Monday, June 04, 2007

Dear Readers,

I present several revisions of chapters from In Memory of Ben. Let me know what you think.

Simply … Musings

We acknowledge His role in procreation

together anew with mother and father.

We offer thanks for His blessings.

It is the right thing to do!

When a child is born, we joyously exclaim:

“Baruch Ha Shem!”

When a child dies, we say softly:

“Baruch Dayan Emes!”

Still why? His answer lies in His silence.

Our hope is to draw ourselves closer to Him.

“Shma koli b’yom ekra”

[1] Blessed be The Name.
[2] Blessed is The True Judge
[3] Hear my voice the day I call you.

To Have His Own Place

I have yet to define the parameters of my role in Ben's life

nearly five years since his passing. As his dad, I blurred the

line between my obligation to care for him and his need to

become self-reliant. However much this may describe a

common parental predicament, it became magnified in Ben’s

case. Plaguing me was my worriment that diabetes would not

allow him to live his life well as a self-sustaining adult.

“Hi, Ben. Come on in,” I welcomed my son to my apartment for

our regular Thursday night dinner.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up? He asked with his characteristic broad


“Eh, you know, same old stuff,” I responded, mixing

conversation with dinner preparation.

“When’s dinner ready?” he hungrily inquired with one of his

favorite questions.

“Pretty soon, son. Why? Got plans?” I continued slicing

chicken breasts. “Ben?” I looked up as I always did when he

didn’t respond right away. Grabbing the plastic honey bear, I

immobilized him with a headlock; yes, just like you see on

professional wrestling. With my right hand, I forced the plastic

tip of the honey container between his lips and clenched teeth.

Honey, saliva and blood splattered all over. After squeezing in

as much as three tablespoons, I let go of the honey and

pinched his mouth open by squeezing his cheeks with my

right thumb and middle finger. Spreading whatever honey he

hadn’t spat out, I coated his gums and the inside of his

cheeks. He quieted after several minutes.

So it was with good reason I was preoccupied for years

with worriment over who'd be there for Ben if he became hypoglycemic?

Could I realistically count on a roommate?

How would he be able to live on his own even with well-regulated blood sugars?

His history of hypoglycemic seizures, especially common in the early

morning hours, led me to wonder if he might ever be able to

live on his own? And, if not, how would I ever be able to convince him of this?

Even with well-regulated blood sugars, all it takes is

one unattended mistake, a break in routine, that can lead to catastrophe.

Ben, who struggled with and against good diabetes management

throughout his eleven years as a diabetic, spoke frequently of his wish to have his own place.

If it could only have been so easy! Based on telephone

conversations she had had with her brother, Kimberly, Ben's sister,

remarked that she felt Ben had become frustrated still living at

home whereas she had already been living on her own since

her junior year in college.

I am sure it bothered him to see his younger sister making greater strides in life

than he. After all, he was her big brother.

All I ever wanted for Ben was that life's bitter side leave Ben

alone, let him be. It never did.

Five Years Ago

May our lives be blessed with good health, family and

livelihood, but our children … won’t they always be happy,

healthy and well? Should calamity happen, it will befall

someone else, won't it? What happens though when this

comfortable assumption fails, when our safe zone is violated?

When the sudden fatality of an accident turns our world

upside down? When we are propelled into an arena of life for

which we have neither the preparation nor the expectation

we'd ever need it.

I grieve for Ben while reshaping my life without

him. Its permanence, the absoluteness of his absence gives me

reason to pause and ponder what the rest of my life will be

like. The most frustrating part is I am no closer to an answer

now than before. It may be there is no answer. Bewildered by

Ben’s absence as if adrift in a small boat tending in no

particular direction, I turn my mind over in the hope it’ll give

up long forgotten memories. Looking back to an earlier time

when Ben was healthy, happier and our lives normal, I

ruminate about whether I ran on “automatic parenting” and, if

so, for how long? I realize the preponderance of my

memories is from the latter half of Ben’s life, a troubled period

of nearly twelve years during which our battle against diabetes

and epilepsy was unrelenting.

