Friday, March 31, 2006

Dear Readers,

It is important that Ben's story be widely broadcast and read. My regret is that someone much more able than I isn't telling the story!

In any case, as always, I appreciate your time, effort and interest.

On behalf of my late son Ben, Z'l, I thank you!


"Rabbi, good morning!

It's Alan ... what do you think?

Is it just plain dumb, excessively schmaltzdik or both if we were to turn on Ben's yahrzeit light Sunday night?


p.s. or it may even be a good idea?"

That is the email I sent to my friend Rabbi L. for his input on this question.

As I was getting ready for work this past Tuesday morning, I was still ruminating on the question of what would be an appropriate way to manifest Ben's presence this Sunday afternoon, April 2, at our simcha.

It had not occurred to me until just then that the answer was right there before me. Ben's "ner neshuma" on the shul's yahrzeit plaque!

But of course! Turn on Ben's yahrzeit light!

As background to this question, you may have read my previous posting.

Any thoughts? Please submit in writing!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Last Time (Revised and Revisited)

Dear Readers: This is the fourth revision of Chapter 1 of my book in progress entitled In Memory of Ben. I welcome any and all feedback and comments. I thank you for your time and interest on behalf of my late son Ben Z'L

I believe it was an act of “Divine Kindness” when I was fortunate enough to spend several minutes together with my son Benjamin for the last time, Wednesday morning, November 22, 2000.

Having just left my synagogue to drop off my dry cleaning, I turned around to find Ben standing right behind me. He had awoken late for work, saw my car parked outside the dry cleaners, and thought to ask if I would drive him to the train.

It was very pleasant to be with Ben that morning even if only for a few minutes because he lived in his mother’s house together with his sister and brother. I had moved out the previous summer. Our last conversation went something like this:

"How are you, Ben?"
"Fine, Dad. You?"
"Okay. How are you?"
"You feeling good?"

Within several minutes, we pulled up in front of the train station. Ben opened his door …

"Do you have money on you?"
"Yes, Dad. ‘Seeya’ later!"
"Be safe!"

And off he went. It took me several minutes to get to work. Seemed like just another day until I received a phone call from an emergency room doctor who informed me Ben had been injured very seriously in an accident and advised me to come to the hospital immediately!

A frightful myriad of thoughts raced through my head as I sped off in quiet desperation. The only information I possessed at that moment was my son was still alive. However, I confess here that I already “knew” how this day would end! The gravity of the doctor’s tone of voice only served to reinforce my premonition.

I arrived in a frenzy only to be hurriedly ushered to the emergency room whereupon I granted my authorization to employ any possible measures to save him. I chose to witness the procedures in full view from behind a glass partition while a frenzied team of doctors and nurses struggled mightily to save my son. I stood not more than ten feet away from Ben. Having already called my dad on my way to the hospital, he arrived soon by my side. Choking back the tears, Dad pled with Ben to hang on! The trauma surgeon later testified in a deposition that he had been worried about my dad’s witnessing what proved to be a futile effort to resuscitate Ben 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! A nurse asked me if I wished to be alone with him. She took my dad aside and drew a curtain.

I stood there aside Ben, placed a kippah
[1] atop his head and kissed his handsome nose.

“Thank you for being such a good son Ben.”

It was all I knew to do and say at that moment! We were with each other for a few final minutes. While Ben ‘slept’, I sang the 23rd Psalm softly.

It was not too long before the emergency room attendants arrived to move the body. My friend Rabbi Louis had arrived just moments before. I now had to face Ben’s mom. In his kindness, Rabbi Louis offered to stand in for me and tell her. He is such an amazing friend, but I assured him that I could do it. Accompanied by both my dad and Rabbi Louis, I was led across the hall to a room wherein Ben’s mom sat awaiting news. I approached her.

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

Such an utterance of primal pain can be heard only from a bereaved mother. I shall never forget its sound!

