“These were the best 7 years of my life. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change anything”.
Almost 7 years ago, almost to the day, a frightened 16 year old boy was taken by his parents to his pediatrician because of a small lump that had been growing in his calf since the spring. He endured the first of over a half a dozen operations. He started chemotherapy, poisons, which he let me and my colleagues give him more times than I can count. He started radiation treatments but, “These were the best 7 years of my life. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change anything”.
Two weeks ago tomorrow, Shabbat [The Sabbath], I got in my car and I drove from New York to Oakhurst. It was Shabbat [The Sabbath], and I got in my car and I drove to Oakhurst, because a young man, no longer a boy, was coming to the close of a horrible illness. He was no longer just my patient, he was someone whose courage had inspired me, had changed me as a person and as a doctor and whose care I needed to be there for. I got to the house, I sat with him, I held his hand as he struggled for his breath and he said to me, “These were the best 7 years of my life”. Can you imagine a 23 year old boy who had spent a third of his life going to doctors, being pumped full of poisons, being cut open, being burned with radiation, saying these were the best 7 years of his life?
We who cry for length of years have so much to learn from this young man who made the most of each day. “These were the best 7 years of my life”. He inspired other patients who are alive today because of him, who would otherwise have not had the courage to go through horrific treatments, but who said, “If Eddie can do this, I can do this”. He inspired other patients who didn’t know him but who met him in Bethesda and said, “Oh, you are Ezra. We heard about you from Dr. Wexler”. Every nurse every doctor who met him loved him. You couldn’t help it.
He was a young man for whom each day was precious and he taught me that doctors sometimes need to shut up and just listen to their patients…listen to what they want…. listen to what they are hoping for. “These were the best 7 years of my life”. This sweet young man sitting, trying to catch his breath had no bitterness. He was afraid. He told me of his fears. He told me that the Rabbi had been visiting, that he had made Vidduy… [Confession] that he was coming to peace, and I marveled at his strength and his courage as I had in the five years that I had come to know him.
The following Friday night, this past Friday night, I again drove down from New York on Shabbat [The Sabbath] to Oakhurst to visit Eddie. Much had changed in a week. He had gotten much sicker. I sat with his family and spoke about what was happening. I knew that the end was getting very close. His parents asked me how much longer. I said just a few more days. When I got home it was almost 1 O’clock in the morning. My wife waited up for me. She asked how Eddie was. I said he is very, very sick. She asked how sick and I told her it was going to happen soon. In my heart I knew then, it was going to happen on Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement]. I knew in my soul it was going to happen on Yom Kippur. How did I know that? We read on Yom Kippur from the Navi Yishaya about what G-d wants from us. He doesn’t want empty fasting. He doesn’t want empty beating of our chest. He wants us to do justice. To care for those who can’t care for themselves. This remarkable young man did those things. He could have felt pity for himself, he didn’t. He established a foundation. Many of us in this room are wearing green bracelets on our wrist in his memory. He inspired other patients who are terribly sick to have courage to have hope. “If Eddie can do it, we can do it”. I knew that he had made a perfect Kapparah [Atonement]. I knew that G-d would take him on Yom Kippur.
He was blessed with friends who loved him, who supported him. Who filled his life and helped him achieve meaning. He was blessed with parents who loved him unconditionally and he was blessed with four brothers who would have done anything for him and for whom he would have done anything. Amongst the worst part of my job are the circumstances under which I meet wonderful families. I’ve been coming down to Long Branch for over 25 years. It’s possible that I met the Abraham family or passed them in restaurants in Deal, Long Branch or Oakhurst. In fact, a few summers ago, after I met Eddie through the hospital, I ran into one of his brothers.
To Irwin and Susan, I thank you for letting me care for you son, for giving me the privilege of coming to know him and to love him, for letting me into your home during his final days and for sharing him with me and everyone else during his brief 23 years. For letting the memory of his courage, of his faith, of his love of life, of each day of life inspire me and everyone else who cared for him.
To Jacob, David, Adam and Zeke, there will forever be an empty room in your home and in your hearts. He will be a part of you. He wanted to give you mementos. He tried to find a meaningful gift for each of you, but your brother’s gift is far more meaningful than material possessions. He loved his life. It didn’t matter that he had to run to doctors and that he had to deal with side effects and hospitalizations and complications. He loved his life.
When I think of Eddie, I think of the poem “What is Success”.
“What is Success” to laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children.
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty.
To find the best in others.
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch...
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
His 23 years were a success and that is why he could say with perfect faith, “These were the best 7 years of my life”.
I will forever be humbled by the memory of sitting in his living room, holding his hand and having him tell me that, “These were the best 7 years of my life”. It will give me strength in caring for the patients who are entrusted to me and I hope that it will give everyone who loves him, his family, his friends and his brothers the courage to carry on through unspeakably difficult times. He was an extraordinary young man.
Courage like his does not develop in a vacuum, faith like his does not develop in a vacuum. It is nurtured by the love of friends and family and all of you nurtured and loved Eddie.
Irwin and Susan, thank you for the privilege of speaking today. It is a day that we all hoped would never come. This past Shabbat for the first time in 5 years when the Rabbi got up to make a “Me She-Berach” [Prayer] for the Cholim [Sick], for the first time in 5 years I could no longer make a “Me- She-Berach”[Prayer]. Eddie had become a Gosis [Past the point of survival]. The Rabbi said he would pray for me in a different way. We would pray for Ezra Chaim Ben Shoshana to not suffer. That whenever G-d was ready to take him that he would take him in perfect repentance. I am convinced to the bottom of my soul that it was not coincidence, that it was not a mere coincidence that Ezra was taken after Kol Nidre [Prayer recited in the synagogue at the beginning of Yom Kippur] the morning of Yom Kippur. He was a remarkable young man. All of us should remember those words, “These were the best 7 years of my life”, and find courage and strength to carry on through difficult times. If he could face what he did, living each day as fully as he could, just saying to me please just give me more time because life is that precious to me. What matters is how we spend the minutes of each day. Length of years is a wonderful gift, but what we do with those years is ultimately, what counts and I hope that the memory of Ezra Chaim Ben Shoshana will carry all of us through the difficult periods.
Thank you very much,
Dr. Leonard Wexler
Leonard Wexler, MD
Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Pediatrics
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
1275 York Ave # 210
New York, NY