Ben was prototypical of people who live “for the

moment” whose wristwatch always reads: “Now!” That is what,

I guess, makes it extraordinarily difficult to be and live without

Ben. He lived only in the present tense. Death took him before

he could examine his roots. He never much bothered to

think about his future though I exhorted him to do so more

than he liked. It’s as if you expect him to crash through the

door on his skateboard. You never stop waiting though

somehow you know it is not going to happen.

As much as we dread the passage of another year without

Ben, reminders invariably start arriving in the mail that

another yahrzeit
[1] nears. The yahrzeit notice reflects an act of

[2] “bein adam v’chavero.”[3] It reminds us of our

obligation to say Kaddish
[4] in memory of our loved ones.

A grieving parent lives life differently than before. As

difficult to achieve as to maintain, equilibrium treads a fine

line between a tragic past and an uncertain tomorrow. As the

yomin noraim
[5] approach, I tend toward reflections of which I

believe the saddest is … though I grow older, Ben does not.

While waiting one evening to say ma’ariv, the evening prayer, Rabbi Louis

commented how we tend to have our loved ones in mind more

so at this time of year than at any other. Turning toward the

memorial plaques, I grew misty as I looked at Ben’s name.
[1] Reminders of the anniversary of a loved one’s death typically sent out by synagogues, funeral homes and the Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Sacred Society
[2] kindness
[3] literally: between a man and his fellow …
[4] sanctification of God’s name; a prayer said in memory of a loved one in the presence of a minyan.
[5] Hebrew: the Days of Awe, the first ten days of Tishrei

Every Day is Thanksgiving

We celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of

November. As a Jew, I observe Jewish “Thanksgiving” upon

awakening each morning by saying: “Modei ani lefanecha …”

What makes Jewish Thanksgiving different from the non-

sectarian American holiday?

We thank Him “yom yom”
[2] by praising His name in good

times and bad. We do not welcome bad tidings but our faith in

His rachomim and din
[3] teaches us that bad tidings do turn

out for the best especially when it is not readily apparent.

I received an email from a dear friend who wrote:

Dear are in my thoughts and prayers today. I know what you are thinking about, and that you are missing Ben. I remembered that it was five years eternity, but as if only yesterday, for you. He was a beautiful boy, who wanted so much to be his own man...and he was. How else could he have endured so much, and yet still, was willing to give so much of himself? The true measure of a man is to be able to love unconditionally...and he did...and you did, even though you may feel, in retrospect, that it took awhile for you to finally reach that stage. I said "may feel", and "finally", Alan, because I know that you ALWAYS loved Ben unconditionally. The times that you were embarrassed by some of the ways that Ben chose to express himself, were only embarrassment...not a failure on Ben's part, or yours. You only wanted what as best for Ben...what you thought was best. That kind of love is the greatest gift that anyone can ever give or receive...and you and Ben gave that gift to each other.


Now I admit to being befuddled by the timing of the note, but I

let it go until later that evening. While having coffee tonight,

my fiance asked me how my day had gone. And then it hit me,

the timing of the email. Today marked the fifth secular

anniversary of my son’s passing on November 22, 2000, which

fell out on the day before Thanksgiving. That is how I

remember that day-not by its date so much as by the tragic

irony of a Thanksgiving marked by Ben’s death.

In keeping with my theme there is balance in our lives and

order in our world although they may seem hidden and at the

mercy of random collisions of chance, you may wonder if I

have any demonstrable proof.

Unlike a scientific proof whose reliability depends upon

laboratory duplication, I submit the news my daughter Kimmy

shared with me when she called today, the 22nd day of

November. The excitement and glee in her voice struck a much

needed chord to complete this day, to round it out, to make

the circle whole. “Daddy, I got a job as a lawyer in a downtown

firm! I’ll have an office with a view from the 39th floor

overlooking downtown. It’s just what I wanted!”

That I feel pretty much sums up what happened today

when divine balance and even-handedness manifested

themselves very dramatically. When the worst day five years

ago became a better day today!

