With each tear, there was laughter. With each embrace, there were smiles. Friends and family gathered at the Mahon Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, to celebrate the life of Chris Wren.
In June, Chris passed away at the age of 39. Chris was a participant at the Mahon Center. He made many friends at the center, in the community and with the staff. “Chris changed our lives,” Jessica Cain, Manager at the Mahon Center, said. “We have enjoyed the time we have had with him.”
For 19½ years, the Mahon Center was a big part of Chris’ life, and it was also a big part of Alice Abotobik’s life. “The center helped Chris grow up,” Alice, Chris’ mom, said. “They were a major part of the man he became. For me, they were my support. I knew they loved my son and I knew he was safe and protected.”
As a thank you, Alice purchased a bench in Chris’ memory for the center. It includes the dates he attended the center: January 1997 – June 2016. Jessica, along with the help of the Dozier family (Dan, Julie, Katie and Joe), patched and painted the front wall, as well as hung vinyl lettering. The bench sits under a quote, which reads, “One smile can start a friendship. One word can end a fight. One look can save a relationship. One person can change your life.” The bench is decorated with two pillows – one with a shark for Chris’ favorite movie, “Jaws,” and the other is an M&M, which was his favorite candy.
Every Friday for the past 15 years, Sue McKinney, Direct Support Professional, and Chris would go grocery shopping for Ed and Joan. While in the check-out lane, Chris always picked a pack of M&M’s as his dessert.
Because of Sue and Chris’ time together, a friendship was formed. Sue, as well as many others, lost a dear friend. “We are celebrating the life of a wonderful man that made an impact on so many lives,” Sue said.
At the celebration, many shared stories of Chris:
— “Chris always protected my son and would want to come by the house to make sure he was okay,” Janet Hertz, whose son attends the Mahon Center, said.
— “He didn’t like cats, but he got along with Ed and Joan’s cat and that cat loved him,” Paul Miller, Ed and Joan’s caregiver, said. (Ed recently passed away. Alice attended the funeral. “I know Chris would have wanted me there,” Alice said.)
— “He would always stick his tongue out at me when we watched wrestling together,” Kelly Imboden, Direct Support Professional, said. “Everything or everyone I liked, he didn’t. We were like brother and sister. Alice always said I was the sister he didn’t have, which I don’t have a brother, so it worked for both of us.”
— “His last planning meeting where he found his voice,” Jessica said. “We talked about things to work on and he would hold up his finger and say, ‘no, hold on. I want a part-time job … from home.’ Everything you hope for in a plan meeting is for them to advocate for themselves, which is exactly what he did.”
— “Chris loved being here, even though he always said, ‘I’m not doing nothing,’” Alice said. “He really did love it here. He would come home and say everyone’s mad at me for not doing anything. I would explain to him they wanted him to work. And, then he would start naming off other participants and the behaviors they had for the day and he was like, ‘and I’m not doing nothing.’”
Storytelling was a big part of the celebration. Most everyone in attendance had one or two to share. “I knew Chris outside of the center, so being here today really means a lot,” Paul said. “When Chris passed away, I directed the funeral, which was an honor to do. Today is a continuation of that remembrance of him.”
There were embraces and there were smiles … “Seeing the wall with the quote and bench made me cry today, but it’s going to make me smile,” Sue said.
There were tears and there was laughter … “Today validated Chris’ worth and showed just how much everyone loved him,” Alice said.
In April, Chris was featured in the Community Connection, Community Living’s eNewsletter. Read the full story here.