In the end, it was his death that defined his life.

Boruch Moshe Avraham was born as the first rays of the sun illuminated the sky on May 3, 1989, the 19th of Iyar, the 34th day of the Omer. As this was my first son, my joy knew no bounds. From the beginning, Boruch—named after my father, who died from cancer at the age of 60—was dubbed the “golden boy” because of his beautiful bronze complexion.

As a child, Boruch was always on the go. No car seat, stroller or high chair could restrain him—he would wriggle out and take off, his curls bouncing and swaying in the wind. He seasoned our cat with spices and clambered over furniture, his feet never touching the floor.It was his death that defined his life

From early on, Boruch loved to sing and dance. Clutching his beloved Barney doll, Boruch would sing at the top of his lungs, “Deishu, deishu, everyone is deishu,” his two-year-old rendition of “Special, special, everyone is special.”

When Boruch started school, the challenges began. Learning was difficult, processing was difficult, teachers were difficult, and sitting still was difficult. Eighteen years ago, the field of learning disabilities was not as sophisticated or well-developed as it is today, and more often than not I heard the terms “unmotivated,” “lazy” and “stubborn” about Boruch.

This challenge affected Boruch’s home life as well. Frustrating homework sessions, battles over prayers and painful Shabbat divrei Torah (words of Torah) were the norm. As I watched Boruch struggle, my heart would ache for my son. Although his teachers and administrators couldn’t see it, I knew that Boruch was like his favorite song: special.

Despite the academic challenges, Boruch’s love of people shone through. Wildly popular, with a group of friends always at his side, Boruch made up for his academic deficit with his jokes, his music, his drum lessons, and his ability to take apart and put back together any bike or appliance given to him.

At the age of 16, Boruch’s formal schooling came to an end. The same year, our family experienced a severe personal crisis. For various reasons Boruch needed to live away from home for a few years, which pained me deeply.

During this very difficult time, Boruch was still involved with our family. Money was more than tight, and Boruch would regularly send money to his siblings from his earnings. Photos from that time show Boruch and his siblings meeting up in places as random as the New York subway station, arms linked in solidarity, secure in the knowledge that they had each other.

I, too, would meet Boruch during that time. With whatever funds I could manage to scrape together, I would take Boruch out for dinner and private conversation. As tears rolled down my face due my family’s rather desperate situation, Boruch would gaze at me with that sweet smile, hold my hand and offer words of encouragement.

When my husband and I divorced, Boruch moved back home and assumed the role of man of the family. After working long hours during the day and going to school at night, I would meet up with Boruch. We would go shopping together and unload groceries late at night. Despite a very tight food budget, Boruch used his creative abilities and experience in the food business to cook and serve meals. Boruch fixed things in the house, prepared a weekly dvar Torah and, blessed with a beautiful voice, sang zemirot (Shabbat songs) at every Shabbat meal.

Boruch as a child
Boruch as a child

Life was certainly complicated enough as a single mother of 11 children—working, going to school and trying to survive in a very financially trying situation. But then Boruch started to lose weight at an astonishing rate, unable to hold any food down. After multiple tests, the doctors determined that there was some hormonal or metabolic issue. Boruch would start taking medications, feel somewhat better and gain some weight, but the weight never stayed on. Despite incredibly handsome features, he looked emaciated, wan and tired. He could barely walk one city block without becoming fatigued.

My first simchah post-divorce, my son’s bar mitzvah, was a mere two weeks away when Boruch began to have vision difficulties. At first the doctor thought it was a side effect of his metabolic issue, but as Boruch’s vision continued to deteriorate at a rapid rate, the doctor recommended an MRI. I was told that Boruch most likely had a benign brain tumor, but that he would be operated on and begin to recover, gain weight and live the normal life of a 21-year-old young adult.Boruch began to have vision difficulties

On the fateful day of Boruch’s MRI, I dropped him off, sure that this was more than likely a benign tumor. Additionally, this was the only day that I was allotted off from work to finalize the bar mitzvah preparations.

As I raced around doing local errands, I received a call from the MRI center urging me to come immediately. Upon returning to the center, I was handed the phone and told by the neuro-ophthalmologist that my son had a malignant brain tumor, and we were to immediately go to the hospital.