[1] I give thanks to you …
[2] every day
[3] mercy and justice

"Ha gomel l’hayavim tovos …”

My mood swings pendulously as we approach the season of

the Yomim Noraim.
[1] Starting with the renewal of hope that

Rosh Ha Shanah
[2] connotes and ending with the trepidation of

Yom Kippur,
[3] I cannot but probe this time of year, the special

nature of which we devote to personal reflection, fasting and


While true that we do not know the persons whose names

will be inscribed in the Sefer Chaim,
[4] it is no less true we do

not know whose names will be sealed in the same Sefer Chaim when Yom Kippur is over and the Aron Kodesh
[5] has been closed for the

last time. Such matters, I understand, belong exclusively to

the Dayan Emes.
[6] However, as an added measure of comfort

and hopeful expectation, we pray our tefilos, tzedaka and

[7] will be sufficiently meritorious to avert the evil decree

and spare us the pain of personal tragedy. The din
[8] of these

existential issues lies beyond our province or that which Rabbi

Louis calls “the inquisitive grasp of man.”

How then might we explain what are in fact “near misses”

with death? Can we explain them rationally or should we

simply label them as miracles and be done with it? If as

miracles, they are different than the miraculous inversions of

nature found in the Torah or the innumerable miracles we

encounter daily: sunrise, the birth of a child, night from day-

all of which we like to call the wonders of “nature”. What about

blind luck, the roll of the dice or the chaos of randomness?

Should everyone believe that The One Above governs the

world?” Perhaps so but with this essential caveat: Faith does

not guarantee against tragedy, but it does strengthen us when

we are most vulnerable and in need of additional comfort,

endurance and protection from apostasy. As frustrating as it

is, bad things befall all kinds of people. The nature of our

human powerlessness makes sense only when we

acknowledge that He alone governs the world in ways we

neither understand nor like at times.

I picked up the phone and almost instantaneously began

to tremble. A stranger spoke. I listened. She had witnessed a

collision on the interstate. Pulling over to assist its victims,

she met my daughter Kimberly who had lost control of her

steering wheel when an eighteen-wheeler she was attempting

to pass forced her onto the shoulder from the passing lane.

Crossing the grassy median, Kimberly struck a van headed in

the opposite direction. By this point in the story, my heart was

racing so I could barely contain myself. I was becoming

impatient. Flashbacks of Ben’s last day rushed into my head.

She continued on. Convinced that Kimberly hadn’t sustained

injury, the caller promised she would call me. Meanwhile,

state troopers had arrived on the scene. I thanked her

profusely for her kindness shown my daughter and hung up

the telephone so hurriedly that I realized I had forgotten to

write down her name and number.

I called Kimberly’s mother. With as much calm as I was

able to feign, I cut to the end of the story. “Kimberly is safe

and unhurt,” I assured her. I raced away to bring my daughter

home. Along the way, I called the number Kimberly’s angel

had given me of the state trooper who was at the scene.

Exceedingly kind, she reassured me that Kimberly was safe

and had emerged without a scratch. Within an hour, having

exceeded the speed limit for which, if stopped, I had prepared

an explanation, I found Kimberly waiting for me in front of the

service station that had towed her car. We returned home.

Why was Kimberly saved? It remains the unanswerable

question. Before heading home, I took several minutes and

gaped incredulously at her car for a few minutes. My first and

only response was to thank Him for bestowing this great

kindness upon me.

Not long after, I had Kimmy and her boyfriend over for

Erev Shabbat. Zac was there too as was my fiancé. The table,

beautifully set, awaited us; its candles aglow. It is my custom to light a

ner nechuma for my son Ben every Friday night before

Shabbes begins … sort of bridging the distance between us. We sat down.

“Kimuschkele,” my voice crackling as I try to get the words of a

short speech out.

“Yes BBDO,” she responded half grinningly, half tearfully.
(BBDO=Big Bad Daddyo)

“This Shabbat is extra special,” I said, addressing everyone but

looking at my daughter.

“We say ‘Hodu la Adoshem ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo’
[9] because

tonight of all nights, I am especially thankful to have you by my side.” A slight tremble animated
my right hand. I let a moment pass, not a peep was uttered. Ben’s lamp seemed to

flicker more brightly, illuminating the serpentine path of a single drop of wine running down my


“Vayahe erev, vayahe voker …” as I sanctified the wine.

[1] the Days of Awe
[2] the New Year; literally the Head of the Year
[3] the Day of Atonement
[4] the Book of Life
[5] the Holy Ark containing The Torah
[6] the True Judge
[7] prayers, righteousness and repentance
[8] judgement
[9] Give thanks to God because His kindness is eternal.

Alan D. Busch


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