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I Grieve For Ben at My Side
I devotedly await the impossible.
If only Ben could come crashing through my kitchen door on
his skateboard again, I’d be able to return to my life the
way it once was. Mind you, it was not always pleasant.
I’ve known the agonizing experience of wrestling my 220 lb.
adult son in the throes of diabetic hypoglycemia and the
torment of bear-hugging him while a grand mal epileptic
seizure ran its course. And I can assure you that combating
the devastating impact of not one but two chronic diseases
in my child’s life is, like his death, an event for which
no parent can adequately prepare himself. My family
The days and years of Ben’s life were few and troubled.
When ten and a half years old, he begrudgingly surrendered
his childhood to the pernicious demands of juvenile diabetes.
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. Ben acceded to the
basic requirements of diabetic care but insisted he live his
life on his own terms, free to experience each day as if it
were his last. I’ve never known anyone more able to live in
the urgency of the present tense than Ben.
I‘ve never loved anyone more, but Ben and I clashed often. I
feared his diabetes. He largely ignored it. Believe me when I
tell you we did not welcome the additional burden of epilepsy
with which Ben was diagnosed just after his eighteenth
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 I recognize this “light of the
soul” to be for Ben’s aliyah, it does nothing to soothe the pain
of my loss. Maybe it’s unreasonable of me to expect that it
should. There is, after all, 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 now 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. He 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 us how it works.
“I know what you mean," noted a friend of mine, a fellow
bereaved parent. "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
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, however,
that someday Ben’s death will feel more like history than
yesterday’s tragedy. So, I refuse to surrender his memory to
the amnesia of time. Though I believe I did the best I could
for him, I’ve considered the possibility that guilt might be
hiding behind my grief, that somehow I may have failed Ben
in his life.
I think a lot about that. I am, however, certain of one thing.
My grief, like that of others who have loved and lost their own
Bens, remains my steadfast companion.
So, as I approach the three thousand, two hundred and
eighty-fifth day, I pray Ben that you dwell in the heavens high
enough to see me searching the starry skies for your
Alan D. Busch11/7/09