Remembering Ben, on his Birthday and Everyday

Ben Litman died in a fire at his family's Blackhawk home on June 22. His three sisters share their memories and wishes for their younger brother on what would have been his 20th birthday, Tuesday, Aug. 10th.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on the site on Aug. 10, 2010, in honor of Ben's 20th birthday.

Today, June 22, 2011, the one year anniversary of Ben's tragic death, we honor Ben and his memory with his sisters' wishes for him on his birthday.

It is also a reminder to be grateful for the people we have in our lives.

Wrote Ben's sister, Riva:

In memory of my little brother, Ben, take some time today to help someone out, eat something sweet, and remind people that you love them.


Benjamin Litman would have turned 20 today.

The son of doctor Robert and Niki Litman, younger brother to three sisters, aspiring musician and senior at Venture school in San Ramon, died in a fire in his family's Blackhawk home on June 22.

Ben's sisters, Riva, Nadya and Caila, pay tribute to him on his birthday, Aug. 10th, by sharing their memories, wishes and lessons he taught them about life.

Riva, 24, graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2008 and now works as a Press Secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. She writes:

Today my brother would've turned 20. He would've blown out 21 candles (we never forgot the extra one for good luck) on what would have been the richest and most delicious chocolate cake known to man.  He would've welcomed the commencement of his "twenties" and all the things that he dreamed would come with it: college and love and adulthood. Voting in his first presidential election. Recording his first CD.  Writing his first screenplay.  Visiting Paris and watching the Eiffel Tower light up the whole city at night.

I would've woken him up to the loudest, most off-key version of "Happy Birthday" he'd ever heard—and after he finished laughing at me, I would've told him all the things I loved about him and all the reasons I was so lucky to have him as my baby brother.  And boy was I lucky.

But since he's not here to blow out his candles or answer my phone call or open my birthday card, this is what I would've told him.

I would've told him that he transformed my life by the way he lived his.  That I have never found—nor is it likely I will ever find again—laughter as pure and innocent and contagious as his. 

I would've told him that even though I am five years older than he is, I looked up to him.  A lot.  For his wisdom and his kindness and his brilliance and his heart.  But mostly his heart. 

I would've told him that his compassion for others motivated me to be a better and more empathetic human being.  I would've told him that he had a rare and beautiful sensitivity for other people—the way he listened to them cry, understood where they came from and helped make whatever was so bad just a little bit better.  That he made me understand people more deeply and love them more completely.  I would've thanked him for teaching me lessons that I would've gone my whole life without ever having learned had I not known him.  That life is about reserving judgment, opening your mind and sharing your heart.

I would've told him that I admired his boundless curiosity for the unknown, his intellectual depth and his insatiable love of learning.  That he was the perfect balance between an old soul and a lovable little goofball who didn't complain for a second when his three older sisters tried to make him wear lipstick and put on a pair of high heels (it's true: we even tried to glue a pair of fake eyelashes on him once).  I would've told him that he taught me to laugh at everything—that no matter how difficult something was, there was always a silver lining.  That sometimes we just had to dig deep to find it.  And Ben always found it.

I would've told him that his passion for life inspired me to be more passionate about mine.  Ben had so much love in his heart—for music and books and movies and nature and writing and people and life.  And he had so many dreams.  Big dreams.  Of becoming the next Bob Dylan and producing his own records and playing in a symphony and sharing his music with the world.  Of becoming a husband and a father and an uncle.  What I'd give to tell him that he would've been a great one.

I would've told him that he would have loved "Toy Story 3." And that I finally downloaded all the Radiohead songs he had recommended.  And that I'm still waiting for him to walk through the door so we can go to In & Out and order two double-doubles and french fries (his favorite).  I would've told him that I couldn't wait for him to come visit me in Washington, D.C.—so we could go to the top of the Washington Monument and visit the Smithsonian and stand under the Rotunda of the United States Capitol together.  We had talked about all the places we'd visit and all the things we'd do.  I would've told him that there isn't a single other person with whom I'd rather do those things— not now and not ever. 

I would've told him that the world was a brighter, more beautiful place when he was in it—and that it is darker and less complete now that he is not.  I would've thanked him for sharing 19 years of life with me.  And for making every single one of those 19 years more beautiful.  I would've told him that some people live forever without making a mark on this world—but that in only 19 years, he made me laugh more uncontrollably, love more deeply and live more boldly.  I would've told him that he had impact.  He touched others' lives by the way he lived his.  He made his mark.

I would've told him that his impact was incalculable.  His potential was limitless.  And his love is eternal.  And while I cry for the potential of what would have been but what never will be, he did something remarkable.  He opened my eyes to the beauty of life not only in his death, but in his life itself.  Few people have the power to do that, but Ben did.  And he did so effortlessly.  

And so on this day, I pay tribute to this one life—and to the beautiful and inspiring person who lived it.  Bennie Boy, I will carry you in the depths of my heart and love you until the ends of the Earth forever.  And thank you—from the bottom of my heart—for being you.  Because without you, I would not be me.

Happy 20th birthday.

