Tragic death breaks hearts. Loving kindness puts hearts back together.
When Shelby's Ed Cushman died in a fire on the way to this year's Super Bowl, his family lost a beloved son and brother, but came to a deep understanding of how loving kindness works.
Ed's brother, Rob, did all he could to save him, living through burns to his own right hand, right leg, and right knee, but "suddenly there was a presence behind me, letting me know I had done all I could. An angel or something took over my body for about 30 seconds. All I could do at that point was get everybody else away in case the van exploded."
Ed was in a motorized wheelchair which became locked in place when the electrical system failed due to the fire. Rob tried three times from three different angles to free his brother, but ultimately could not.
Their father, Bert Cushman, jumped from a car that was following his sons and tried to help with the rescue, but ended up falling, as Rob put it, "I guess he forgot he had a stroke and couldn't walk without a walker." Bert's stroke happened only a few weeks before the tragedy.
Ed was 39 years old. He was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, two years ago, but had been in declining health for four years leading up to that. He lived in Shelby with his parents, Bert and Joy Cushman as he battled the disease.
"He was riding shotgun," Rob said as he recalled the accident. "The van began to shake violently. I thought I had a flat tire. As soon as we pulled over and started looking, there was smoke and within seconds flames."
In the wake of the rescue effort, the loving kindness started pouring forth. "The people in Lavonia, GA, were just unbelievably kind. It was an outpouring of love."
Rob had high praise for EMS personnel, state troopers, hospital staff at St. Mary's Sacred Heart Hospital.
"Some anonymous person even paid for the motel room that night," Rob said.
Rob and Ed's mother, Joy, who was in the car behind with their father, expressed heartfelt gratitude for the love they received in Georgia and the family and friends who have rallied round since. Bert's sisters and brothers-in-law gathered the family the next day and transported them home. They're Craig and Lorin Weaver and Julie and Jeff Joyce. Joy's sister, Emma Richardson has come from Columbus, MS, to help out.
Joy has played the organ at Shelby Presbyterian for more than 40 years and the church has been critical to the family's wellbeing during these hard times.
The church's pastor, Luke Harkey and former pastor, Fred Rose have been on hand and offered critical care.
Joyce Boyette has coordinated meals even before the Super Bowl tragedy.
"Both Bert, with his stroke, and Ed, with an infection, have been in and out of the hospital and in rehab, so the church has been bringing meals for weeks and continues to do so. However many people I have needed to feed, the church has been there," Joy said.
Was Ed's faith a solace to him over the six years of his illness? Rob said, "At first, I think he really struggled with it, but especially in these past two years, it has really helped."
Rob and his wife, Alena, operate the Palmer Children's Home just south of Memphis. They have two children of their own.
"Ed loved his niece and nephew," Joy said.
He graduated from Shelby High School where he played tennis and ran cross country.
His brother said of him that he was "Funny, athletic, could light up any room he was in." Until his illness cost him is ability to work he served in environmental health in both Scotland and Richland counties. He enjoyed rescuing animals.
When he began to suffer the symptoms of ALS, he was determined to beat it, according to his brother, did lots of exercise and took medication intended to slow or reverse the symptoms.
"In the last year, he has not been as passionate about his ability to beat the disease," Rob said.
Joy says the grief has left her not able to be herself. "I have someone tell me that I need to do something and I intend to do it, but then something else comes along and I forget the first thing."
The family expressed deep appreciation for the many acts of loving kindness, food, cards, emails, texts, and Facebook messages from people all over the country.
Rob said his family is feeling some relief that Ed is no longer suffering from ALS and that he is in a better place.
Family friend and fellow member of Shelby Presbyterian, Bill Jobe, said, "They are just such good people. It's tough that they have had to deal with all this for so long. They are just such wonderful people."
The Super Bowl tickets were paid for by the Team Gleason Foundation, which was started by former New Orleans Saints standout Steve Gleason. Gleason is best known for his 2006 blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the first home game the Saints played after Hurricane Katrina. The Saints went on to upend the Falcons 31-21 in that game.
The foundation promotes research into cures for ALS, but also research into other neuromuscular diseases and special experiences for patients who have ALS. Ed Cushman wrote to the foundation back in July and received the tickets after submitting an essay to the foundation.
Gleason left the NFL in 2011 after learning of his own diagnosis of ALS. Memorials for Ed Cushman may be made to The Team Gleason Foundation (teamgleason.org) or to Shelby Presbyterian Church, Post Office Box 1444, Shelby, North Carolina 28151, to the Member Care Committee Fund or the Pastor's Discretionary Fund.
Contact Pat Jobe at email@example.com.