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Eulogy given by Phillip Absher - August 19, 2000


This is quite an humbling experience to stand before you today. I ask that your prayers will be with me so that I may be able to give this eulogy. I hope that what I have to say is appropriate, and that you will forgive me if what I have to say seems very personal.

We come here today to honor and celebrate the life of Charlie Ben Card, the young man we all knew, who lived his life in a small crooked body. I am willing to venture a guess that most of us here gathered today, certainly all of us who knew him, loved Charlie Ben. Why was that? He didn't talk. In all the time I spent with him, I heard him say five words. I heard him say "I love you" to his mother when he was six or seven. I heard him say "Erin" once, and I heard him say "hello" one time. Charlie Ben's body movements were limited at best, so he couldn't do the normal things for us that might instill our love for him. Yet we loved him anyway.

I believe one reason we loved him was because we had to do so much for him. There is no greater love that I have ever observed in this world than the love a parent has for an infant. An infant is so vulnerable and relies totally upon its parents for life and support. As parents give and give to their child, as only they can, their love for the child grows and grows.

With most children, that type of devotion and sacrifice lasts for only a short portion of their lives, for the infant quickly grows and matures, requiring less time and effort from Mom or Dad. With Charlie Ben, however, his need to be cared for like this lasted for seventeen years, his entire life. Scott, Kristine, and then later Erin, gave Charlie Ben the time, care, and devotion that he needed for years, and as they did so, their love for him grew not just proportionally, but exponentially. Those of us around them, whether we were a parent, spouse, son, daughter, or friend, had two choices: We could either be jealous of Charlie Ben and of the time and attention he received from Scott, Kristine and Erin, or we could give of ourselves as well. With Charlie Ben the choice was easy, we gave with joy and gladness.

We gave after our own manner. Some gave by always greeting Charlie with enthusiasm and affection. Others gave by either pushing his chair, opening doors, or just generally being in the way, (like me often), while others were giving him care. We, among thousands of other things, read to him, played or performed music for him, watched videos with him, fed him, changed him, loaded him up into the van, or just laughed with him. Surprisingly, we discovered that we were better people for having done so.

We would like to believe that all of this was done out of love and charity that we all posses for our fellow human beings. But to say it was just our own goodness that caused all of these acts of kindness and service would not be telling the entire story. The telling of our role in the care of Charlie Ben is only telling half of the story. The other half of the story is Charlie Ben.

For Charlie Ben had a way about him. He had the knack of drawing the best out of people. Somehow, he drew people to him, and not just members of his family, school workers, tenders for his little sister Zina, and friends at school or church with whom he had regular contact , but strangers as well. I have watched flight attendants, waiters and waitresses, strangers at the mall or airport go out of their way to help Charlie Ben or say something nice to him.

Charlie had a great sense of humor and a laugh that was infectious. He would often get tickled at something that only he knew of, and would start to laugh. We'd listen for a time and say something like "Charlie, what is so funny?" But before the sentence could get out of our mouths, we'd be chuckling. Before long, we'd be laughing with him, as if we were in on the joke too.

Back in California, people would often ask me why Erin was gone so much. So I would go through this long explanation of Charlie Ben, who he was, the kind of handicap he had, the relationship we had with him and the family, and so on. Often they would say, well, that must be very sad. And I'd reply, "No, you're never sad when you are around Charlie Ben. He has a way of making everyone happy around him." They would often respond to that with a long curious look, but I never gave it much thought because I knew that they didn't know Charlie Ben.

Charlie liked adventures of all kinds. He enjoyed them vicariously through books and movies, but also by participating in things himself. He liked to go four-wheeling in his chair, as I called it, across rough bumpy ground. He liked road trips with the family to see new and exciting places. He endured air travel so he could be a part of extended family gatherings, like his great grandmother's 100th birthday party.

Charlie never showed fear. He trusted those who took care of him. He faced medical treatments during his life that were often painful with the resolve that it had to be, and with little complaint.

Because of his needs, Erin spent a lot of time over the years taking care of Charlie Ben. Friends of mine from school and church would often ask "How do you and Erin endure being apart so much of the time." One thing that helped was the generosity of Scott, Kristine, and the rest of the family towards Erin and me. I have often said that they are generous to a fault. They have included Erin and me in family gatherings, trips to the beach, Utah, New York, Hawaii and France. Even more important than that, they were generous with us with Charlie Ben. They allowed him to be our son without regret or jealousy. We all loved Charlie Ben so much, that we were each willing to give up something so that he might have a good life.

Charlie Ben's gift to us was that he taught us how to love, not only him, but each other as well. Whenever Erin came to take care of Charlie Ben, Kristine and Scott yielded Charlie Ben's care so that she became like his mother. Geoffrey and Emily did their part as well. If Mom and Dad trusted Erin, so did they. When the care of Charlie Ben switched administrations, as it often did, they went right along with it. When Erin was there, they deferred the care of Charlie Ben to her and cheerfully and obediently responded to any requests she might have of them. When Zina came along, she went along with the program as if it was the normal and natural way for a family to live.

When Kristine was expecting Zina, it became necessary for Erin to take care of Charlie all the time. For five months or so, Charlie and Erin were not separated. For a stretch of over two months, Erin and I were apart. When spring vacation rolled around, I finally got a long enough break from school to be able to come to Greensboro. Kristine's parents were in town as well, so the house was full of people and Erin and I were to sleep on the couch together in Charlie's room. At first Charlie was excited to see me, but when he realized that I would be sleeping with "his" Erin, he was not pleased. He voiced his displeasure half the night. Erin and I fled to another room so we could get some sleep. After that night, though, Charlie accepted the arrangement. Over the years, I always thought that I was the one sharing Erin with Charlie Ben. Slowly I have come to realize that Charlie Ben felt that he was sharing Erin with me. A mutual bond of love developed between the two of us as a result.

