When I gave the devotions, he sat on the front row and repeated me–loudly.  This was a behavior that he could control.  Therefore, I would remind him week by week that if he repeated me, he would have to sit further back next week.   After, the chapel service, he would come up to me.  “How did I do?” he would ask while giving me a hug.  

Standing in your personal space, he demanded that you give him all of your attention.  There are few people who can irritate the tar out of people; yet command the kind of love that you felt for him.  He made you laugh at yourself because you knew that Charlie wasn’t taking you or your aggravation seriously. 

He picked and teased and frustrated the residents and staff who lived in the home where he lived.  He was often moved from home to home because residents and staff could only take his shenanigans for so long.  His girlfriend was Amy and he showered her with compliments and ardent expressions of admiration.  She ignored or rebuffed his attentions.  When he moved his attentions to Gale, she returned his love with the same irritated neglect.  But Charlie was unmoved with her lack of ardor.   

Charlie won my heart because of his faithfulness to our chapel program every Saturday for  the past ten years.  During Bible study time, he knew all the answers to the questions.  But he was gracious enough to allow others to give the answer.  He would never blurt out the answers.  He wanted to grow in his love for Jesus; and he wasn’t ashamed to tell others about his love for the Lord.  In every group home where he lived,  he insisted that there was prayer before the meals. 

Last Saturday’s chapel program was an unusual day.  A member’s grandfather had died on Tuesday.  Phil, the grandfather, had been active within the mentally challenged community for more than 20 years.  We had a short informal memorial time for Phil as part of the Bible study. 

During the chapel program, Charlie had not sat in the front row because his staff had seated him toward the middle.  Someone else had gotten his walker and helped him from the chapel into the other room.  When he left the building to load the van, heading home, I gave him a short good-bye.  But unlike most week, I had no other interaction with him. 

Less than 12 hours later, Charlie died.  The medical professionals say that he had a heart attack.  This 33-year-0ld man slipped quietly into the arms of his Savior.

 For the only time in years, Charlie had not demanded my attention during the chapel program.  Therefore, I didn’t get to tell Charlie good-bye or get one last sloppy hug.  I don’t feel guilt.  I do feel grief and sorrow. 

Life is fragile.  Within the mentally challenged community, life is tenuous.  Young men and women with no known medical conditions can have serious and life-threatening ailments waiting to snap them away from life.  Today, the mentally challenged community is grieving and so am I.

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