How could I, as a mother—giver of unconditional love, warm hugs, fuzzy pajamas from the dryer and Band-Aids for boo-boos—be the bearer of a brain tumor diagnosis? With sunlight streaming through the car window on that brilliant August day, I faced my oldest son and told him that the doctors had found something on the brain scan, that we would need more testing, and that we would get him better.

Never mind the myriad of reassurances that left my lips; never mind the devastation of hearing such news at 21 years of age—the image forever etched in my mind is of Boruch looking deep into my eyes and calmly stating, “Do it. Do whatever you have to do.”

Having brain cancer is no picnic; having brain cancer during Superstorm Sandy is that much worse. Shuttled from hospital to hospital due to the closure of NYU for three months post-Sandy, Boruch left an impression on every nurse, doctor and volunteer who came to see him. Always concerned about the welfare of those around him, Boruch offered chairs, whatever food he had, and conversations that centered on the visitor or professional—never on himself.

It was during this time that I was fortunate to meet my future husband, Moshe. Moshe provided a ray of light in the storm, when it appeared that nothing could penetrate the cold, stark reality of being a single mother with a child battling brain cancer.

Despite Boruch’s debilitating illness and treatments, despite his emergency hip surgery, his chemotherapy and his six weeks of IV antibiotic infusions, Boruch professed nothing but excitement for my newfound happiness. Eyes shining, Boruch spoke about the future for our family, his desire to spend Shabbat with Moshe at the table, and the new hope that this would bring to all of us.

Boruch as a child
Boruch as a child

After six long months, the chemotherapy was finally over. Boruch and his 18-year-old brother, who had served as his caretaker for the past year, were to go to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for six weeks of radiation, and then, voilà! Life as we cherished it could begin again, with all the anticipation, excitement and changes that a new union brings.

Boruch’s scans looked good, and we celebrated with the family that Shabbat, each of us giving Boruch a berachah for continued good health and happy tidings ahead.The chemotherapy was finally over

Two weeks later, on a Friday, as I was rushing around to get my three youngest boys to my fiancé in Brooklyn, my cell phone rang. Boruch’s doctor wasted no time. “I am afraid I do not have good news,” he said. “The latest scan shows several new growths and . . .” The rest of the words faded as I gripped my office chair, feeling the room spin as a sudden pounding headache overcame me.

The wedding was scheduled for after Pesach, but that Shabbat, Moshe and I decided to reschedule it so that Boruch could attend.

The Shabbat morning before the wedding, I was resting in bed when through the open door I saw Boruch coming up the stairs with his wide gait to compensate for his hip surgery, holding a tray. Weaving from side to side, Boruch made his way up the stairs and into my room. With a huge smile, Boruch set down a tray with coffee, cake, sugar and cream. When I thanked Boruch and asked him what he was doing, he grinned broadly and said, “Mommy is the kallah (bride), and I want to make Mommy happy.”

As spring melted into the warmth of summer, Boruch became weaker and weaker. He could no longer see or swallow; he had trouble remembering things. On the last occasion that we were all together with Boruch in the hospital, a wonderful organization arranged for the Eighth Day band to come and play.

Barely able to talk, Boruch requested the song “Avraham” twice:

Avraham, are we the children that you dreamed of?

Are we the shining stars you saw at night?

You know it’s true, we still call you Avinu

Our father, our pride, we’ve got your soul inside, take us home

Boruch exemplified love for a fellow Jew. In his lifetime, his friends and family spanned the gamut of the Jewish world. And in his death, the same beautiful tapestry of people came to pay their last respects to Boruch—who looked beyond the length and color of your hair, or the clothing and headcovering that you wear. Boruch saw deep into each person’s soul, and that is what he connected to, what he cared for and what he loved.

In the merit of the soul of Boruch Moshe Avraham ben Shalom Henoch, let us all pledge, in these turbulent times of sickness, divorce, and confused and angry children, to judge each other favorably, to look at the good that we all have, to increase our acts of kindness toward one another, and to focus on what binds us rather than what tears us apart.

Boruch lived a life of challenge, of emotional and physical pain. Yet his simple, unrelenting faith in G‑d shone like a beacon of light. Boruch taught all of us lessons—timeless, important lessons about humanity, bravery, acceptance and faith.

I am certain that Boruch Moshe Avraham is one of the children that our patriarch Abraham dreamed of.

Our father, our pride, we’ve got your soul inside, take us home.