Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dear Readers,

As always, I thank you for your time and interest in my telling the story of my late son Ben Z'L. Should you have any comments, be they of whatever sort, please take a moment to post them on the blog. You needn't worry, I shan't be offended if you have a criticism to make and naturally I won't turn away any positive reactions. I am currently editing In Memory of Ben in the hopes of sending it off to an editor. Though the chapter names have remained unchanged, editing has changed the economy of the text as I have tried to say things more succinctly in my on-going struggle against verbosity. :)

Chapter 34: Revision of " ... In a Better Place ... "

What words to a bereaved parent can a consoler say about the “unspeakable” without stumbling into the realm of the trite and banal?

Sadly, many say:

“They are in a better place … ”

If only we hugged more and spoke less!

Imagine the greater nechama
[1] we could provide if we knew what not to say to a parent suffering life’s most painful loss!

Bereaved parents will eventually come to accept death’s irreversibility, however reluctantly, over time-no matter how long it may take. Time may not heal all wounds, but it will take its toll on those parents who persist in fighting a futile war against an implacable enemy. That truism said should not keep bereft parents from “ascending the top of the highest mountain” and crying out that the death of a child is eternally intolerable.

I have wondered at times: “Could I have loved Ben more?”

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther chronicles the story of his son’s heroic but ultimately futile struggle with brain cancer.

In a provocative postscript, Frances, the author’s estranged wife, ponders whether she could have loved her son, Johnny, more and if so, how? Naturally, reading this led me to wonder if I too could have done more, done better for Ben.

While maintaining her trust in God and refusing to lay the blame for her son’s death at anyone’s doorstep, Frances looks at how two issues might have produced better results had she and her husband addressed them differently:

1. Johnny should not have been sent to boarding school but kept home where he would have been more comfortable.

2. Their son’s death might not have occurred had they saved their marriage.

Especially in the latter of the two cases, is there a “cause and effect” relationship that connects the tragic reality of Johnny’s grave illness to his parents’ “mistaken” approach to their problems?

It is unlikely because the incomprehensibility of human ‘tragedy’ belongs exclusively to the Ribon shel Olam
[2] whose ways are not only immutable but beyond rational human understanding.

Ben’s struggle with chronic illness was no different in this respect! His diabetes, epilepsy, and all of their ill effects cannot be attributed to God as if it were His way to wreak havoc upon the lives of children!

Whether our affliction is sickness, misfortune in business or the premature death of a loved one, we can choose to avoid the abyss of apostasy by trusting that God does not work in that way. There is only so much we can do in life and-while often it does seem that all is for naught-in spite of all of our worriment and innumerable precautions, tragedy does happen and may well befall us.

Would it not be easier to succumb to the cynical belief that God “chose” Ben? However, were that the case, how could I ever place my faith, trust and hope in a mean-spirited and capricious god? Sure it's reasonable to look back and say:

"I should have done this differently. If only I had been less concerned with 'a' as opposed to ‘b’, things might have turned out differently.”

However true such a supposition is, it is clearly false to equate "differently" with "better". In like manner, I acknowledge Ben might have suffered fatal injury that day had he never suffered any previous history of chronic illness!

The heart of this matter is the truism that life will always be precious, exceedingly delicate and precarious by its very nature! That when we proclaim:


we are not merely toasting “cheers” as many people think. Rather are we obligated to remain mindful of the sanctity of our lives and to live them b'simcha.

[1] comfort
[2] Master of the Universe, God.
[3] To Life!
[4] with joy

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dear Readers ...

This morning, Memorial Day, 2006, I finished what I hope to be the last proof/editing of The Book of Ben before sending a copy to an editor. Featured here is a revision of Chapter 54 entitled ... Ben's Leaf on the Etz Chaim. As always, I wish to thank any and all readers who spend even the tiniest bit of their time reading this on-going story of my late son Ben Z' L and appreciate comments should you have them.

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

This leaf appears on the “Etz Chaim”
[1] 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” [2]

when raising a glass in celebration together.

Though the leaf serves as a painful reminder of both the realization and recollection of the end of Ben’s life, its primary purpose is to obligate us to celebrate the time of his life-no matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly, agonizingly!

Speaking the Unspeakable

Still the very worst part remains … 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, and that he understood what had happened, while 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 our faith is one of eternal optimism and teaches us that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy.

We serve as guardians of its sanctity.

Loose Ends

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 remain are a few personal belongings: a shirt, suit, some old boots, a bicycle in need of repair, a child’s signature surprisingly appearing when I turned the page of a scrapbook.

The absolute enormity of a child’s death leaves one feeling so insignificant, so powerlessly tiny. To have to navigate these treacherous waters daily is no simple task as we are invariably reminded of how vast God’s ocean is while 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 memories 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 serve to remind us of how fortunate we are indeed to have enjoyed our time with them for as long as we did.

[1] The Tree of Life

[2] To Life

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dear Readers ...

My poem entitled
Mourning's Reflections appears on p. 28 of this book Passing
which has just been recently released.

It is an anthology of poetry that explores the many and varied responses of people who have experienced the loss of a loved one: a parent, a spouse, a friend ... a child.

Mourning's Reflections describes the scene at the graveside service of my son Ben Z'L.

It is also chapter 26 of my book in progress
In Memory of Ben that I hope to one day publish.