After having spoken with the surgeon to forbid the performance of an autopsy
[2]-when there was nothing more that could have been done-Rabbi Louis and I walked together to my truck. Having taken a cab to the hospital, I was to drive him home. How comforting it was to be with my friend! While the truck warmed up, Rabbi Louis called Rabbi Moshe, a chaplain with the Chicago Police Department, to expedite Ben's transfer to the funeral home. When the truck was warm, I drove Rabbi Louis home just a mile or so from my apartment. I remember nothing more of that Wednesday, November 22, 2000 the day before Thanksgiving. I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment!

[1] skullcap signifying God overhead

[2] Jewish tradition forbids this practice.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chapter 46: No More Pictures

Dear Readers: As always, I do very much appreciate your time and interest! I invite any and all responses you may have. Though you may feel that you have no words for a bereft parent, it's rather surprising how verbose the heart can be if the head were just to hold its tongue on occasion ...


My search for hidden memories often eludes me

I have decided therefore to recall some of Ben's facial features which so wonderfully defined him as himself ... perhaps that will spark some recollections:

. Ben's earlobes were ever so slightly angled ... outward
. He had a slightly noticeable 'oriental' fold in the inner corner of each eye.
· His blue eyes and blonde hair complemented each other both of which he inherited from his mom.
· His sparse growth of beard he inherited from me! (Ben often commented approvingly that he and I were alike in that respect.)
· His cheeks were full and soft. (Even when bewhiskered, I never tired of kissing them. I learned to kiss my children from my father.)
· He had slight dimples in both cheeks.
· His nose had a slight rise in the middle.
· His lower lip was full, his eyebrows rather heavy and his very straight eyelashes angled downward.

Ben was indeed a handsome lad but even more important than the wonderful shape of his nose, his sparkling blue eyes or his dimples was his gentle nature as a loving, kind and considerate son. His mom always rightly characterized him as a “peacemaker”, the kind of person for whom *“shalom bayit” was nothing less than an inherent extension of his personality.

Just a glance back to the summer of 1993- when Ben first attended Olin Sang Ruby Hebrew Union Institute just a few short weeks after having been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes- clearly demonstrates what a remarkable kid he really was!

I was a “basketcase” despite assurances by the camp nurse that she would keep a close eye on him, as I know she did. Ben’s mom had things under much better control than I, but I dare say she was more than just a tiny bit nervous herself and Ben-with his usual aplomb-set about confidently reassuring us, but mostly me that all would be just fine.

Did he manage to put me at ease? No! He did not, but was he ever right about how well things would turn out! As a matter of fact, he did not experience any diabetes–related difficulties during the whole of his month long stay at camp.

Not long before, just several weeks prior to the start of his camp session, Ben’s mom and I first noticed the tell-tale signs of his diabetes, but at that time, we did not know or have any idea about an affliction that would soon turn our lives completely upside down.

I remember that afternoon we were sitting in the front room when Ben came down from his room for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was just to sit with us or watch a movie. It was then when Ben’s mom first mentioned that she had noticed how thin and drawn he had been looking of late, but which at first she attributed to the physical changes brought about by adolescence. I do remember the rather noticeable dark bags under Ben’s eyes and how thin he had become, but what really alarmed us was the frequency with which he had been urinating. As it happened, he was already scheduled to receive his required physical exam for camp.

We drove somewhat anxiously that day to the doctor’s office. Requiring no more than a few minutes, Ben’s pediatrician diagnosed him with type 1 juvenile diabetes and ordered his immediate admission into Children’s Memorial Hospital. Our timing was fortuitous if not almost dangerously late. As it turned out, Ben’s blood sugar was so high that he was spilling sugar in his urine, a potentially life-threatening situation.

Ben’s first endocrinologist was a staff member at Children’s whose bedside manner was as icy as Lake Michigan’s shoreline about December. Answers were all we sought. After all, neither of us had any history of type 1 juvenile diabetes in our families, although I have several cousins who contracted type 2 adult onset diabetes in their later years. That seemed hardly relevant to Ben’s case. How then could this have happened? How well I remember this one doctor’s response:


“What doctor?”

“Genetic predisposition,” he repeated clinically.

“And that is what?”
we queried.

“Meaning that he is genetically predisposed to something like this.”


He then mentioned something about the possibility of milk triggering a virus that attacks the pancreas’s insulin producing cells.