When Zina was still an infant, Charlie Ben came to stay with Erin and I in California. We decided to take him to school to meet my class of six graders. Before he came, I explained to my class who he was, but I had some trepidation as to the reaction they would have to someone with a severe handicap. Charlie won their hearts and my fears proved to be unfounded. They all greeted him warmly, and as he stayed in the classroom for a couple of hours, most of my students took the opportunity to approach him personally during the course of the day's activities. Since then, we have had similar experiences with Charlie in some of my first grade classes.

What is even more amazing was the experience Erin and I had last fall. I coach varsity football. Some of the players on the team last year were members of that sixth grade class I just told you about. At least two different young men asked Erin or myself if she still took care of "that boy in the wheelchair". We were both dumbfounded. Who would have thought that these two young men would care about, let alone remember Charlie Ben from a two-hour visit to a classroom six years before!

But that was Charlie Ben. He had that kind of effect on most of the people he met. I know he had that kind of effect on me. Charlie always sported a short haircut after he was school age, and because of that, I always liked to rub the top of his head to greet him. The first time I did it, I was informed by Erin that he didn't like having his head touched. So I reached over and rubbed his head again and he didn't seem to mind too much. So that became our thing. He always knew it was me greeting him because I was rubbing his head. Whenever Erin went to visit Charlie Ben and I was left behind, I'd always say, "Rub Charlie's head for me." He always responded with the biggest grin, and when Erin relayed that to me, it brightened my day.

One of Charlie's visits to our home happened to come during the fall. I would tend Charlie on Saturdays to give Erin a break. I remember the first Saturday we spent together. In the morning we watched some cartoons together, which at that time was the usual Charlie programming. As noon approached though, I made the bold decision to introduce Charlie to a new kind of TV show. It's called football. I have to admit that I felt a little selfish about that decision, but I persevered and we watched a couple of games. Much to my delight and surprise, Charlie Ben loved it. I tried to think of why he might like it. Was it the noise of the fans? The music from the band? The atmosphere of a game being played? I couldn't figure it out.

When Erin returned, she exclaimed, "You're making Charlie watch football?!" I responded, "Yeah, but he loves it." She came in to watch with us for a few minutes to see for herself. She saw that I was right, Charlie was thoroughly enjoying himself. She also, however, discovered quickly Charlie's reasoning for liking the football game. It was my talking and hollering at the TV set. I guess he found it quite amusing. It didn't matter to me, after years of watching games by myself, I had found a football buddy. Eventually, Charlie grew to love football for the game itself, and other sports as well, and not just for my running commentaries.

Charlie Ben was a good friend to everyone who allowed him to be. Even though he was limited to the number of things he could do, in most cases he gave far more than he received. He gave through the sweetness and goodness of his spirit. Although his body was racked and twisted physically, his spirit was great and noble. He touched us all in a gentle yet profound way. In his quiet way, he lightened the hearts of all who were burdened. In the case of Brother Long, who wanted to be baptized but feared the process because of his age, Charlie replaced that fear with courage with his example of going through the process as well. He helped our selfish tendencies give way to unselfishness. He helped us all to think more of others than ourselves. Given the chance, each of you who knew him could probably share a story that would illustrate the kind of person he was.

The great thing about Charlie Ben is the fact that he was aware of himself and the role he played in life. He didn't touch our lives ignorantly, but thoughtfully in his own small way. He took part in our lives as much as he could, whether it was playing a role in a family home evening production, playing a prank on a caregiver, demanding a better radio station on a road trip, or just smiling when we awkwardly tried to make his life a little better by spending time with him.

Since Charlie's passing away, life has been tough for us who knew him best. I think I can confidently say that all of us are happy for Charlie and the new life he has on the other side, but we grieve nonetheless. We grieve that he has gone and has left us all a little lonely for his company. We miss the greatness and gentleness of his spirit. There is a void now, and we grieve at the expanse of time that stands between us and the time of our reunion with him, but we know he is happy and far better off than he was just a few days ago.

The morning after his death, I took a long walk by myself on the beach. It was early so I was alone with my thoughts. As I trudged along, I thought of the events of his passing and of my own futile efforts in trying to revive him. I thought of all the times I didn't spend time with him when there was opportunity, and I thought that if I'd had just one ounce of faith I could have healed him from his physical infirmities while he still lived. I labored with these burdens for over a mile up the beach. When I at last I turned to go back to the condo, I suddenly felt a lifting of the grief that I felt. My pace quickened and I suddenly felt light hearted, the kind of feeling I got whenever Charlie rewarded me with a big grin. I felt that he was with me.

In my mind's eye I could picture him now. No longer trapped in an imperfect body, but tall and erect like a young sapling, flowing with energy and strength. I could tell he was happy, not only in the moment, but for who and where he was. He walked with the confidence of one who walks with God.

Others have had similar experiences. I believe Charlie wants us to know that he is all right and to not worry about him. We still grieve, though. The tears still flow when I think of him in certain ways, but I truly know that he is happy, flitting around from place to place in a way that he could only dream of before.

Simply stated, Charlie has traded in his wheels for wings, and we are the ones limited now. And just as we were there to try to help him through his struggles, he is now there for us, rooting and cheering us on as we are faced with trials and challenges. He will be there for us in the future as well, opening doors and removing stumbling blocks from our path as we travel the course of our lives. He waits for our return, and when we go there, it is he who will be our guide, the one who will greet us warmly with enthusiastic affection, the one who will lead us by the hand to introduce us to the Master.


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