Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Grief and Remembrance for a Good Friend's Father

This morning my good friend Mark (we've known each other since college days, over two decades now) called to say that his father had been killed in an accident. I am filled with grief, and my heart and prayers go out to their whole family. I have been thinking about Ben (Mark's father) all day.

Ben was a warm-hearted, gregarious, very generous and very decent man. When I was first getting to know Mark, it quickly became clear that family values ran strong in his family, as they did in mine. When Mark told me he couldn't go out on Sunday nights because that was "family dinner night", I knew exactly what he meant, because my family does the same. And when my parents were out of town, I had a standing invitation from Ben and Marie to join their Sunday night family dinner, where I was always made to feel right at home. You didn't have to spend many dinners with their family to see that Ben had an agenda for his four sons. It was his most heartfelt goal to see them well-educated, successful, happily married, and having families of their own. It was tradition (as well as the source of some joking) that Sunday night dinners would always include the usual interrogations round the table: "dating anybody? is she a nice girl?". In later years, as the boys got married, he immediately shifted gears to "so when are you going to have kids?". Jewish mothers had nothing on Ben. I always felt touched when I would get drilled as if I were another son. "You gotta get out there and date. We want you to find someone to settle down and be happy with." When I confessed to Ben that it was going to be a guy and not a girl that I wanted to settle down with, it took him little time to change gears: "So, dating any guys lately? You want to meet a nice boy and settle down, don't you?" And four years ago, when I finally got married, I was pleased to have Ben play a part in it. He was a notary public, and he notarized the various legal-marriage-approximating documents that we signed on our wedding day. A short time later, when I finally came to a family gathering as a married man with my husband, Ben didn't miss a beat: "So, are you and George thinking about kids? You can adopt, you know. You should really think about it. It's the greatest joy in life." I am consoled to know that Ben lived a long good life, and was able to attend weddings for all four sons (plus me), to see them all become very successful in their careers, and to enjoy becoming a grandfather a half-dozen times over the last 15 years. His 80+ years were abundantly blessed with what he knew to be the greatest joy, a happy family.

I remember years ago, when Mark and I would stop in at his parents house, when it was time to leave, his father would always see us out. You always got a good seeing off from Ben. He would walk out the door with you to the car, and then walk to the end of the (long) driveway, and sometimes even a few steps down the street, waving and watching to make sure we got off safely. It was very sweet, and (given the strong sense of humor in their family) the inevitable source of some joking. Sometimes Mark would call from his cellphone as we rounded the corner, "Mom, go outside and tell Dad we're okay, he can come back in the house now." I think that will be my enduring image of Ben: the benevolent and watchful father walking as far as he can to see his sons safely off to a good start in life, waving and watching after them. Your sons are all happy and successful in their lives. You can go back inside now, Ben, and rest in peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ben Karmelich. I agree, he is a wonderful and warm man. Definitely always asking when will you get married, or have kids - whichever was the appropriate question.
His son Ben is one of my best friends, and as such - I was occasionally blessed to partake in an event that I referred to as "Lunch with the Ben's". Papa Ben would ask when I planned to marry, and it was a genuine interest to him - he was truly aware of the happiness that can come from a good family.
Papa Ben - an intelligent and kind man. There was one time when a good friend asked him how many times a year USC played Notre Dame in football. Had that question been asked of me, I would have probably teased and taunted the man asking the question. But gentle Ben kindly noted that the big game took place once a year, and even detailed that if it was in Los Angeles - the game would be the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and if in South Bend - it would be in October.
As the world is overall a small place, my dad worked with Papa Ben back in the 1950's at Coast Savings. My dad and Ben would chat about the joys of marriage.
Now, my dad and Papa Ben are together again, hopefully chatting about the joys and blessings they enjoyed while on earth. I hope they have a chance to bbq, or as Ben Jr would say - let's roast a goat like we would in the old country.
Papa Ben, may God bless you and rest in eternal peace.
John Buhs