Ed was born with Down’s syndrome. He had multiple health problems. But like most people within our community, Ed’s defective heart and weak lungs didn’t keep the man inside from being strong like a lion. The doctors told his mother and father time and again that he was going to die. Like many of your parents, their great love for their son would not allow any silly doctor-talk to stop them from fighting for his life.

Eddie did live but he did more than live. He began to show his community of family and friends the strength of a warrior. For many years, every day seemed to be a battle but each night as his parents tucked him into his bed there was a victory sigh of another day won.

Ed could not run or do a lot of the activities of early boyhood. But he could swim. His parents built a pool for their backyard. Ed became a great swimmer and competed in Special Olympics, winning lots of medals.

One year, a Special Olympics coach convinced Eddie to become a part of the Bocce team. He had never heard of this French ball game played on a lawn. The team that was gathered became good. So good, they were undefeated in the state of New Jersey, winning state gold metals.

Ed was scrappy, mischievous, and bold and people were drawn to his fun-loving ways. Of course, he wasn’t perfect. When his younger brother, David was born, two-year-old Ed wasn‘t that happy about having competition for his parent‘s time and love. After a time, he wanted to throw his baby brother out the window. David is thankful that the rest of the family rescued him.

Around the age of ten, Eddie decided to take a trip to the grocery store that was located across a steep ravine at the back of the Wihlborg’s house. Perhaps he planned a surprise for the family with dessert for dinner by purchasing Oreo’s and 7-Up. The only problem: He neglected to tell anyone where he was going.

After a search of the house and yard, they called the police. His older sister, Danielle, and David scoured the neighborhood; but Ed had vanished. Because of the steep ditch that separated the house from the store, it was thought that Ed could never make the trip to the A&P but someone finally searched the grocery store. Eddie had the Oreo’s and 7-Up in his shopping cart, casually touring the food aisles.

His first girlfriend was Dawn. Together they attended their first prom. Eddie loved a party, anybody’s party. He took over the family celebrations, neighborhood parties and every other festive occasion where he could coax the spotlight into his arena.

Whether at camp, confined to a wheelchair, or chained to an oxygen tank, Ed continued to enjoy life. He did have his favorite things. He loved night shirts, singing, his guitar (which he never actually learned to play), his best friend, John, his girl friend, Irene, and, of course, Halloween. “He planned his costume a year ahead,” his father remembered, with a grin. “He loved to dress up.”

About seven years ago, after two or three months in the hospital, Eddie announced to his parents that he wanted to move into a group home. The family found Quality Care Home in Port St Lucie and run by Mike and Renee DeRienzo. They are committed Christians, and this group home was established as a ministry. Here Eddie found HIS home.

“That little fellow wormed his way into all of our hearts,” Mike told me. “He was the one person who seemed to unify our home.”

Ed was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant. But his parents wanted him to have a church setting that would specialize in his unique learning needs. His mother found a special needs Bible study class when he was a young man. Every week, Ed attended the class and learned about the Lord Jesus.

When the family decided a move to Florida, they wanted to find a ministry where Eddie could continue to be fed in his faith. Fortunate for us, they found Special Gathering. Ed has been active since they found us. He attended our first meetings in Vero and was the first member of our choir.

What Eddie was missing in vocal excellence, he made up with his wonderful smile and eager, cooperative spirit. I knew that whenever we visited a local church, Ed would represent the Lord Jesus, himself and Special Gathering well. He was an ambassador for the Lord within the mentally challenged community, reaching into hearts by sharing his love for his Savior.

Before Ed was put into a coma by the doctors to help him remain calm, he spoke to his mom and dad, “I’m okay,” he said. Ed is now more than okay. He is with the Lord and we can celebrate his life.