Friday, January 05, 2007

“Musings From Down the Road by a Bereaved Father”

There exists no universal answer wise enough to satisfy everyone even though they are asking the same question.

There are only poetry and prose.

As the years pass existential distance lengthens.

A grave danger dwells therein.

The danger of forsakenness.

Individuals grieve differently following the loss of a child. Just recently, I mentioned this in good faith to a parent whom I thought was struggling to cope with the recent loss of her son. She became angry at me as if to ask: “Is that the very best you can do?”

Now I wish to disclaim any professional expertise in matters of death, dying or grief management. Instead, together with countless other parents my only credential is my membership in the club to which, barring no exceptions, nobody wishes to belong.

I became bereaved on Wednesday, November 22, 2000 when my son Ben died.

Unlike the books that clinical professionals write targeting recently bereaved parents who are in need of some assistance with basic coping skills, I found the books bereaved parents have written to be more helpful.
As such, their common thread is that these parents/authors have chosen to cope and survive the loss of a child by chronicling their stories through which readers may achieve a relative catharsis. By infusing universal pathos into love and loss, we glean meaning from our children’s shortened lives, allowing us to discover insights like never before while healing ourselves.

Yet, notwithstanding our unconditional love and sacrifices we made instinctively for our children, we could not save their lives. Though we must return their bodies to the dust, we remain committed to their spirits, their souls if you like.

It’s somehow right and fair, isn’t it?

And it is for this reason and none other that we build shrines to their memories.

Six Years Ago

I wonder if I will glimpse Ben’s countenance after the passage of 2,190 days?

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

This is the inscription on a memorial leaf that appears on a branch of the Etz Chaim[1] in my synagogue.

Why do we affix a memorial leaf to a “Tree of Life?"

For the same reason that the “Mourner’s Kaddish” is not a dirge and, as a matter of fact, makes no mention of death whatsoever. Jewish custom holds that the mourner recite it when he is most vulnerable, at a time when the immediacy of death is still fresh enough to be so overwhelming that one may choose apostasy as an understandable but ultimately misguided approach to grief.

From your room Ben,
I write these words
on this sixth year’s eve ...
lonely without you.

Eternally optimistic, even in the darkest moments, we say …


each time we lift a glass together whether it be in remembrance or celebration.

Though the leaf serves as a poignant reminder of the end of Ben’s life, its primary purpose obligates us to celebrate the time of his life-no matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly and painfully!

Yes, from your room Ben, never to let go …
where we fought in the wee morning darkness
the implacable diabetic and epileptic foe.

Still the very worst part remains 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 …

Where by your bedside
I sat many a night,
afraid to leave you ...
lest it return
in my absence.

As a Jew, I am thankful my faith is one of eternal optimism and which teaches us that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy.

We serve as guardians of its sanctity.

Perhaps you wonder...
how ... how Dad can it be so?
Since eight years you moved out ... ago.

It has happened often enough in these six years when I have had to consciously remind myself to rely on this belief. In those moments when the reality of Ben’s death has nearly overwhelmed me, when the solitude of a Sunday morning is replaced by the uneasy quiet of a mourner’s lonely room … when all that remains is nothing more than a few personal belongings: a white 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.

I bought the house back from mom
for my beloved kallah and me ...

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 is God’s ocean while we remain adrift in such a small boat!

Be sure Ben, please remember…
neither in doubt nor need,
our love for you was always agreed.

The only antidote to the pain of our loss is the tenacity with which we remember our children. It is incumbent upon us that we simply refuse to allow their memories to die.

So accept these sparse words,
for your blue eyes to see ...
o’er these six years so tearful,
mournful without thee.

Though their bodies are gone, their physicality ended, our linkage to them becomes one of remembrance, of dedication and rededication-all of which remind us of how fortunate we were to have enjoyed our time with them for as long as we did.

[1] The Tree of Life
[2] To Life

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