Wednesday, November 04, 2009

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I Grieve For Ben at My Side

I devotedly await the impossible. If Ben could only come crashing through the kitchen door on
his skateboard again, we’d be able to return our lives to the way they once were.

Mind you, it was not always pleasant.

I’ve known the experience of wrestling a 220 lb. man in the throes of diabetic hypoglycemia and bear-hugging him while a grand mal epileptic seizure ran its course. And I can assure you that combating the devastating impact of chronic disease on your child’s life is, like a child’s death, an event for which no parent can adequately prepare himself. Our family experienced both.

The days and years of Ben’s life were few and troubled. I think we did the best we could for Ben although there have been times when I’ve had serious doubts. Ben begrudgingly surrendered his childhood to the pernicious demands of juvenile diabetes when ten and a half years old. Gone were the yesterdays and tomorrows of his childhood. His hopefulness for a normal future, his expectations of success and for long life became bleak. He acceded to the basic requirements of
diabetic care but refused to live his life unless it were on his own terms.

Ben lived in the present tense better than anyone I’ve ever known, experiencing each day as if it were his last. I loved no one more than Ben, but we clashed often. I feared diabetes.
Ben largely ignored it. Believe me when I tell you we did not welcome the additional burden of epilepsy with which he was diagnosed just after his eighteenth birthday.

Parental bereavement takes no days off. This year I will commemorate the three thousand, two hundred and eighty-fifth day I have been grieving for Ben. The 24th of Cheshvan, 5761, corresponding to November 22, 2000, the day before Thanksgiving, was the last day I spoke to him, touched him and marveled at his gift for living life.

On the eve of Ben’s yahrzeit, I will light a ner neshuma, a memorial candle, this year for the ninth time, a practice I’ve done since Ben’s life ended after twenty-two and a half years. But as important as it is, the light of the ner neshuma does not soothe the pain of my loss. There is no
balm for parental grief.

Its pain worsens as the gulf that separates us widens. I return older each time. Ben remains twenty-two years old as he was then and will always be. Instead of recalling his young
manhood, I tend to think of him more and more as the little boy he once was. He has missed so much of life. I don’t think any number of yahrzeit candles can illumine the darkness that shrouds the life of a bereaved parent.

Though of my past, I grieve for Ben at my side one day at a time, every day of the week, month and year. Ben must remain an eternal zikaron, an everlasting remembrance.
That is, I suspect, the way of most, perhaps of all bereaved parents. Ask any one of them how it works.

A friend and fellow bereaved parent notes: “I know what you mean and it's been 28 years for me. I can't imagine the days!! Yet I still grieve and always will. I don't want a day to come
when I can't remember her face or things she said and did.”

Contrary to the well-intentioned but wayward counsel of some consolers, I don't wish to put Ben’s death behind me. I hold it in front of my eyes. It neither blinds nor causes me to
stumble. Even though I’ve never put much stock in the old platitude that “time heals all wounds”, I do worry that someday Ben’s death will feel more like history than yesterday’s tragedy. I refuse to surrender his memory to the amnesia of time.

While still struggling to clarify the impact such profound grief has had on my life. I’ve considered the possibility that guilt hides behind my grief; the guilt I have felt at times for somehow having failed Ben in his life. I think about it a lot. I just don’t know, but of one thing I am certain. My grief, like that of others who have loved and lost their own Bens, remains my steadfast companion.

Alan D. Busch

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