Monday, September 10, 2007

Dear Readers,

The Chicago Jewish Federation in its news magazine published this version of the opening chapter of my manuscript In Memory of Ben. Unfortunately, the editors used the wrong revision, but this is not too terribly different though the final draft is somewhat longer containing more dialogue. In any event, I am pleased that the editors saw fit to publish this tiny bit of Ben's story.

May all who come to this blog by design or chance enjoy a sweet, healthy and happy NEW YEAR!

Before I forget, the November 1, 2007 edition of Bereavement Publications Living With Loss will feature another chapter of In Memory of Ben, entitled "Every Day is Thanksgiving"

JUF News
Arts & Entertainment

In Memory of Ben

By Alan Busch

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Yom Kippur it is customary for Jews to recite Yizkor, (memorial prayers, but literally meaning "May He remember") for loved ones who have died. It is in that spirit that we offer the following piece, written by Alan Busch, a congregant of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Kesser Maariv Anshe Luknik, who continues to mourn the loss of his son, Ben. JUF News thanks Rabbi Louis Lazovsky for bringing this story to our attention.

An act of divine kindness made it possible for me to spend several minutes with my son Benjamin in what became our last time together.

Forgetting the night before to set his alarm, Ben 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 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 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. Together we drove to the train. 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 at work would be, I thought, like any other. If only it had been! The phones rang all morning. Business was brisk! It was just before noon when I answered the next call. I heard the voice of a stranger. Identifying himself as a trauma surgeon in the emergency department of Cook County Hospital, he told me Ben had survived a nearly fatal traffic accident, but with critical injuries which required immediate surgical intervention. He “suggested” I come to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Suggested? I knew what he meant! Suffice to say, I knew how this day would end.” A myriad of frightful thoughts filled my head in a state of controlled desperation as I sped away to the hospital. The grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day which I had anticipated for years arrived this day.

After being fortunate enough to find parking two blocks away, I ran to the emergency department, whereupon I identified myself to the first nurse I encountered. She escorted me hurriedly to the surgeon, to whom I gave parental authorization, when asked, to employ all measures to save Ben. I expressed my wish to witness the efforts of the trauma team while it did everything in its power to save him.

Standing alongside my father, who arrived within minutes after I called, we stood witness to a desperate, ultimately futile effort almost within our grasp.

During these agonizing moments, I discovered a previously unknown facet of my father. Next to me stood a desperate man who was praying for the life of my son. Holding his hands overhead with palms flattened against the glass partition while holding back a torrent of tears, he pled with The Almighty for immediate intervention. In Ben’s declining seconds, while yet flickered a spark of life, my father—sensitive, but doggedly determined man that he is—called out a desperate plea to his grandson once … twice … thrice …

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

Open heart massage … failed! Oxygen mask … failed! Electric shock … failed! A dark cloud smothered the din. The frenzied pace quieted. The equipment was turned off. The surgeon turned around to face me. His wearied face bespoke what I already knew. He shook his head. The embers of life died within Ben.

It seemed as if Ben had come into this world only a short while before. I was there then as I was now. A nurse asked me if I wished to be with my son. I told her I did. Only I could be with Ben. Taking hold of my father by his arm, she motioned him away and drew the curtain so that Ben and I not be disturbed.

Standing by Ben’s side, I placed a kippah 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 …” (I have no fear, for Thou art with me.)

Rabbi Louis arrived by taxi.

Frankly relieved that he took charge, his timely arrival assured me that Ben would be interred in accordance with Jewish tradition.

A noteworthy interlude took place before I had to tell his mom, who, unknown to me at the time, hadn’t yet arrived.

A nurse came to inform me that a group of Ben’s friends had arrived moments before and was waiting at the front desk. What I did not know then was that Ben’s friends had picked up Zac, Ben’s younger brother, and brought him along. 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 gurnies, doctors, nurses, visitors, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s deputies jam its hallways. Hospital policy forbade nonfamily members from visitation. We had to leave Ben’s buddies behind.

Trudging through the corridors with Rabbi Louis and Zac while returning back to the emergency department, it felt as if we were passing between classes in high school. Almost predictably, we were stopped—not by the assistant principal, but by a burly hospital security guard who asked us for our passes. Having none, he pointed us to the reception area where we had met Zachary minutes before.

Rabbi Louis, frustrated at the hapless absurdity of the moment, appealed beseechingly in hope of touching the guard’s better angels. “My friend’s son has just died!”

The guard refused to budge. Despite Rabbi Louis’s vociferous objections, it became apparent that his protestations had fallen on deaf ears. So back we trod to fetch the passes.

Meanwhile, Ben’s mom had arrived from a much longer distance than I. Passes in hand, we did make it back minutes later when came time to confront her with the awful news. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness, generously offered to stand in for me, but I felt this was my duty. Accompanying me together with my dad, our arms linked, we reluctantly crossed the hall to a small lounge wherein sat Ben’s mom awaiting news.

I approached her haltingly. “Ben is gone!” I cried out, placing my forehead atop her head. Within the shadow of a moment came forth an utterance of primal pain from Ben’s mom so horrifically terrifying that I suspect only a bereaved mother is capable of making it. I shall never forget its sound!

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.

Tending to an important matter for which I had to speak to the surgeon, I found him standing in the hallway close by, appearing as though something was on his mind. I thanked him for all his efforts to save Ben’s life. While we spoke, I discerned a genuinely heartfelt sympathy for my family; furthermore, he seemed to intuitively understand me when I forbade an autopsy.

Weeks later, in a sworn deposition, part of a wrongful death suit brought by my family against the owner of the truck whose driver struck Ben, the surgeon testified to having been worried about my dad’s well-being when, during those several minutes, he bore witness to futility.

There remained nothing more we could do. Ben’s mom had left with Zac and my dad. Accompanied by Rabbi Louis, I walked to my truck. His companionship warmed me against the icy winds. How thankful I was that I would not have to go home alone!

While the engine warmed, Rabbi Louis contacted a mutual friend, a Chicago police chaplain, to see if he could expedite moving Ben’s remains from the hospital morgue to the funeral home. After several minutes had passed, I drove Rabbi Louis home.

That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000, ended together with my “world” as I had known it. I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment.

Posted: 9/5/2007 9:27:17 AM

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