Yesterday we got the news that Uncle Charlie was close to breathing his last. Uncle Charlie has since died at 11:00 AM today on Friday. Poor Uncle Charlie was dying of COVID-19 but also had a problem his entire life: he was born mentally handicapped. Last night I and Mom went up to visit him on what was my last time to see him alive. I spoke to him alone, and these words are words I prefer to keep between Charlie and me. Mom was with him today, and Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jerry came up to discuss some of the details about the funeral which will be next week. Aunt Clara and my sister Gayle will also be here for the funeral. Tomorrow and next week I am skipping going to my synagogue on Saturday because of the preparations for the funeral.
Aunt Margaret wrote a brief description of how she will remember Charlie. I will be writing my own, too, but I thought I would write some of it here, and then copy it somewhere else later. I remember that Uncle Charlie loved dogs. Whether my rat terrier Buddy, my dog Rosebud, or my sister’s dog Zach, Charlie always enjoyed a nearby friendly dog. Uncle Charlie loved chili and cherry pie; I have made both from scratch for him, though the chili only once. (Usually if he ate chili it was from Wendy’s.) Uncle Charlie died with my Grandma and Grandpa on his mind. Perhaps I spoke to him about them last night. I hope now Charlie is with the people he loved most–Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Carl and Aunt Florence. He loved us, too, of course, but throughout the years he keenly felt the loss of his parents and those other relatives who passed before him. I sincerely hope he is with them now. More, if God could grant it–and I suppose God could–I wish Charlie would be given the normal brain he was denied in this life.
I have never believed that suffering in this world–Charlie’s kind, at least–was punishment. Strangely, I read Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happened to Good People for a class in college, but I never truly believed either that suffering happened as punishment or as a test. I do believe very strongly in the afterlife, and yet for me the Problem of Evil has always been a great mystery. The closest I come to understanding it is that people who suffer exist as a test for others. How I treat a man like Charlie determined my standing with God. Now Uncle Charlie is with God, and I know what was broken is now made whole.
Nonetheless, it is a crushing blow that he died in the aftereffects of COVID-19, because with Uncle Charlie he did not have the ability to understand his disease. Perhaps in Heaven God will explain to Uncle Charlie what it was he suffered in this world, and then God will embrace Charlie as one who has lived a partial life compared to most of us.
Perhaps, having Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, I have an understanding of Uncle Charlie that most people don’t. Why? Because I have heard it said of me, “How can something be that upsetting which exists only in your head?” I have often been upset by things which are not real to others… yet in my disease I understand this about Uncle Charlie: his suffering was real, and if people were cruel he felt it. It was not that he was too stupid to feel. Mom has commented on older children being unkind to Uncle Charlie when he was little, and even though when I was little I was not always nice to him–much to my regret–I was picked on myself and as an adult understood that Charlie’s capacity for pain or love were as great as any other person’s. It is true he could never have a job, marry, or have children–but he could be lonely, afraid, or happy. Though it is odd for a Jew to quote the New Testament, I will quote it about Uncle Charlie as a kind of child who never aged compared to the children who usually grow to adulthood:
“Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”