“Got firt da velt,” a profoundly simple adage, asserts the
primal emes that God has never nor will He ever abandon
His Creation and, in fact, creates the intricate and seemingly
bizarre circumstances in which we often find ourselves.
“Happenstance”- some might call it-but it was for me an act of
divine kindness that became the last time I’d ever spend with
my son Benjamin, Wednesday morning, November 22, 2000.
Forgetting to set his alarm the night before, Ben woke up
late for work, got dressed hurriedly and ran to catch the
Chicago/Metra bus that would ferry him to the Skokie Swift
train line. As fortune would have it, he spotted my car parked
at the dry cleaners opposite his house on the other side of the
alley 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, his rather robust figure
well insulated from the cold winter winds. Ben was never one
to be fancily attired, but as a downtown bicycle courier working the Chicago winter shift, he always dressed himself,
as counseled by mothers, in layers.
“Dad, can you give me a lift to the train?” he greeted me.
“Hey! Good Morning, Ben. Sure. No problem.”
His mom and I had divorced in January of 2000. Since
moving out of the house in August of 1999, there were times
when I did not see him as often as I would have liked. As a
matter of fact, I missed all three of my children, but Ben …
well, Ben was special-not that Kimmy and Zac, his younger
siblings, aren’t special too, but for Ben’s sake especially I
lived in constant dread. You see, Ben had been a diabetic
since 1988 prone to hypoglycemic insulin shock in the early
morning hours. I had always tended to Ben in moments of
diabetic crisis, but now that I was no longer at home, the
worriment shadowed me. Always regretful whenever I had not
seen him for several days, any opportunity to be with him
delighted me even if only for a few minutes.
“Door’s unlocked son.” I said over the top of my truck while
fiddling with my keys. It was a five- minute drive to the train.
"How are you, Ben?" I asked, as I made a left turn from the lot.
"Fine, Dad. You?" he responded almost perfunctorily.
"Okay. How are you?"
"You feeling good?"
I turned into the parking lot of Chaim’s Kosher Bakery and
Deli across from the train station.
Ben was checking the latch on his messenger bag.
“Ya got it?” I asked.
“Yea,” he quipped.
‘"Do you have money on you?" I badgered him.
"Yes, Dad,” he humored me with patient intonation. “Seeya
He got out. Traffic was heavy. I watched him cross the street
as I had always done, as if he were still a little boy.
"Be safe!" and off he went my little boy turned twenty-two, all
six feet, two inches, two hundred twenty five pounds of him.
Later at the office that same morning, business was brisk!
The phones were ringing off the hook, just another busy day at
work like any other. If only it had been!
It was just before noon when I answered the next call. I
heard the voice of a stranger.
“Mr. Busch,” he queried.
“Speaking.” I reluctantly admitted for I knew he was not the
bearer of good news. Parents just know these things.
“Mr. Busch. My name is Dr. Ibrahim Yosef, chief of emergency
surgery at Cook County Hospital.”
“Yes, doctor,” I said quiveringly.
“Are you the father of Benjamin Busch?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” girding myself for the worst.
“Your son has just arrived here in the emergency department,
the victim of a nearly fatal traffic accident. He has
sustained massive and critical injuries that require immediate
I tried to speak but could not.
“Mr. Busch,” his voice slightly louder but noticeably more
strident, “I suggest you come to the hospital right away!” he
underscored, his tone now emphatically urgent.
“Suggest!” I mumbled to myself, having gleaned the ominous
meaning of his choice of words. I foresaw how this day would
end. Call it intuition, whatever you like.
“Doctor, yes … ah, ah, ah alright. I’m leaving now.” I hung up
A myriad of frightful thoughts filled my head in my state of
controlled desperation as I sped away to the hospital. The
grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day
I anticipated for years had arrived. Fortunate enough
though to find parking two blocks away, I raced to the
“I’m, I’m … Mr. Busch, my son Ben, doctor called me …” I
sputtered out to a nurse with whom I almost collided.
“Follow me!” she commanded, grabbing me by my shirtsleeve
“Dr. Joseph, Dr. Joseph,” she shouted down the corridor upon
“Mr. Busch, Ben must have immediate intervention. Do you
authorize …” he hurriedly asked.
“Yes! Yes! Anything. Do everything! Please!” I responded curtly.
The doctor turned and scurried away.
“Mr. Busch, do you wish to witness the procedures?” the
nurse calmly asked me. I remember that about her. I guess
such people have to be cool under fire.
“Yes, please!” I responded.
She escorted me to an observation area with nothing more
than a glass panel separating me from my son.
Standing by my father, together we witnessed a fiercely
desperate scene unfolding no more than ten feet from us.
I turned my head momentarily to check on my dad and beheld
a “stranger” praying fervently for the life of my son. While
holding his arms overhead with the palms of his hands
flattened against the glass partition, his body slightly angled
outward and feet spread apart, appearing as if he were about
to be searched by the police, he pled with The Almighty for His
“Hold on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!” my father,
a sensitive though doggedly determined man, called out once,
twice, thrice during Ben’s waning seconds, while there was
yet aglow a spark of life.
Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask … failed!
Encircling Ben around the operating table, the trauma team’s
pace quickened-their options and time running out.
“CLEAR! AGAIN! CLEAR!!” the surgeon commanded. Ben
convulsed. Electric shock ... failed!
A dark cloud smothered the din. The frenzied pace
quieted. The equipment was switched off. The surgeon turned
to face me. His wearied face bespoke what I already knew. He
shook his head. The embers of life had died within Ben. He
had come into this world only a short while before. I was there
then and here now.
