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 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 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.
 Master of the Universe, God.
 To Life!
 with joy