Comforting

Chapter 15: Unhealable

Chapter 16: An Act of Trust and Kindness

Chapter 16a: Postscript to An Act of Trust and Kindness-A Baby's Blue Blanket

Chapter 17: Fractions

Chapter 18: Letter to Ben

Chapter 18a: Addition to Letter of Ben Just Prior to Erev Rosh Ha Shanah, 5766

Chapter 19: Shomer

Chapter 20: An Acrostic about Ben

Chapter 21: Erev Shabbat and The Letter

Chapter 22: A B C (s)

Chapter 23: Bais shel Emes

Chapter 24: Time Passage and Anticipation

Chapter 25: The Tenth Plague

Chapter 26: Mourning's Reflections

Chapter 27: Thanks to My Friends: "Bentzi" and EliDov- Zac's Letter Found

Chapter 28: Shem Tov-A Good Name

Chapter 29: Learning Lessons Late

Chapter 30: Fragments

Chapter 31: Halfway

Chapter 32: " ... Who Endured Illness with Majesty and Grace ..."

Chapter 33: Standing at the Edge

Chapter 34: In a Better Place

Chapter 35: I Wish I Could Have

Chapter 36: How Many Children

Chapter 36a: Kimberly's Comments

Chapter 37: "27"

Chapter 38: Grief Progress Report

Chapter 39: Ben and Zac

Chapter 40: I Was Just Beginning

Chapter 41: The Messenger

Chapter 42: A Blessing, the Ocean, Ben and I

Chapter 43: My Other Children

Chapter 44: Of Late

Chapter 45: Like Father ... Like Son

Chapter 46: No More Pictures

Chapter 47: Reflections on Dr. Gordon Livingston’s Book On Spring

Chapter 48: With Whom I Never Grieved

Chapter 49: Five Years Ago

Chapter 50: Everyday is a Thanksgiving

Chapter 51: Measurement … Memory

Chapter 52: God’s Role


Chapter 1: The Last Time ...

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?"
"You feeling good?"
( 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 doctor 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! We spent about half an hour together that final afternoon, just the two of us, Ben and I.

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, 2000 the day before Thanksgiving. I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment!

*Kippah ... a skullcap signifying God's presence overhead.

Monday, December 12, 2005

God’s Role …

Is it not essential that as Jews we freely and gladly acknowledge God’s indispensable role in bringing forth new life? Can anyone truthfully attribute the conception, gestation and birth of a baby to woman and man alone as if the process of human sexual reproduction were not perhaps the most fundamental example of God’s handiwork? Do we not speak of three partners in procreation: woman, man and God? Why is it that we can so freely say “Thank God!” upon the birth of a child whereas upon the death of a child … our understanding of God’s role becomes inherently much more problematic. Furthermore, can we even presume such a role, a connection? Does God have any part whatsoever in the circumstances surrounding and/or leading to the death of a child-whether by prolonged illness, death by violence, suicide or accident?

When there is reason for joy, we celebrate by praising and thanking God for His abundant blessings. It seems so right! So spontaneously easy! “Baruch Ha Shem!” Blessed be God’s Name for having bestowed such blessings upon me (us)!

What of the other extreme of life … when the "why" of a child’s death fails to elicit a satisfactory response! When this most unparalleled of tragedies turns the relative comfort of our untested emunah upside down, whereupon it is genuinely challenged, put to the test, steeled in the fiery furnace, if we then can still thoughtfully respond “Baruch Ha Shem”-even if not immediately-I dare say there is no other challenge that we couldn’t squarely face and overcome.

These thoughts occured to me after having seen the film Ushpizin-a story very much about emunah, bitachon and the efficacy of prayer in the lives of a Chassidische couple who by film’s end-having prayed for and patiently awaited a pregnancy-can profusely celebrate the birth and bris milah of their son for whom they thank God abundantly!

At life’s opposite end is a friend’s story of her eighteen-year old daughter whose dramatically determined but futile struggle against leukemia is lovingly told by her mother. Though seemingly diametrically opposed, these two stories: one of long-awaited birth, the other of long anticipated death, are linked by a common denominator … hope.

Hope is the great enabler. It sustains us both physically and emotionally when most needed-at a time when all seems lost, when prayer seems ineffective or the empirical data suggest an end nearer in time than we might have thought. Hope is the most stubborn defender of “lost causes”; it goes hand in hand with belief and trust in a divine agency whose tether to human affairs may seem at times either cut off entirely or worn and frayed.

