Rest In Peace Ed Cunninghham

This blog was supposed to be about my upcoming year of riding. I had gone through the calendar and sketched out a few of the rides I wanted to do this year, money and time permitting. Then something awful happened. My friend Ed died a few days ago and I found out yesterday. I actually got a text message from a close friend asking me if I could talk. I was worried because this friend doesn’t talk on the phone. I had no idea what she was calling about. I answered the phone to her crying and knew right away that something was drastically wrong. All she could say at first was “Ed is dead, I think Ed is dead”. She had gotten a text from another friend of ours giving her the news. I spent the rest of the day hoping that there was a mistake. No one knew anything specific and there was no news on line. People had tried to contact him, but not hearing back was ordinary. Ed almost never responded; he just caught up with you the next time he ran into you. A friend of a friend of a friend was the messenger so I really hoped that there was some kind of mistake.

I met Ed when a friend of mine and I joined a new bowling league. Angie and I had bowled in a different league before and wanted to bowl again but we were short a full team. We signed up for the league hoping to get good teammates that would help Thursday nights be fun. I talked to one of the league officers who pointed to a table occupied by one skinny man with five beers in front of him. He had a long gray biker beard and looked annoyed. I went over and introduced myself expecting the worst. I also thought his other teammate might be there judging by the amount of beer in front of him. I was wrong on both counts. Ed turned out to be one of the nicest guys I know, and he drank each of those beers by the end of the third game every week.

Ed wasn’t outgoing, but he was friendly to new people. He wouldn’t really warm up to anyone until they were around long enough. Even then, you almost didn’t know if he liked you right away. He had ways to test you, dirty jokes or comments. If you laughed, you were in. Ed never really opened up to people all that much. He didn’t talk to people on the phone, and he would barely respond to text messages. He would tell you certain things about his life so you would never really notice that he never told you everything. He would talk about his ex-wives and wanting to get a massage on his day off. He would talk to me about his jobs as we were in the same industry, just different ends of it. He was a truck driver and a teacher at a driver training school. I was a truck driver that moved into the safety, training, and environmental fields but still dealt with logistics. We understood each other and the struggles of being a driver and a trainer for a living.

He loved heavy metal music but hated older rock. He was in his fifties and resented people thinking he should like the Doobie Brothers because he was old. He loved bowling, but I think it was the people more than the sport that he enjoyed. Ed did like to win, but our team never seemed to do a lot of that. For two years we were lucky to finish near the middle of the league standings. We were definitely in it for the fun. This year things seemed to change. We managed to finish the first half in second place, something we never thought would happen. The last two weeks Ed came to bowling we managed to win most of the games as well. I think he liked that more than he let on.

There was a secret Ed as well. There was a side of him that he didn’t share easily and with many people. He cared about people in general. He might have been gruff with his students, but he cared about them. He took time to make sure they understood what they were doing. He also took time for them outside of class. Former students would come up to him when he was at the bowling alley and he took time to ask them about their lives and families. Ed cared just as deeply about people in need. He was the first person to pull his wallet out if someone was collecting for a charity. He bought corned beef dinners and cookies. He sponsored me in a walkathon. He would hear people asking for donations for the needy and wordlessly hand over cash. Ed never did any of this when people would really notice. He did it quietly.

Ed loved his god daughter and he was proud of her. He didn’t talk much about her, but when he did you could hear it in his voice. He cared about anyone that he decided was family. I don’t think he really cared how you fit in his life, if he wanted you in it you were family to him. He met my son and treated Brennen like he was a favorite nephew. He was instantly warm to my wife when she met him or would stop by. We went to a New Year’s Eve party at the bowling alley and he was a large part of why my three year old son loved the party.

There was one other secret the Ed kept from us. We are just now learning the details so I won’t give too many because I want to honor his desire to keep this quiet. Ed had bone marrow cancer. He never told any of us about it. He dealt with it and worked two jobs while suffering from it. Ed was constantly hurting himself and had just broken his arm before he died and I thought that is why he missed bowling the week before. It’s also why I thought that there might be some mistake when Angie heard that he died. Maybe he was just hurt and the story grew out of proportion as it went from strangers to teammates to me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t know about his cancer, Ed only told you what he wanted you to know, and that was his right. I don’t mind that he didn’t tell us, I just wish we knew to be able to help him. I also think that is why he didn’t want us to know. I think he wanted to be Ed the bowling partner and friend, no Ed the cancer patient. I respect the desire to want to be defined by who you are not some medical prognosis. I am proud of my friend for making that choice and respect it even now when it is difficult to accept.

I drove to the bowling alley hoping that I would see his beat up blue pick-up truck in the parking lot. It wasn’t there. Worse, Donna, one of the league officers was looking for me when I walked in to talk to me. She wanted to make sure I knew, or to give me the news if I didn’t. The rest of the league officers showed up and Laurie was able to get ahold of his family and find out the details. All day I had feared that he was in an accident or had a heart attack. I never thought it would be cancer.

The rest of the night was a blur. Angie and I were alone at the table; Fran wasn’t able to be there. It just seemed like we were all alone as people went on bowling and laughing and enjoying themselves. I kept thinking that it was wrong, that everyone should be sad, but most people there didn’t even know at first. There was a collection and the league gave it’s half of the 50-50 raffle to his family as well as taking up a donation to help with his services. Other teams came by then to say sorry or share a memory. People cried and we put up a makeshift memorial. It didn’t seem right that there were no Bud Light bottles on our table. We bought his beer and left it in front of his empty chair. It will be there again next week, and the chair will stay empty for the season. We always sit in the same chairs, and his will be there for him.

Ed's Memorial

Ed’s Memorial

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2 Responses to Rest In Peace Ed Cunninghham

  1. tom says:

    Well done Joe. I think you did Ed justice…I kinda pictured the guy from zz top that had a guest role in the show Bones.

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