Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dear Readers, Friends and Fellow Travelers ...

On behalf of my kallah Hadar, my late son Ben Z'L, my daughter Kimmy and my younger son Zac, I wish for you a year of much shalom, brocho, simcha and oneg (
peace,blessing, happiness and joy) ... oh! and May He Who dwells on high grant you and yours the best of health!

I've been busy of late editing my book
In Memory of Ben in the hopes of publishing it soon! It has reached about 190 book length pages and requires more than a "smidgen" of polish here and there.

I hope that you will spend a few minutes reading my latest revision of the first of sixty chapters, and for those of us who relish the arcane, I write these words from my son Ben's room in whose house I now reside again after a seven year hiatus following my divorce from Ben's mom.

As always, I dedicate these remembrances lovingly to my son Benjamin a.k.a Avrum ben Avrum v' Yehudit ...

Chapter 1: The Last Time

The day was Wednesday, November 22, 2000 when, I believe, an act of “Divine Kindness” made it possible for me to have had the unique opportunity to spend several minutes in the morning together with my son Benjamin for the last time.

Forgetting the night before to have set his alarm, he woke up late for work, hurriedly got dressed and ran to catch the bus. As fortune would have it, he spotted my car parked at the dry cleaners and caught up with me just in time. Had I not dropped my laundry off that morning, I might not have seen him again.

As I turned to leave, there he was waiting behind me with a broad smile of anticipation.

“Dad, can you give me a lift to the train?”

Always regretful whenever I had not seen Ben for several days, any opportunity to be together with him delighted me. After I moved out of my home in July of 1999, there were times when I did not see him as often as I would have liked.

So off we drove together to the train station. As I recall, our last conversation went something like this:
"How are you, Ben?"
"Fine, Dad. You?"
"Okay. How are you?"
"You feeling good?"

I turned into a parking lot across the street from the station. Checking to see that the latch on his messenger bag was securely fastened, he opened the passenger door. As always, I asked him:

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

The day would be, I thought, like any other.

If only it had been!

The phones had been ringing all morning. It was a few minutes before noon when I answered this call. A stranger’s voice-belonging to a man who identified himself as an emergency room surgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago-told me Ben had sustained life-threatening injuries following a nearly fatal accident necessitating immediate surgical intervention.

He “suggested” that I come down to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Suggested? Well, I knew what he meant! Suffice to say I knew how this day would end.”

A frightful myriad of thoughts filled my head as I sped away toward the hospital in a state of quiet desperation. The grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day I had foreseen for many years had indeed arrived.

After parking about two blocks away, I ran to the emergency department whereupon I stopped and identified myself to the first nurse I encountered. Escorting me hurriedly to the surgeon to whom I granted authorization, when asked, to employ all measures to save Ben, I indicated my wish to be present while the trauma team did everything it could to save him.

My father stood with me behind a glass partition as we witnessed a desperate but ultimately futile effort almost within arm’s reach.

During those several minutes, I discovered a previously unknown facet of my father. Next to me stood a desperate man praying for the life of my son. His hands overhead, flattened against the glass partition while holding back a torrent of tears, he petitioned The Almighty for His intervention. In Ben’s declining seconds when still … flickered a spark of life, my father, a sensitive yet determined man, called out his desperate plea once, twice, thrice and again …

“Hang on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!”

Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask … failed! Electric shock ... failed!
A pall of deafening silence smothered the frenzy of just seconds before when every flicker of hope animated us but then died with Ben. Movements slowed down and the machines switched off. His face wearied, the surgeon turned toward me and shook his head.

Ben was gone!

Only a brief while before had he entered this world! I was there then as I was here now.

A nurse asked me if I wished time alone with my son. I told her I did. Indicating to my dad that I was the only person allowed to remain with Ben, she took a gentle hold of his arm, motioned him aside and drew the curtain closed to insure our privacy.

Standing at his side, I placed a kippah
[1] upon his head and kissed his handsome nose.

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

With but precious few minutes left to be together before the attendants arrived, Ben “slept” while I … I hovered over him and whisperingly sang the 23rd Psalm.

“ … lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …”

Rabbi Louis arrived. Taking immediate charge of the situation, his timely arrival assured me that Ben would be interred in strict accordance with Jewish tradition.

A noteworthy interlude took place before I had to inform his mom.

Several of Ben’s closest friends
[3] meanwhile had arrived at the hospital front desk. Informed by a nurse my younger son was with them, and that he would not be allowed to enter unless I vouch for the group, I went to the front desk to receive them together with Rabbi Louis.

We arrived only to be informed Ben’s brother Zac could enter whereas hospital policy forbad entry to Ben’s well-meaning buddies.

We were on our way back to the emergency room when a hospital security guard stopped us and asked for our passes. As it happened, we did not have any and would have to return to the front desk. Angered by the guard’s insensitivity, Rabbi Louis appealed to the better angels of his nature, albeit unsuccessfully:

“My friend’s son has just died!”

Despite his vociferous objection, Rabbi Louis’ protestations had fallen upon deaf ears. The guard refused to budge. So back we trod to fetch the passes.

When came time to confront Ben’s mom with the awful news, Rabbi generously offered to stand in for me, but I felt this was my duty. Accompanied by my dad and Rabbi Louis together with our arms linked, we crossed the hall reluctantly into a small lounge where Ben’s mom sat awaiting news. I approached her haltingly:

"Ben is gone!" …

I cried out placing my forehead atop her head. Within the shadow of a moment there followed from Ben’s mom an utterance of primal pain so terrifying only a bereaved mother is capable of making it. I shall never forget its sound!

I left the room. There was something I had to tell the surgeon.

I found him standing just outside the lounge in the hallway. Appearing as if he had been waiting for me, I thanked him for all he had done to try to save Ben’s life. He was genuinely sympathetic and seemed to understand me when I forbad the hospital from performing an autopsy.

In the wrongful death suit brought by my family, the surgeon testified in a deposition how he had worried about my dad’s well being when we bore witness to futility.

There soon remained nothing more that could be done. Although the walk back to the truck was cold, windy and desolate, I felt comforted by the warmth of Rabbi Louis’ friendship at this time of unparalleled extremity.

How thankful and relieved I felt in knowing that I would not have to go home alone!

While we sat waiting for the truck to warm up, Rabbi Louis called Rabbi Moshe
[5] to facilitate the speedy transfer of Ben’s remains to the funeral home. After several minutes, I drove Rabbi Louis home.

That Wednesday, the darkest I had ever known, hours before Thanksgiving 2000, came to an end as well as the world as I had known it just hours before but which would never be the same again.

I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment.
[1] skullcap signifying God overhead
[2]I shall not fear because You are with me .”
[3] Ben’s younger brother Zac was among them.
[4] Jewish tradition forbids this practice.
[5] A police department chaplain
[6] I have a partial memory of sleeping on the couch in the front room of Ben’s mom’s house but I am not certain.

1 comment:

Jack's Shack said...

Shana tova.