Around the time of my 27th birthday last year, I found myself lamenting the last "pure" days of my youth. Over the past few weeks, my aimless pondering found a focal point of sorts. About two weekends ago, a man named Phil Patnaude died under mysterious circumstances near Belmont Harbor in Chicago. Patnaude graduated from my high school a year before I did, and the sudden death of such a promising young man rocked the community. I barely knew the guy, but his passing dominated my news feed on Facebook. He was unquestionably assertive, a go-getter, a leader and an achiever. Suicide or not, very little about his death seemed to make sense.
As it turned out, this was a case where bad things came in threes. Around the same time Patnaude perished two other Downers Grove North alums, both around my age, also died suddenly. Unlike the type-A Patnaude, these other two boys were underachievers --out of respect to their grieving families, I will not share their names-- and were barely mentioned in my old yearbooks. Their deaths didn't grab the local media's attention; in fact, I found out about their passing via word of mouth on Facebook, almost like a weird afterthought. A part of me wondered if I should mourn or just walk this off. More than anything, I was spooked by this abrupt barrage of mortality, by three deaths that happened much too soon. Is it survivor's guilt?
From my experience, unless one's passing garners the attention of the local media, you find yourself wondering how someone could passed away so young, and yet you'll never truly find closure. For example, if this person made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq or Afghanistan, you'd right away. If said person had a prolonged illness and heroically fought this malady to the bitter end, same thing. If it's anything else, everyone --including the family-- keeps mum. Maybe its that level of modesty and Catholic guilt you only find in the midwest, I'm not sure. In those cases, a life isn't celebrated, but a death invokes an unexplained shame.
Next week: my 2012 baseball preview.