Certain moments, seconds in time, seem to vanish.
Perhaps when the harshness of life numbs us, we “freeze” in
time for a brief while, You’ve seen this before when someone
blankly stares off into space-as it were-but invariably snaps
himself back to the present. Perhaps you have experienced
“Mr. Busch … do you wish to remain with Ben?” a nurse
quietly “awakened” me.
“Yes, of course, Miss” I muttered, surely dazed as if there
could possibly be any other response.
“Grandpa,” she addressed my father, gently taking hold of his
arm. “Only the dad may stay with Ben,” she motioned him
away and drew the curtain around the circumference of the
We were alone. I placed a kippah on his head.
“Thank you for being such a good son Ben, ” I spoke, barely
audibly, kissing his handsome nose.
With precious few minutes left before the attendants arrived,
Ben slept while I … I hovered over him:
“ … lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …” I repeatedly sang the
23rd Psalm whisperingly. We spent about fifteen minutes
“Mr. Busch,” the nurse announced her presence, drawing the
“The gentlemen are here, ” she informed me with no
uncertainty about whom she meant. I stepped aside
and away. I know they covered Ben’s face, but I couldn’t watch
I don’t think it was more than a minute after when Rabbi
Louis flew in by taxi and took charge. Frankly relieved, his
timely arrival assured me Ben would be interred in accordance
with Jewish tradition.
A nurse approached us. Seems that a group of Ben’s
friends had arrived moments before and was waiting at the
front desk. What I did not know was that they had picked up
Zac-Ben’s younger brother-on their way to the hospital.
Rabbi Louis and I went to receive them.
Cook County Hospital is frenetic. All manner of people:
ambulatory patients attached to mobile drips, trauma patients
being rushed to surgery strapped atop gurneys, doctors,
nurses, visitors, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s
deputies jam its hallways. Upon reaching the front desk, we
were informed of hospital policy that forbad non-family
members from visitation. I thanked them, but we had to leave
Ben’s buddies behind.
Trudging through the corridors with Rabbi Louis and Zac
on our way back to the emergency department felt as if we
were changing classes in high school. Almost predictably, we
were stopped-not by the assistant principal-but by a burly
“Gentlemen, may I see your passes?” he requested, holding out
his rather considerable hand.
“Officer, we haven’t any. We were just returning from …”
“You’ll have to return to the front desk and get them,” the
officer-I think a sergeant in rank-interrupted Rabbi Louis.
“My friend’s son has just died!” pleadingly insisted Rabbi
Louis, who sought but could not find the guard’s better angels.
“Sir, you will need to return to the front desk!” the officer
repeated unequivocally. Despite Rabbi Louis’s vociferous
objections, his protestations, he wisely concluded, had fallen
on deaf ears. The guard refused to budge. Back we trod to
fetch the passes.
Meanwhile, Ben’s mom had arrived from a much farther
distance than I. This time, passes in hand, we did make it
back when came the time moments later to convey the
awful news. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness, generously offered
to stand in for me, but this was my duty. Accompanying me
together with my dad on either side, our arms linked, we
reluctantly crossed the hall to a small lounge wherein sat
Ben’s mom. Letting go of their arms, I approached her
haltingly. Lifting her eyes to mine, somehow knowingly, hope
yet unforsaken … well, just maybe here sat a mother
whose extremity merited a nes.
"Ben is gone!" … I cried out, placing my forehead atop her
head. Within a shadow of a moment came forth an utterance
of primal pain from Ben’s mom so horrifically terrifying I
suspect only a bereaved mother is capable of making it-a
sound that seemed to wed the frighteningly excruciating moan
of Ben’s hypoglycemic plunge to his mother’s pleadingly
gutteral groan that she could no longer push her soon to be
firstborn Ben into the world. I shall never forget the
sound of near matricide.
What more can one do in a moment like this? Though
Zac, my dad and Rabbi Louis were present in the room with
me, I recall nothing of their reactions to my grave
announcement to Ben’s mom. It was as if she and I were
alone in this sanitized lounge, the small sofa, chairs and
lighting of which were unremarkably sterile.
I left the room to tend an urgent matter. I found the
attending surgeon standing in the hallway just several steps
“Doctor, thank you for all you did trying to save my son. There
is something I have to tell you.”
“Yes?” he responded, seeming like he had more to say but
“My son is a Jew. I expressly forbid any autopsy,” I said softly
“Yes, of course, I understand,” he seemed to acknowledge
While we spoke, I discerned in him a genuinely heartfelt
sympathy for my family. Some time later, in a preliminary
deposition to a lawsuit my family had filed against the
company whose driver struck Ben, the surgeon testified that
he had been worried about my dad while the latter bore
witness to the desperate futility of those several minutes.
After six hours, there remained nothing more we could do.
Zac and his mom had left already with my father. With Rabbi
Louis whose companionship insulated me from the icy winds, I
walked back to my truck. How thankful I was to not have to go
home alone! While the engine warmed, Rabbi Louis contacted
a mutual friend, Reb Moshe, a chaplain in the Chicago Police
Department, to inquire whether he could expedite Ben’s
transfer to the mortuary. After several minutes had passed, I
drove Rabbi Louis home.
That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000, ended
quietly together with my world as I had known it just hours
A drink or two later, I fell asleep that night in my
apartment. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Yiddish: God runs the world.
 Hebrew: truth
 Skullcap signifying God overhead
I fear no evil because You are with me.
 Jewish tradition forbids this practice.