What has any of this to do with Ben? Quite a lot actually! As any infertile couple will tell you after finally conceiving, children are a gift! A gift though that is received with no guarantees attached; ours is to nurture, guide and love our children for as long as we have them. Bereft parents can attest to how variable that time can be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I do not know who first penned this wonderfully poignant, prayerful poem; its verses are few but powerful in their wisdom. This is one of those good things you've heard about; you know ... the ones that come in small packages or, if you like, a virtual blueprint of parenting-especially for younger parents just starting out.

I've always loved it and have carried it in my head and heart for nearly thirty years though I often wonder how well or badly I measured up during my own early parenting years ...

"Oh give me patience when tiny hands

Take a really close look at your young children's hands ...are they not amazingly tiny and beautiful? Everyone I hope has either experienced or seen a baby grasp with its whole hand but one grownup finger! My favorite fingers belong to my daughter Kimmy; they are beautifully long and slender, and I've loved them ever since I first beheld them upon her caming into this world! I kid you not ... that her fingers were what first caught my eye.

tug at me with their small demands,

I recall Ben trying to redirect that forkful of dinner away from mine and into his own mouth, seated as he was upon my knee and apparently under the erroneous impression that I was to feed him only!

and give me gentle and smiling eyes,

May your eyes mirror the heartfelt joy of your child's achievement; in other words, let your eyes always see and be seen as they were when you witnessed that first baby step! May they always "remember" that moment!

keep my lips from sharp replies.

Teach by example of speech ... moderation, patience of tone and content. Guard thy tongue for once having spoken ... well, the efficacy of "retraction" is entirely fictitious.

and let not confusion, fatigue or noise

Child rearing can be and is often raucous, enervating and frustrating at times ... step back!

obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys ...

Don't ever pass up an opportunity to smell a flower with a child or watch a butterfly flutter about!

so when years later my house is stll,

You know they'll fly from the nest one day! While there, keep it cozy, warm and welcoming!

no bitter memories its room may fill.

May our parenting mistakes be few and minor in nature so that our children will return to the nest with their fledglings in tow! If you make it this far, commence


*Kvelling ... when your heart pounds with pride and joy upon witnessing your child's accomplishments.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A post by ASimpleJew, showing cobblestones from the Warsaw Ghetto, motivated me to revise some old poems-one of which I feature here that I wrote about the desecration of the Skokie, Il. Holocaust memorial one day after it was unveiled some twenty or so years ago.

I dedicate these words to Ben Z"L who years ago loved dispatching cyber nazis on the Play Station 2 game ...

*Kiddush Ha Shem ... courageously they went

**kedoshim whose strength, was ... heavensent.
"Never Again" we were reminded once and for all.
Hear our voices that day when we call.
Hatred's reminder, its venom's insatiable aim,
to weigh upon humanity’s complicity, its guilt and shame.
Atop the engraved mount, in bronze there only remain
remnants of the countless so savagely slain:
a mother in whose arms death lies still
an old Jew and boy's hearts terror does fill;
a partisan fighter whose gestures ignite
but one spark of the hope which flickered by night .
Amidst the rubble of days … what once had been
through out the ages a beacon for men ...
the Torah commanding us: "Thou Shalt Not Kill",
though abandoned in ruins, so applicable still
to our lives which came after so relatively free
of terror's ability to blind us who see.
Now tearful, silently stoic first gaze
while vigilance slept, its fires not ablaze ...
Nary a night did pass ere the evil befell,
and reminded, we were all, of heaven and hell.
Now gone were the tears that had welcomed its sight,
but ready were the many to stand and fight
an ugly reminder whose obscenities told
of times long ago and graves since cold.
Aroused and awakened this community alert,
whose monument remained defiled to see
that history was not over …
as they had hoped it might be.
A garden became this memorial soon,
and erased were the lies ...
that had blackened the truth
Dignity Restored its shiny gloss ...
all its words read of six million's loss.
Still erect it stands there with neither doubt nor shame,
as history's reminder to memories so lame ...
that even those departed must struggle to hone
the spade that will dig out this spot as their own.

*Kiddush Ha Shem ... Sanctification of the Name (of God)
**Kedoshim ... Holy Martyrs