Carol Gulley was kind enough to text me last night at 10:20 p.m. that her beloved farmer had died, peacefully. It was time. Ed had suffered enough, and so had Carol and her children.
I checked last night to find out how many people die each day in the world, and of course there is a group called the Ecology Global Network that keeps track.
Ed had a lot of company. More than 55 million people die each year on the earth, 6,316 people die each hour, and 151,600 people died yesterday.
Ed's death was noticed, most of the others will not be.
I keep asking myself: Why is that?
A lot of this has to do with Ed, of course. He was unusual, there are not a lot of people like him.
He was a born story-teller, and an artist, and also, to be frank, something of a charismatic windbag.
Like a TV anchor, he just loved the camera, and the camera loved him. Ed was a big man who lived a big life, and he was always looking for ways to rise above himself, to listen and learn. He loved his own story and told it often.
He was a natural performer, with his long beards and camouflage pants and shirts.
Unlike his wife, he was not a private or shy person, Ed was one of those people – like me, I guess – who find it completely natural to be standing at the podium pontificating.
He would, at the drop of a hat, opine on almost any subject, especially farming and the ways in which people ought to treat one another. He spent much more time with cows than with his family, and while he loved them all very much, he made no secret of the fact that cows were his best friends.
Ed was part prophet, part creative, part farmer and part preacher. He loved to give lectures, and if I had to hear his milk price how-to-be-a-farmer lecture one more time, I would have thrown myself into the creek. His high regard for his opinions was balanced with a great heart, he loved to give and help and fix.
He was always available to others.
Then there were the blogs. Ed wanted his illness and death to have meaning, to be noticed, he hoped others might benefit from his sharing his brain cancer. Carol wrote about it on her blog, I wrote about it on mine. I joked with Ed that he was getting more attention than Winston Churchill, and he seemed to think this was only natural and right. Sometimes, I will admit, this made me uncomfortable.
Ed's death revealed the great and growing power of the blog – such an ungainly word – to reach out beyond our own lives to share our experiences and touch the lives of other people, something our vast media world has so much trouble doing.
I love my blog and am often reminded of its radical new power to shape ideas.
I told him I wasn't comfortable deifying people, as often happens when people die. If I was to write about him, I would speak the truth. Great, he said, that's why I want you to do it.
As a writer, I have always been fascinated by death, or common human experience and Ed gave me an opportunity to explore it with someone who trusted me and left me alone. He never once told me what to say or complained about what I wrote.
He gave me full and complete access to his experience, he never once shied away from talking or being photographed, he never once ran out of things to say, even as he could no longer sit up or speak easily. He was never coy about being photographed, as many people are. Go for it, he would say.
Carol is more complex, her loyalty to Ed and love for him drove her to write every single day. She is a much more private person than he is. They balanced one another perfectly, as he was an artist, she is a writer.
I hope she keeps on sharing her life beyond her farmer. I think she intends to do that. The two of them built an enduring and valuable work in their blog, the Bejosh Farm Journal. Ed was always grateful to me for encouraging them to tell their stories.
This experience was important to me, but not easy.
It just isn't simple to watch someone you care about die in that way or any way every day for months. Writing about it kept me grounded.
It did bother me at times. I had no wish to intrude on Ed's family, which loved him beyond words.
I didn't wish to invade their privacy, and I wondered why this death was so much more important to people than the other 151,600 deaths that occurred yesterday. But it was, people related to Ed, they wanted to know about his illness and his death, he just had that intangible chemistry, he was always larger than life, even in death.
People loved his independence, and he was one of the blessed – he loved what he did, every day that he did it, from farming to making art.
And, as I always did when I was a journalist, I loved a great story and never turned away from one.
Ed's celebrity in death was, of course, also because Carol and I both wrote about Ed's illness and death so often. That's why some lives stand out among others, because some people notice them, tell their stories.
I am often reminded that this is something that happens to few people.
Carol was a good and faithful Boswell to Ed, she was devoted to telling his story. She reveres and loves him.
I promised Ed that I would write about his illness and death, this, he said, would be his legacy, we did videos together, we talked for hours, and Ed was never once at a loss for words or thoughts or opinions about it. Whenever I sat down to write about him, there was always something to say. He was a fascinating man.
We did it together, we did it well, I think, I am proud of us.
At one point, Ed told me God had chosen him to die in this way to spark awareness of the need to help children with cancer have a cure. Another time, he said he was fortunate to have a writer as his best friend, he knew his messages would get out into the world.
And Ed had a lot of messages to send out into the world.
He told me once that his death might spark a feckless and corrupt Congress to help the dairy farmers all over the country in such need.
His illness seemed to focus him on the artist inside of him even more than the farmer, until the very end, he sketched, drew, painted. He was so open to learning and changing. When he got sick, he abandoned the idea of farming and turned it over to his children.
We often disagreed.
I was bothered by his insistence that the farm continue on forever and that when he returned to the earth in 30 years to look, he wanted to see the brown costs in the dairy barn that he loved so much. I thought this was selfish, a burden to place on his children at a time when dairy farms all over the country were collapsing.
Why, I asked him, should they have to follow your dream?
I said I could not imagine asking my daughter to write books for the rest of her life if she didn't want to do that (she doesn't). I wanted her to have her own life.
He brushed off my argument. He sometimes thought his life was so grand everyone should live it.
Oh well, he said, if it didn't work, then it just didn't work.
I tried not to feed Ed's grandiosity, even as I was inevitably feeding it. He repeatedly asked me to write a book about his cancer, and I had no trouble saying no. I'm not sure your death is worth a book, I said, all of us will die. He just looked at me and accepted what I said and felt. That was the thing about Ed, he was always himself, and he always let me be me.
Ed was at peace with himself, it was never death he feared, just the pain it might inflict on others. He asked me almost every day how I was handling his brain cancer. I was fine, I told him, I don't have brain cancer.
My life as a journalist taught me how to detach myself from too much emotion.
But still, I loved having Ed as a friend and will miss him in my life. Ed left a big mark on me and on Maria, and that will not be an easy hole to fill. I believe I honored my promise to share this experience and try to chronicle it, and I believe that work is done now.
Writing about dying is one thing, death is another. This is no longer my story, it is now Carol's story to tell and that of his children.
Knowing Ed, I'm sure I will be writing about him again, but not about his death.
In the coming days, a lot of people will be eulogizing and praising and perhaps even romanticizing Ed, I won't be one of them.
He doesn't need that from me, and it isn't my style. I do not wish to think of Ed as a hero or saint or superman, one of his great qualities was that he knew he had an ego that needed puncturing. I don't need to make him a God to love him and miss him.
Ed was larger than life in many ways, but he was also very real and very human. I am certain that is what I loved the most about him. He found many ways to rise above his life, and in so doing, transcended it.
His imperfections, like mine, were as big as his virtues. I want to remember him as he was, a big man, a devoted farmer and husband, a loving person, a great friend. It is not a cliche to say he was one of a kind.
And the last of a breed that will be missed. So long, good pal.