Eric Lundberg was a fantastic hockey player and an even better person. He earned a scholarship to Providence College before getting drafted by the NHL. After retiring from the sport, he began struggling with anger, impulsivity, and depression. Lundberg took his life in April 2021 at the age of 38. His brain was later donated to the UNITE Brain Bank where researchers diagnosed him with stage 1 (of 4) CTE. Below, Lundberg’s family shares his Legacy Story to honor his memory and help others suffering from this disease.
By Eric's family
Warning: This story contains mentions of suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
Eric was a truly caring, sensitive soul, with the very best sense of humor. He was charismatic, handsome, and fit, with a great smile. Most who knew him personally were in awe of his athleticism, which was only rivaled by his determination and competitive spirit. He was a naturally gifted athlete from the time he could walk and picked up any sport with enviable ease. After his professional hockey career, he would often joke about joining the PGA Tour, if he could only spend every day out on the golf course. For so long, sports were his life, and he had a love for them like no other. Playing them, watching them, understanding them. Even the earliest baby pictures show one-year-old Eric with either some sort of ball or a hockey stick.
Looking back at old photos, it’s hard to find many without Eric, an adorable little towhead, in a Whalers or Bruins jersey, or Red Sox hat and coat. Eric’s later success in sports came from more than just natural talent though. He was dedicated and willing to sacrifice more than most could have, or would have been willing to, at such a young age. He truly loved the game of hockey, and it was a huge part of his life from the time he was two years old.
He attended Providence College on a full athletic scholarship, where he met his soon-to-be-wife, Caitlyn. He was drafted in the third-round of the NHL draft at the ripe age of 19. The world was truly his oyster. After graduating PC, he went on to play professionally in the minor leagues for four seasons. By the end of his hockey career, Eric was ready to move onto the next chapter. He and his wife welcomed two of the most beautiful babies into the world. They were Eric’s biggest joy in life and what I think he was most proud of. His love for his children was apparent to all, and Eric couldn't wait to teach Zoey and Ty how to play the sports which had brought him so much joy. We all thought he would transition from world-class athlete to world-class coach, even if only to his kids.
From the outside, life looked perfect – beautiful wife, two amazing children, a picturesque home, good job, and a rascal of a dog that was Eric's best bud. However, unbeknownst to most, Eric was secretly struggling. What first manifested as depression and severe anxiety turned to issues with anger, impulsivity, drastic mood swings, drugs, and alcohol. The issues became less of a secret as, what we now know to be the effect of a lifetime of concussions, had more serious consequences. It happened somewhat slowly at first, with some debate as to how serious his issue with alcohol abuse was, or whether the depression could be more appropriately medicated, but seemed to accelerate over the last few years.
Eric tried to cope in whatever ways he could, but what seemed manageable at first spiraled out of control and eventually took over his life, and consequently our family’s lives. Before our own eyes, we witnessed Eric's kind soul be taken over by demons that seemed determined to destroy everything in his path. We all lived in fear of the next proverbial shoe to drop, leaving us to help clean up the pieces of another mess.
Between the ups and downs of rehab, hospital visits, doctor appointments, accidents, jail stays and ICU admissions, there were glimpses of the man we once knew - the man we were all so desperate to get back. The most heartbreaking moments were when Eric himself seemed to realize something was drastically wrong but was powerless to change it. Those who loved him most were unrelenting in their attempts to help him, but the progressing disease was equally determined to push people away. Watching Eric turn into a person who was unrecognizable left our family shattered and completely helpless, literally on our knees praying for a miracle. Eric didn’t want to be the person he had become, we know that, just as we know he was scared and suffering more deeply than we could have imagined.
After years of struggle, Eric left the world on his own terms by taking his life at just 38 years old. The pain of losing him has been extremely difficult; it has left our family shattered. While Eric physically left this Earth on April 26, 2021, those who really knew and loved him had been grieving him for much longer. In an effort to understand our own experience, and possibly help others, we chose to donate Eric's brain to the UNITE Brain Bank. The results confirmed what we all suspected: Eric was suffering from stage 1 CTE.
There was nothing anyone could have done to make things better for him, which was the hardest part. Our Eric, who had once filled so many lives with joy and happiness, could no longer face the every day struggle stemming from this irreversible disease. He fought a long battle, every minute of every day. Eric loved his family more than life itself, and while his struggles pulled him away from them, that love will live on eternally. The irony of the fact that the sport which brought him immeasurable joy, also resulted in this level of pain does not escape us. We only hope he has now found the peace he was so desperately seeking, and that his donation will help to find treatment for others suffering from this disease.