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The Last Time (excerpted from my book Snapshots In Memory of Ben)
By Alan D Busch
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Rated "G" by the Author.
I have posted the following piece at some risk. It is the second chapter of my book SNAPSHOTS IN MEMORY OF BEN. Please read it with care as it embodies my personally profound tribute to Ben, my child, my son, my first-born son. If after you have read this chapter and think it meritorious and compelling, please navigate to my book page here at authorsden.com and purchase a copy of my book.
Alan D. Busch
Ben's dad and author of this memoir.
SNAPSHOTS, In Memory of Ben
THE LAST TIME
"Got firt di velt"-God runs the world-a profoundly simple
adage, asserts the primal truth 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
“Happenstance”-some might call it-but it
was for me an act of divine kindness that
became the last time I’d spend with my son
Benjamin, Wednesday morning, November 22,
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 off
my dry cleaning 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 outfitted himself, as counseled by
his mother, 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 divorced in January of 2000.
Since moving out of the house in August of
1999, there had been 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 Ben
was our bechor, our first-born son.
The birth of the bechor places him in a
unique position. That fact alone distinguishes
him from his siblings. As happens in many
youthful marriages, the bechor arrives at a
time when, not too many years before, his
mother and father were the children of their
once youthful parents. We set him apart from
his younger siblings-not because we love him
more-but only that his childhood begins when
ours ends. Should he predecease us, a part of
us dies too ... the remnant of an earlier time in
our lives, faint tracings of our own childhood.
There was another reason for which Ben was
special, one I wish had never existed. As his
father, I lived in constant dread for his sake.
You see, Ben had been a diabetic since 1988 and
especially 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. 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
“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
“Ya got it?” I asked.
“Yea,” he answered.
“Do you have money on you?” I badgered
“Yes, Dad,” he humored me with patient
intonation. “Seeya later!”
He got out. Traffic was heavy. I watched him
cross the street as if he were still a child.
“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 that same morning, business at the office
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
“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
“Yes, doctor,” I responded, shaking.
“Are you the father of Benjamin Busch?” he
“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 words. I
foresaw how this day would end. Call it
intuition if you like.
“Doctor, yes … ah, ah, ah alright. I’m leaving
now.” I hung up.
A myriad of thoughts filled my head as I
sped away to the hospital in a state of
controlled desperation. The doctor’s voice
convinced me that the dreaded day I
anticipated for years had arrived. Fortunate
enough to find parking two blocks away, I
raced to the emergency department.
“I’m, I’m … Mr. Busch, my son Ben, doctor
called me …” I sputtered to a nurse with whom
I nearly collided.
“Follow me!” she commanded, grabbing me
by my shirtsleeve and running.
“Dr. Yosef! Dr. Yosef!” she shouted down the
corridor upon spotting him.
“Mr. Busch, Ben must have immediate
intervention. Do you authorize …” he hurriedly
“Yes! Yes! Anything. Do everything! Please!”
I responded curtly. The doctor turned and
“Mr. Busch, do you wish to witness the
procedures?” the nurse asked me calmly. 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 immediate intervention.
“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 a spark of life aglow.
Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask
Encircling Ben around the operating table,
the trauma team’s pace quickened, its options
and time running out.
“CLEAR! AGAIN! CLEAR!!” the surgeon
commanded. Ben convulsed. Electric shock ...
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 had seen with
my own eyes. 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 stares
blankly into space-as it were-but invariably
snaps back to the present. Perhaps you have
experienced this, too.
“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
“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 room.
We were alone. I placed a kippah on his head.
“Thank you for being such a good son Ben,”
I spoke, barely audibly while kissing his
I looked at his face for the last time.
Several of his facial features wonderfully
defined him as himself. Ben’s earlobes angled
out slightly. The epicanthic appearance of his
eyelids made his eyes appear to be almond
shaped. He inherited his blue eyes and blonde
hair from his mom. His sparse growth of beard
he inherited from me! He once remarked how
alike we were in this respect although I
suspect he secretly coveted a heavier beard. His
prominently sculpted chin finished the work his
boyishly round, dimpled cheeks had begun, and
it made no difference to me even when they were
bewhiskered. I never tired of kissing them.5 A
gentle rise defined the shape of his nose. His
bottom lip was full, his eyebrows heavy with
his straight upper eyelashes angled downward.
Ben was a handsome lad, but of much
greater importance than the wonderful shape
of his nose, his sparkling blue eyes or his
dimples was his nature as a loving and
considerate son. His mom characterized him as a
“peacemaker”-the kind of person for whom shalom
bayit6 was an inherent feature of his personality.
With precious few minutes left before
the attendants arrived, Ben slept while I …
I hovered over him:
“lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …” I whisperingly
sang the 23rd Psalm. We spent about fifteen
“Mr. Busch,” the nurse announced her
presence, drawing the curtain open.
“The gentlemen are here,” she informed me.
I stepped away. I know they covered Ben’s face,
but I couldn’t watch that.
I don’t think it was more than a minute later
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 that hospital policy
forbad non-family members from visitation. I
thanked them, but we had to leave Ben’s
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 security guard.
“Gentlemen, may I see your passes?” he
requested, holding out his rather considerable
“Officer, we haven’t any. We were just
returning from …”
“You’ll have to return to the front desk and
get them,” the officer—a sergeant in rank—
interrupted Rabbi Louis.
“My friend’s son has just died!” pled Rabbi
Louis, who sought but could not find the guard’s
“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 moments
later the time came to convey the awful news to
Ben’s mom. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness,
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 she sat.
Letting go of their arms, I approached her
haltingly. As she lifted her eyes to mine, it was
clear that she knew. Yet I glimpsed a glimmer
of unforsaken hope in the desperation of a
mother, whose extremity of circumstance
merited a nes, a miracle.
“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 so horrifically terrifying I suspect a
bereaved mother alone 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 guttural
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 announcement. It was as if
she and I were alone in this sanitized lounge,
the small sofa, chairs and lighting of which were
I left the room to tend an urgent matter. I
found the surgeon standing in the hallway just
several steps away.
“Doctor, thank you for all you did trying to
save my son. There is something I have to tell
“Yes?” he responded, seeming like he had
something else to say but couldn’t.
“My son is a Jew. I expressly forbid any
autopsy,” I said softly but firmly.
“Yes, of course, I understand,” he seemed
to acknowledge intuitively.
While we spoke, I discerned in him a
genuinely heartfelt sympathy for my family.
Several months later, in a preliminary deposition
to a lawsuit my family had filed against the
company whose driver struck Ben, the surgeon
testified 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
not to 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
That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000,
ended quietly together with my world as I had
known it just hours before. A drink or two later,
I fell asleep that night in my apartment. Tomorrow
would be a busy day.
Alan D. Busch