For the 81 Warren County families who’ve lost loved ones due to COVID-19, there is no hope of returning to the world they once knew.
Jimmy Lloyd Cunningham was 83 years old when complications stemming from coronavirus took his life. He left behind a wife of 59 years, Iva Jean. The couple had two daughters, Melissa Brock and Pam Turner.
“He was a wonderful father,” said Brock.
Turner added, “He’d help us with our homework. He taught us to ride bikes. He’d go outside and play ball with us. He supported all our afterschool activities. He was a wonderful father. He could be strict, though. If mom said ‘wait until your father gets home’ we knew we were in trouble. He wouldn’t yell at us or anything like that, but we knew he wasn’t happy.”
Most would recognized Jim as the owner of Jim’s Locksmith.
“He loved, loved, loved being a locksmith,” said Turner.
Brock added, “People would ask him when he planned to retire and he said ‘When they pull me from my van.’ We tried to get him to stay home when the pandemic started. He stayed home for the first month, but then he said people need me so he went back to work.”
His life was a balancing act of work and family, said Brock, but her father accomplished it.
“He hated basketball,” she said. “If someone asked him if he saw that good basketball game, he’d say ‘there is no such thing as a good basketball game.’ It’s funny because all three of the grandsons play basketball. He didn’t miss a game, unless he was on a locksmith job. Family meant so much to him that he would sit through those games. He wanted to be there for the grandkids.”
A veteran, Jim served in the National Guard from 1954-56 and then joined the United States Air Force for four years from 1956-60.
“He was proud of his service. He was proud to be an American. He loved the flag. He was very, very patriotic. He always voted. He’d definitely want that said,” said Brock.
From his intensive care bed in Nashville, Jim used an absentee ballot to vote in the 2020 election. The “I Voted” sticker was proudly placed on the foot rail of the hospital bed for all to see as they entered the room.
“We heard so much about the virus and the election, like it would all go away after the election,” said Brock. “I wish it had worked like that. The election ended and we were still in the hospital.”
Jim’s symptoms began in mid-August.
“It was up and down for him from then on,” said Brock, of the medical struggle that continued until November.
Turner recounted three different hospital stays, “He was over COVID, but it had damaged his lungs. There were things going on that we couldn’t explain. The doctors couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t talk above a whisper.”
The understanding of COVID-19 and its effects has evolved since it was first detected at the end of 2019. Medical professionals now know the disease can cause neurological complications, such as an inability to eat.
“He lost 30 pounds in the last month of his life,” said Brock. “He wanted to eat, but it was such an effort for him. He just couldn’t swallow.”
Jim made the decision that his final days would be at home.
“People talk about getting things back to normal, or how they used to be before the pandemic,” said Brock. “It hurts me to hear that. If you stopped coronavirus in its tracks right now, our family will never be the same again. There are 80 families in Warren County that will never be the same again. For us, there’s no getting back to how things used to be.”
Both daughters wear necklaces with key charms as reminders of their father.
“Seeing the statistics bothers me,” said Turner. “I know you can twist statistics to make them say anything you want, but those are people that they’re talking about and families. If you want a statistic, we have 10 members in our immediate family. Just 10. Coronavirus took 10% of our family when it took our father.”
Jimmy Lloyd Cunningham quietly passed on Nov. 9 at 10:12 p.m. surrounded by family.
“Our father was a member of the Church of Christ at Bybee Branch and, for all of us, faith has been what has gotten us through this,” said Turner.
Brock added, “I was there when they were going to place dad on a ventilator. He was worried. We all were, but I told him the worst-case scenario would be that he’d wake up in heaven. Our father’s faith in God was strong. I knew those words would reassure him, and they did.”