Back then he was called “mentally retarded.” I guess someone along the line thought that was an apt moniker for people with this affliction. Down’s Syndrome might have been a kinder term, although I am not sure if that was exactly the malady my cousin had. I guess you could have called him many things. But to us, the family, he was just Victor. And he was an awesome guy.
Victor was older than me, by about 10 years. In his diminished mental capacity, we were about on the same level for the first few years. But by the time I was 15 or so, and Victor was in his mid 20s, my mental acumen outpaced his, but our friendship lived on.
When I was younger, we could play with the same toys and be on the same level. Victor had the same child-like wonder and outlook on life just as I had. As he got older, though, Victor got more sophisticated. He was allowed to smoke a few cigarettes. He began to become a man while I was still a kid. But we always were buddies.
Oh, how I used to relish hearing the words that Victor and his family was coming for a visit. Those days were just divine. He was goofy, funny, hilarious, happy-go-lucky and so much more. He may have had diminished mental capacity, but he had a zest for life and a personality to make up for it all.
I used to worry about Victor. As I got older, I began to understand more about him and the world he lived in. Once, after he got to be a man and a bit harder to handle, his mother made the gut-wrenching decision to put Victor in a home. That tore me up, and it devastated Victor. But I went to visit him as often as I could, which was often. Luckily for Victor, he did not stay at the home long. His mother went to visit him one day. Victor had dressed himself and put his shoes on the wrong foot. My aunt took him home that day. She knew her Victor was not being cared for properly. I wholeheartedly concurred.
Victor got very sick one day and died the next. Everyone knew his life expectancy was going to be a little shorter than normal. But you can never prepare for something like that. Victor died a few days before his 35th birthday. He really did not suffer. He just got sick and quickly passed on.
Of course, I was devastated. I cried all day when I heard he was sick, and I cried the next day when he died. I cried the entire week after his funeral. As a matter of fact, I still cry today 27 years later. I was much honored when I was asked to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It’s not many times you get to carry out a guy who was so dynamic and full of life.
Victor’s life had touched many people. He used to spend time with his uncle, who worked at the cathedral. So Victor met many people in his life. And many people knew Victor. His funeral filled up the cathedral. People even had to sit outside. The funeral procession was 8-miles long, the local paper said. The bishop said the mass and cried the whole time, both in church and at the graveyard! People brought food to my aunt’s house after the service. There was enough food to feed an army. People who did not even know the man brought food and other stuff saying they just wanted to do a little for the family.
My aunt asked me to say a few words at the funeral. The bishop delivered the eulogy and then I got up to speak. I had it all written down on a piece of paper, but those words never came out of my mouth. I sat at the podium for a minute or so, saying nothing. I balled up my piece of paper and threw it on the floor. I walked over to Victor’s casket. I stood next to it and began to pat it. My buddy, my ol’ Victor was gone. The only thing I could think to say was, “We are not gathered here today to mourn a life that has passed. We are gathered here today to celebrate that life by a very fine man, who despite having some challenge’s, lived each and every day to its fullest. God has called him home. He must have needed one more angel.” I sat down and cried even harder than I had been doing before.
I still miss Victor so much. Many people use the term for Victor’s condition in such bad ways. I am fully convinced that they are just not aware of what a mentally challenged person can do in their lives. If you knew Victor, or someone like him, you would understand each and every day in life is a gift to be used and enjoyed. I know that firsthand. I knew Victor.