I just wish he had said,

“You know something? Honestly, we just don’t know!”

Before Ben could leave the hospital, we all had to demonstrate that we were able to inject him with insulin. I assure you it is no easy thing. At least it wasn’t for me, but I did finally pass the test while Ben’s nurse stood by watching. Frankly, I think I closed my eyes. Ben and his mom seemed to have no problem with it whatsoever.

*shalom bayit … peace in the home.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Just Beginnings

I was just beginning to know and appreciate Ben as an adult. Do you know that feeling? After years of raising up a child with the hope that a responsible adult human being would eventually emerge, struggling through the awkwardness and turbulence of adolescence, and just ... just when there could be seen a flicker of light at the end of that long tunnel ... in just one instant, that flicker, that glimmer of hope-when I was about to reap the harvest of a son having grown up ...

Back to that feeling for a moment, but in this example, I'll speak of my daughter Kimberly with whom I was having coffee one afternoon while she was in her second year of law school. I was then and am still quite simply in awe of this beautiful young woman who so excitedly spoke to me, her daddy, of her legal research with such panache, such passion and erudition! Though I certainly expected nothing less, I sat there thinking to myself:

Wow! This is my baby girl who not so long before had been the ‘prima ballerina’ in her ballet class!”

(Mind you that was her teacher’s evaluation and not merely the biased opinion of her father!)

I remember one of her first recitals when she curtsied to mark the very end of the performance. Well, have you ever experienced that sensation of utter joy? A lump in your throat so big you can't swallow while the tears rain down in a torrent? That little girl now sat across from me as a splendid young woman, a soon to be lawyer!

That same lump in my throat, those same tears once overwhelmed me at work one afternoon when Ben called me to share the great news that he had just been hired at The Crafty Beaver, a local hardware store and lumber yard. That was a time so fraught with difficulties for Ben, for all of us, that this bit of great news gave me some renewed hope that life might be kind to my son.

Coupling a commanding presence together with a gentle soul, Ben would have been a fabulous father. Little children had always loved him. He had such a way about him. What an unfathomable loss!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

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

I invite any and all readers to comment with like stories in their lives. If you are worried about speaking to me of Ben's death, DON'T BE! Precisely the opposite helps to keep his memory alive!


I have thought about this story for quite a while.I suppose all parents enjoy their enduring "memory moments". You know ... those remarkably preserved “mind snapshots” of earlier, less-troubled times when we “made memories”, as Ben’s mom liked to say.

Ben and I spent a remarkable moment once on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida many years ago. Having nothing at all to do with collecting seashells, building sandcastles or casting fishing rods, I did something ... for Ben primarily, but for myself as well. Though in retrospect it may seem somewhat incongruous, it is best explained probably by the fact that back home we had recently moved to “West Rogers Park", an orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Chicago.

At a time when still largely ignorant of even the bare rudiments of Jewish tradition and practice, I was nonetheless typical of many Jews whose formal Jewish training consisted of little more than a Sunday school education. Growing up within a largely secular environment, our Jewish holiday observance was limited to the following: only one Passover seder, not two; candle lighting and presents at Hanukkah; lots of good food at Rosh Hashanah and breaking the fast at the end of Yom Kippur although I am uncertain if ever any of the adults in my family observed the fast. “Shabbat” was Saturday morning … you know Saturday morning- a day off from school when we could watch cartoons and eat spaghetti for breakfast my older brother Ron prepared. On occasion, I would accompany my mother to her beauty appointment where next store I’d spend time reading comic books at the corner pharmacy.

Now that you know a bit about my Jewish upbringing or lack thereof, I relate the following brief story of anomaly and awakening.

We arrived in Jacksonville rather late one afternoon closer to evening than not. Never before having seen the ocean, my plan was to behold it for the very first time as early as possible the next morning while holding Ben in my arms.

Arising early that next morning, we hurried out to the beach where our special moment together lay just ahead! Racing to the water's edge, Ben leapt up into my arms whereupon I recited the following words:

Baruch ata Ha Shem,
Elokeinu melech ha olam,
sheasa et ha yam ha gadol.”
(“Blessed are you,
our God, King of the universe,
who made the great sea.”)