I do appreciate your time and interest in my son's story as I tell it piece by piece.
As always, I welcome any and all written responses. :)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lessons Learned Late ...

It hurts me terribly much that I will not see Ben become a fully mature adult and father. He was still so young when catastrophe suddenly turned our world upside down, and our lives-as we had once lived them, would never again be the same.

I often wonder:

Do parents ever stop worrying about their children? Does there ever come a time when we let go of the worriment? I've done my best. Now's time for them to leave the nest and fly on their own!'

Our Jewish commitment to our children’s future and to that of our children’s children has ever remained a cornerstone of our home that houses our fundamental beliefs and traditions.

What should one do when the premature death of a child deprives us of the chance to forge that one critical link in the chain? What happens to the love that a parent saved exclusively for that child? It is not as if it dries up with the passage of time!

After Ben's death, I intensified my demonstrable love for my other children because I feared the realization of even the remotest possibility that-with so much of my time and energy focused on the tragedy of Ben’s death-even my unconditional love for them would not be
sufficient enough to keep them close. I was not only grieving the loss of Ben but the dreaded
distance that I feared might come between me and my other two children due, in part, to my divorce from their mother and my stubborn adherence to an orthodoxy that honestly was not working for me.

Kimberly’s Wisdom and Memories of
Pesach Past …

I recall a story from my family’s Passover history I shall never forget. Looking back with the clarity of vision only the hindsight of maturation offers, I can see now what I could not have then.

My daughter Kimberly angrily rebuked me citing my zealous pursuit of ritual correctness which, in fact, had not only not enhanced Passover, but succeeded only in spoiling it for her.

By way of background, an almost “kafkaesque” disputation had arisen between her mom and me over a can of “treif”[1] chicken broth! Merely a manifestation of my futile efforts to “kasher”[2] our kitchen to which Kimberly’s mother was totally opposed, I succeeded but only in isolating myself to an even greater extent from within my own family. None of my three children or their mother showed any interest whatever in leading an observant Jewish lifestyle.

Several years later while we were staying at my mother’s house together in St. Louis to celebrate Thanksgiving, Kimberly tearfully explained to me how it was that my manner of dress and overall appearance embarrassed her.

“Why wasn’t I the same dad who used to sing silly songs as she pranced up and down our driveway dressed in her ballet tutu?”

As my loving and caring daughter whose love I would never sacrifice, Kimberly’s impact on me has been without equal. In having helped me to better appreciate the role that moderation plays in matters of religious observance in a family like mine, Kimberly showed me that I was free to choose a path of religious observance, but one that would both include and accommodate my family in general and my children in particular. In effect, it would serve as a blueprint for an approach to Jewish observance moderate in tone and geared to the occasional need for situational compromise.

My mother best summed it all up in a note she wrote that I have kept of all places in my daily prayer book:

"Dear Alan ... remember ... family first!"

[1] non-kosher
[2] to make kosher

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dear Readers,

I invite you to read this newly revised chapter 4a from my book in progress entitled In Memory of Ben. As always I would very much appreciate your written response if any that you may post in the comments feature of this blog.

Chapter 4a: A Glimpse Forward in Time

Have you ever wondered about the things we do for our children? Right or wrong, well intended though misguided and however utterly ineffectual, they often reaffirm the truism that as parents we too do the "darndest” things.

It is probably best explained by and attributed to our "nesting" instinct-that our first obligation is to protect our children-to enable them not only to defend and protect themselves but also to keep them out of harm's way-both when they are still very young but even after they have done some growing up.

So it was that I tried to interest Ben in playing hockey with a group of Jewish men-one of whom I knew from my synagogue. They were not so much a team as simply a group of guys who enjoyed the "rough and tumble" of ice hockey. "Perfect!" I thought for Ben: skating at which he had always excelled, hard checking against the boards, slap shots ... what could be better? Problem was that this group practiced twice a week at 10:00 p.m., but for several weeks, Ben and I went-he played, I watched and on occasion fell asleep in the stands. Unhappily it did not last beyond two months or so, but back to my motive for a bit.

How was this an example of my "nesting" instinct?

Ben had always been very athletically oriented. My intent was to try to show him ways by which he might maximize his strengths with the added benefit that more regular physical exertion would serve him well as a diabetic. Secondly, I was also trying to demonstrate that there were other "friends choices" out there which, I thought, were more wholesome than Ben's "friends choices"!

You may ask:

‘What was the outcome of all of this “parental engineering’?

Simply put … whenever I tried to make a choice for Ben, it failed-no matter how parentally pure my motive. He invariably reverted to his choices. Interestingly, Ben's mom used to say of him that he had always been a very cautious child-even from his earliest years. The kind of person who carefully surveys a new situation, looking it over, scrutinizing it in an attempt to determine if it seems right for him. All well and good, one might say! Deliberate, cautious in his moves, like playing chess with life itself.

However, as parents-no matter how much we may both encourage and applaud self-reliance in our children, a "stand-up" approach-it is often a heartbreaker to see-that despite the fact that we do know better ... life having taught us. Our children, eager and determined to exercise their autonomy, often end up making poor choices, their own choices indeed but poor ones nevertheless.

So, what does one do if a child is tending in the wrong direction?

Love him then more demonstrably than ever before! Let your actions define both the intent and meaning of "unconditional love" though tempered by discipline, structure and appropriate consequences should he require them.