Jerry Charles “Charlie” Bergner

Amarillo, Potter County, Texas, USA
Death 26 Dec 1983 (aged 34)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Cremated, Other, Specifically: I do not know if he was buried.
Memorial ID 42940151 · View Source
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The Windmill
This memorial was written by Nancy A. Carter in 1985.

When I was a young child growing up in Michigan, farms had windmills in the area where I lived. Fascinated, I watched the windmill blades move around. If the wind was stronger, the blades moved faster. Without the wind, the blades did not move.

At home, I built windmills with tinker toys. In those days, the tinker toy sets included little pieces of green cardboard used to make windmill blades. I liked to build windmills and spin the blades around.

I grew up and moved to the city. After that, I did not have much opportunity to see or think about windmills. And certainly I was long past the age of building windmills from tinker toys.

Something happened in 1983 that brought the image of the windmill back to my consciousness. Because of my friend Charles Bergner, I think that image will stay with me for the rest of my life. Charles was a member of my church who was diagnosed with AIDS in May, 1983.

When we found out Charles had AIDS, not much was known about this disease. I had to make a number of decisions about my relationship with Charles. I wondered, could I catch AIDS from him? Should I continue to let him come to my apartment every week and rent time on my word processor as he had been doing? How would I relate to him?

Today we know that AIDS cannot be transmitted through every day casual contact such as shaking hands, hugging, working together, or eating together. But I did not know for sure in 1983. No one did. I was scared. I was scared because I did not understand about AIDS. I also was scared for another reason. A 33-year-old man was dying. I was just one year old than him. People our age are too young to die. So I had to deal with more than my fear of AIDS--I had to deal with my fear of death, including a death that might happen before I reached old age. AIDS confronts us with our mortality.

I reflected on what I would say to Charles. Part of my decision was fatalistic. I decided that if AIDS were casually transmitted, I already had it, so I let Charles continue to come to my home and use my word processor. The other part of my decision was based on my understanding of the church community. Like me, Charles was an active member of Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City. It was inconsistent with my theology of the church and of ministry to separate myself from him in his time of crisis.

The church is to be a caring, healing community. I invited Charles to come over for lunch, something I had never done before. (Afterward I did NOT throw away the plate and flatware that he used.)

Then I went one step further. I knew that Charles was interested in healing and prayer and meditation. I asked if he would like me to do healing work with him. He said, "Yes." The first time I visited Charles, I suggested that he try to think of a healing image to focus upon, one he could use to counteract his cancer. He had been diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS).... For some people, visualization of healing imagery in conjunction with medical treatment has helped cancer to go into remission. That's why I asked Charles to think of an image. Charles, however, could not think of one.

I explained therapeutic touch, a type of laying on of hands that I would use with him. I said that I would "center" and work with my hands a little bit above his body. I told him that many people often experienced a warm, tingling sensation, especially in the area where my hands were.

Charles did not experience feelings of warmth when I worked with him. Instead, vivid, colorful imagery came to him in the form of a windmill. Windmills were common to his native state of Texas. He said that the windmill which appeared to him was standing on parched land, but the wind was blowing and the windmill was drawing up water from beneath the earth and was nourishing the dry land. I told him that the windmill was his healing image....

After the day Charles visualized the windmill, I continued to do healing work with him. The next time I went to his apartment, I discovered that he and his partner David had gone to the store and bought tinker toys to build a windmill that they set up in their living room. The image of the windmill became very important to us. Most every time I worked with Charles, the windmill appeared to him.

Once when I visited Charles, his feet were bruised and colored blue from hospital needle injections. He was in pain and could barely walk to the bathroom because his feet hurt so much. That day when I did therapeutic touch on his feet, he exclaimed, "I can feel heat! Now I know what you were talking about." A few days later, I received a letter from David, thanking me for the visit. He wrote that, after I had worked with Charles, the pain had gone away enough that he had been able to walk outside to catch a cab. That was a small healing, but it was a healing.

I was not the only one giving support to Charles. Many in our congregation did also. That year, Washington Square Church also decided to open its doors to all persons living with AIDS. We provided pastoral services, free space for memorial services, and free space for support groups sponsored by Gay Men's Health Crisis to meet. We were one of the first churches to go into HIV/AIDS ministry.

One day in October, 1983, Charles began to cough. His sister rushed him to the hospital... He had contracted the then dreaded pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) which strikes so many people with AIDS.... Today medication can stave off PCP. In 1983, however, they expected Charles to die.

Though Charles lived through this crisis in October, I said good bye to him that night shortly after receiving a call about his hospitalization. As I thought of him, I remembered the windmill. As I imagined the windmill, I heard the strong rushing of wind.

Once a person asked me, when they heard I had done laying on of hands on someone with AIDS, if the man was still alive. I said, "No, but he was healed." The focus of my work with Charles was never on preventing his death but on his healing. The windmill was a symbol of his healing. The wind which blew was the Holy Spirit.

Charles suffered with AIDS, but he did not suffer the way that some do. He had love and he had courage which sustained him. God was with him. Charles reached out to friends and friends reached out to him.

On Christmas Day 1983, a Sunday, the congregation called Charles to sing Christmas carols to him. We were looking forward to his release the next day.

AIDS is an unpredictable disease. Just when we think someone is about to die, she or he rallies and lives for many more months. Just when we think that person is doing really well, death strikes. That is what happened to Charles. He died on the next day, December 26, 1983.

Charles remained lucid until the end. And when he died, his sister and his partner David were at his side.

The church held a memorial service for him. At the front of the room, David hung a large bamboo windmill for all to see. Though Charles, had died, his image of healing lived on.

Can you see the windmill?

Do you hear the wind blowing, even now?

See Also:
The Least of These Are My Family, Sermon preached at the memorial service for Debbi Hood Johnson
Welcoming Angels Through Computerized Ministries, from New World Outlook magazine-- the printed article won UMAC awards of merit for writing and art
The author Nancy A. Carter is an ordained elder in the New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and a founder of the HIV/AIDS Task Force of NY conference. Since 1985, she has written numerous articles and worship resources related to the HIV/AIDS crisis. You can write to her at

You may reproduce this story freely giving credit to the author, as long as you are not making a profit from it. Using it for fundraising for HIV/AIDS ministries and education is encouraged. The photograph copyright © 1996 Barb Chandler is reproduced with her permission.

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Note from Jo Jan Nunley:
I went to junior high and high school with Charles Bergner in the small Texas town of Stinnett. I enjoyed his wit, his honesty, his caring attitude, and most of all his talent.

He was so talented. I so enjoyed hearing him recite poems. They still echo in my head even now. I remember when his date suddenly eloped before our Sweetheart Banquet in senior year that my date, Greg Stout, and I asked him to go with us. We had the best time.

I remember our senior trip. Charles and I spent a lot of time together with others from our class. Sometimes when you are young, you believe that relationships will go on forever and things won't change. At my age, now I know they do. I didn't see Charles Bergner anymore and when our class heard of his death, there were tears all around.

For you see, Charlie, we loved you more than we could imagine for we were young and thought that lives go on forever.

Your light shone so bright that it is here still.

Jerry Charles Bergner
Date of Birth: 26 Jul 1949
Gender: Male
Birth County: Potter
Father's Name: John Carl Bergner
Mother's Name: Luetta Lucile Thomason
Roll Number: 1949_0001

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: maggiegma
  • Added: 10 Oct 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 42940151
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Jerry Charles “Charlie” Bergner (26 Jul 1949–26 Dec 1983), Find a Grave Memorial no. 42940151, ; Maintained by maggiegma (contributor 47022897) Cremated, Other, who reports a I do not know if he was buried..