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
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
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 the anniversary of Ben’s passing, 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 memorial
candle 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 memorial 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