Nadya, 23, is a part-time student and full-time nanny for several families in the East Bay. She lives in San Ramon. She writes:

Ben was a wonderful little brother to have, and I feel honored to have been his big sister for nearly 20 years. He never judged people, and always treated everyone equally no matter what. I remember we'd have family parties at our house and all the kids would be gathered around Ben laughing and having fun. He was just simply a fun, sweet, happy-go-lucky, and extremely compassionate person. Ben was also extremely bright. He knew everything about everything and grasped new concepts very quickly. His favorite books growing up were the Harry Potter books. I could barely make it through a Self magazine, but there you'd see Ben whipping through 500 page books in two days!
You could always tell by his expression exactly what he was thinking— that is what I will miss the most. He would constantly make us all laugh about the most random things. Trust me, it wasn't easy being the only boy with three older sisters, so his sense of humor came in handy frequently.

His favorite TV shows were "South Park," "Family Guy," and "The Simpsons." That was his kind of humor.
During the summer of 1998 or 1999 we all became obsessed with the movie "Drop Dead Gorgeous." We would go around the house quoting lines and constantly laughing at how ridiculous everything was.  Riva then had the novel idea of reenacting the movie together. Ben played probably three or four characters and was just so cute, and we seriously tortured him.  He was just such a good sport and I will never forget how adorable he was— he did accents, wore costumes and was so happy-go-lucky and innocent.

He would always be dragged into things we as sisters would want to do, but never complained about it. As long as he had his video games, Legos, Sour Patch kids, and Coke, he was a happy kid!
He was very close with our mom, and they spent a lot of time together.  My mom had always wanted a son, and I think deep-down was slightly disappointed every time she had another girl. Ben was a great son to her. He would always take care of her during her chemotherapy/radiation sessions. He would watch movies with her, talk to her, get her cold towels for her forehead, and make her meals (I didn't even know he could cook). My Dad said recently that Ben made him an omelette, and it had eggshells in it still. Ben was definitely not domestic, but his heart was so big that it kind of melted you every time he did something for others.
For Christmas every year, us siblings did a Secret Santa exchange. Last year Ben had me, and he got me a vacuum. I still use it and will probably never get rid of it now.
My heart has a hole in it every day because of his absence in my life, but with memories, close friends, and family here by my side, I think it will somehow be manageable.  I miss him dearly and think of his laugh and goodness several times a day.  As I cry today, knowing that I would have been celebrating his 20th birthday, I will forever be grateful for having my wonderful parents and sisters here with me to share his memories. I am extremely grateful to the San Ramon Valley Fire Department and all they have done for my family.  They gave my Dad a second chance at life, and for that, I will be personally indebted to them as long as I live.
I know Ben is watching down on all of us with special care and caution as our guardian angel. Ever since he passed, I have been finding pennies everywhere. I find them outside of my car, in pockets, etc., I know it is a sign from him. I love you Bennie! Happy 20th birthday little bro! You were amazing, and I adored every living breathing moment I shared with you. I hope you are having fun up there playing your guitar, singing to Bob Dylan, and eating pizza with your grandfathers. Your life was short-lived, but you will live forever in my heart! Not a day goes by that I will not remember you.

Caila, 22, is a senior majoring in history at U.C. Berkeley. She writes:

I wish I could put into words every little way I love my brother Ben. He possessed a sort of coolness that transcended most generation gaps. His breadth of knowledge on music, movies, video games and literature, always proved impressive during family games of Trivial Pursuit. In his signature sweatpants and throwback band tees, Ben's honest, loving personality charmed everyone. He was always too wise beyond his years. He valued simplicity and frowned upon materialism. I wish I could describe how many summer days we spent bicycling around the neighborhood, watching cartoons and playing MarioKart together as kids. I wish I could convey how absolutely clever and witty Ben was in conversation. I always felt so proud to say I was Ben Litman's sister. He was known amongst his peers as an excellent skateboarder, a force to be reckoned with on any gaming console, and a beautifully talented musician. I wish I could describe his knack for comedic timing or his whole-hearted laughter. What I wish most though, is that for every slice of Boston cream pie, every rack of baby back ribs, every Radiohead song, every "Futurama" episode, or every "Batman" movie on television, my brother Ben was still here to share all of his favorite things with me.

Readers, you may share your thoughts for the Litman family and your memories of Ben in the comments.

Kathy Heidenreich August 10, 2010 at 04:16 PM
Riva, Nadya and Caila- Thank you for sharing this special day with all of us, with your memories of a wonderful vibrant young man....your brother Ben! I too have many fond memories of him and the way he made me laugh! I always wanted to reach out and pinch his cheeks....and clean his glasses! Happy Birthday Ben!
corri soberanes August 10, 2010 at 05:12 PM
What a wonderful tribute to your brother. After reading your stories, I felt like I knew him. Your strong family bond is evident and he was very lucky to have you as his 3 older sisters. You'll carry your wonderful memories of him in your hearts forever. Happy Birthday to your Brother.
Kari Hulac August 10, 2010 at 06:01 PM
I think what these three sisters wrote is such a testimony to stopping and appreciating the people we care about, as they can certainly disappear from our lives in an instant. I am so thankful that they were able to put their feelings into words, as difficult as it must have been, and I'm thankful that Patch is here share it all because it's what we are all about.
Elizabeth Shemaria August 10, 2010 at 06:57 PM
To the Litman sisters, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful memories with us and happy birthday to Ben.
Renae Wilber January 13, 2011 at 08:03 PM
Your words are all so beautiful. I keep your family often in my thoughts.


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